Why do bad things happen to good people?
Why do bad things happen to good people? It’s perhaps the oldest, most universal question that humanity has for the divine.
There isn’t a culture among us that doesn't wonder why children get terminally ill, why natural disasters ravage entire nations, or why tragedy strikes the undeserving. We want to know, “Why?”
This list may not have the answer you're looking for, but we hope it brings a measure of comfort to anyone wrestling with the unexplained tragedies of life.
1. Indiscriminate natural laws
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
While these natural laws can cause destruction and pain, they are also essential to creation. “They make medicine, engineering, science, learning, and farming all possible,” said Rev. Rasmussen, HPUMC’s Senior Minister.
Plus, we need natural laws such as gravity because without them, “It would be total chaos,” Rev. Rasmussen said.
But these laws don’t know or care if you’re a moral person or not, they just exist.
Hurricanes are a great example of this. “If certain conditions come together in the Gulf of Mexico, those dependable conditions create a hurricane, which smashes against the shoreline and destroys everything in its path. Consequently, good and innocent people suffer.”
2. We are still learning
For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
- 1 Corinthians 13:12
“Because we don’t live in a world where we know everything, we're constantly learning, growing, and exploring, and until then, sometimes our trial and error causes suffering,” Rev. Rasmussen said.
Just in our recent history, we’ve learned that smoking and asbestos can cause cancer, germs can spread diseases, and that we need to wear sunscreen to protect our skin.
Rev. Rasmussen believes that this pursuit of knowledge is one of the mind’s greatest needs and joys though. “Can you imagine how awfully boring life would be if we knew everything there was to know?” he said.
3. Risky relationships
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Humans are social creatures. God created us to desire relationships, whether in our communities, nations, or churches.
However, sometimes our greatest joy comes from relationships, and sometimes our greatest heartache and pain comes from the very same thing. Love is so painful. That's not just a cliché, it's the reality of the human condition.
Using the relationship
Again though, Rev. Rasmussen asked us to envision the alternative. “Can you imagine how depressing and meaningless life would be if we didn't take the risk and lean into our need for one another?” he said.
4. Freedom of choice
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
Free will, the capacity to choose, is the first gift that God gives us. It’s also the go-to answer to this question about suffering.
“Bad things often happen to good people because the reality is that sometimes good people do bad things,” Rev. Rasmussen said, “and it causes harm. Sometimes to ourselves, sometimes to other people.
God loves us so much that he gives us the gift of freedom.
It’s a gift we give to our own children as they grow up, allowing them to spend the night at a friend’s house, ride their bike to school, or get their driver’s license.
“It's the highest form of love,” Rev. Rasmussen said, “but sometimes we choose hate over love. Sometimes we choose punishment over forgiveness. Sometimes we choose to hurt people rather than to help people, and when we do, it causes a lot of bad things to happen to really good people.”
5. God is up to something big
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Sometimes bad things happen because God is doing something amazing and we just aren’t able to realize it.
At certain moments, Rev. Paul Rasmussen admits, “I have to lean into what the scripture calls ‘not my own understanding,’ but something that's beyond me.”
Consider Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as the greatest example of this.
“When Jesus says, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It’s because God is up to something really big — the salvation of the world.”
So, what do we do when we encounter suffering?
Ultimately, Rev. Rasmussen believes that “God is not the orchestrator of suffering, He is the comforter when bad things happen to good people. He is walking with us every step of the way, seeking to redeem us in whatever suffering we have.”
David begins Psalm 69 by wailing at God, asking Him this same question: Why do bad things happen to good people? In David’s time and ours, we recognize that followers of God have a choice in these instances.
“When we encounter suffering,” Rev. Rasmussen said, “you can either retreat to the world of resentment and rage and anger and discontentment and despair and quit, or you can think differently about God.”
We may not be able to explain suffering, but David provides his response during trying times.
I will praise God’s name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox,
more than a bull with its horns and hooves.
The poor will see and be glad—
you who seek God, may your hearts live!
When we believe that God is with us, we can wake up every day and just start at it again. “Day by day, moment by moment, decision by decision,” Rev. Rasmussen said, “I know that God is with me.”
Honest to God Sermon Series
It’s okay to ask questions. Yes, even the difficult ones about God and faith. In our current sermon series, “Honest to God,” Rev. Paul Rasmussen and Rev. Matt Tuggle answer some of the tough questions that we all have.