Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
The last few Sundays we have been following Jesus through Israel as he proclaims the Kingdom of God. We heard of the rich young man obedient to the Ten Commandments who has a sincere desire to grow in holiness, but rejects the Lord’s invitation to sell everything and follow him. We heard of James and John, good men, who lose focus and ask Jesus for great power, honour and prestige, only to be rebuked Jesus words, “I have come to serve and not be served.” Today, we have something entirely different. Instead of the rich young man or the power hungry apostles, we have a blind man begging on a street corner. Bartimaeus has no riches or power. He is the least of men.
In comparison, I wonder how many times Bartimaeus must asked,
“Why Lord, was he born blind?
Why Lord, didn’t you give him a family to care for him?
Probably, the questioning of Bartimaeus is not far from removed from our own experience.
Why Lord, do I suffer physically or mentally?
Why Lord, did I lose my job when my family needs me?
Why Lord, am I a victim to others cruelty?
The underlining question in all of this is really: Why Lord, do you allow bad things to happen to good people? This is a good question, a common one, and a difficult one. I don’t claim to have the definitive answer, I would just like to offer a few ideas to keep in mind whenever this question comes up.
- It’s Not God’s Fault
Students are in the middle of an exam when the teacher catches two student cheating and breaks the silence yelling, “Susy and John, to the principals office immediately.” John admits that he was looking over Susy’s shoulder copying her answers and the principal gives them both an F and a suspension. But Susy is furious! She explains, “It’s not fair! I didn’t do anything. He cheated off of me.” Sometimes I wonder if this is kind of like how God feels.
In the beginning, God created man and woman and put them in this perfect garden where they would have everything they need. There was no pain, no death, no suffering of any kind. It was perfect. But, Adam and Eve poisoned the whole thing, they introduced evil into the world and this has had disastrous consequences ever since. But it’s not just them, it’s us too. Anytime that we sin, any time that we do something wrong, we introduce evil into the world and into our lives. Evil always causes division and it always causes pain. But God never wanted it, it wasn’t part of his original plan, and we have to be careful about blaming him for something he did not do. “it’s not his fault!”
- It’s a Consequence of Freedom
Something else to consider, God didn’t make evil, but surely he can stop it… or can he? I suppose God can do anything, so yes he could eliminate evil and make it so that nothing bad happens. But do we really want this? The freedom to choose is one of the things that makes us unique, it’s what separates us from the rest of creation. And it is precisely because we choose, that it is possible for us to love. Love is always a choice. But take that freedom away and what you are left with is something sub-human … we turn from humans into some kind of peaceful zombies.
I highly doubt that God wants us to be walking about, arms raised, completely unaware of what we are doing or who we are … but, thank goodness, nothing bad ever happens.
- God Strengthens us Through Trials
Or take it from this angle. God is a Father who loves his children dearly. He rejoices when they make good decisions and he is deeply affected when they make poor decisions that, in the end, hurt them. And so God does everything that he can to strengthen them and give them his grace so that they can get through the present difficulty and learn from their mistakes.
But sometimes, things happen through no choice of our own, it’s not God’s fault and it’s not our fault, it just happens. For instance, the death of someone whom we love and being stricken with a physical or mental illness are some of the most heart-wrenching experiences in life. So often there are no easy answers, no real explanations. At times like these it’s important to lean on the shoulder of the Father who loves us and allow his grace to console us.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Sometimes it’s because of the choices we make and God uses these moments teach us and strengthen us as he helps us through them. At the same time, sometimes, the honest answer is that we don’t know. There is no clear answer and no one is to blame. Through all of this I think that it is important to try to avoid blaming God and to thank him for our freedom. Like the story of Bartimaeus, a man born blind and forced into poverty, Jesus “passed by” him and when he called out Jesus brought healing and restored his sight.
Perhaps, today, is a good time for us to ask Jesus too, for further healing and for strength for bad things that have happened to us good people and to our families.