Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Bad things happen all the time in this world, we see it all around us.  Whether it’s COVID, a Christian suffering financial loss, the holocaust, or a good person suffering a debilitating disease, something inside us questions God’s goodness with the thought, how can a good God allow bad things to happen to good people? On the flip side, why do bad people seem to prosper, a similar question.

We are not the first to ponder these very deep questions. Many Biblical writers ask exactly these things, and usually when they are the ones suffering. Whether it’s Job questioning why he was even born, or Habakkuk complaining about evil men prospering, or Paul asking God to remove the thorn from his flesh, the question of bad things happening to good people, God’s people, has been explored since time immemorial.

At its core, we all have a sense of justice, of what’s fair and right. We don’t think that God, who is supposed to be good, should allow bad things to happen to basically good people, namely us. It assaults our sense of justice. It’s not fair and it’s not right. Or to quote Habakkuk,

Habakkuk 1:4 (ESV)
So the law is paralysed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.

WHOSE FAULT IS IT ANYWAY?  IS GOD ON THE THRONE?

Theologically we are faced with a dilemma as we try and explain the bad things we see in this world. Either a good God somehow allows bad things to happen for purposes that are beyond us, or God never allows it, and therefore He cannot be in control of things, and we go down the path of dualism, that is God and Satan are battling, and it could go either way?

Psalms 147:5 (ESV)
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.

Daniel 4:35 (ESV)
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

Matthew 28:18 (ESV)
Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “No doctrine in the whole Word of God has more excited the hatred of mankind than the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God. The fact that ‘the Lord reigneth’ is indisputable, and it is this fact that arouses the utmost opposition in the unrenewed human heart.”

In my opinion, God was, and is and always will be in control. He reigns. He is sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. But let’s be clear…God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but there is a fruit, a consequence of choices we make, things we and others say and do, and He lets us experience that.

If you say to your child, “Don’t go near the edge,” and they disobey you, go near the edge and fall off and hurt themselves, is it your will that that happened? No, of course not. Sometimes things just have consequences. But a loving parent, even though they didn’t cause the fall, can use it to teach and train their child. To learn we have to experience the consequences of our choices. If you always prevent bad happening, they never learn.

Proverbs 19:3 (ESV)
When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.

WHO IS ACTUALLY GOOD ANYWAY?

Why do bad things happen to good people? The obvious question is, who is a good person? Jesus said, when the rich young ruler called Him good,

Luke 18:19 (ESV)
No one is good except God alone.

Romans 3:23 (ESV)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Every one of us have sinned. You have, I have. We all like sheep have gone astray, and we all have at some time or other rejected Christ. That’s why Jesus died on the cross because our sin deserves death, but He died in our place.

Isaiah 64:6 (ESV)
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

So, when we ask why bad things happen to good people, we need to realise that, as good as you might think you are, none of us are actually good, ie totally without sin. None of us!

WHERE DOES EVIL COME FROM?

Jesus echoed Isaiah 14 when He said,

Luke 10:18 (ESV)
And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

The first being to fall in sin was Satan, and he took one third of the angels with him, who became demons. His sin was pride, and he thought he could usurp God.  He decided to reject God and go his own way. Someone suggested that, if we had no devil, we would have no sin.

Trouble with that theory is that mankind, in the form of Adam and Eve, made the same sinful decision. Paul makes this very clear…

Romans 5:12 (ESV)
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

So bad things that happen to people come either from Satan, or from man’s sinful, rebellious decisions. God doesn’t cause bad things, but there are several instances in the Bible where God doesn’t lose control but, for His own reasons, He seems to allow limited scope for bad things to occur. Mostly, He just lets us reap what we have sown.

IT IS NOT STRICTLY CAUSE AND EFFECT

Bad things happening are not in a strict cause and effect pattern. God doesn’t automatically zap you if you sin. Job’s friends were rebuked by God for that thinking.

You can be bad and have a great life, and good and have a struggle. In eternity we will know why God judges some on earth and not others or allows some to suffer but not others.  He is always justice and mercy, law, and grace. There are somethings I cannot explain, but I trust that God knows what He is doing.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Romans 11:33-34 (ESV)
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?”

Job 11:7 (ESV)
“Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?

We must not blame God or use His Word as an offensive weapon to bend Him to our will. We must trust Him, no matter the circumstances.

When we call for justice from God, go get ’em Lord, we must be careful. If He dealt with us justly, we would be dead. But He offers mercy and saves us. We want God to deal with us in His mercy, but others in His justice. God is sovereign and in control, but in the end,

James 2:13 (ESV)
Mercy triumphs over judgment.

BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF BAD THINGS HAPPENING TO GOOD PEOPLE.

There are loads of examples in Scripture of good people suffering, in both the OT and NT. We need to recognise that God is a good God, no matter what happens. God is a good God even if we suffer. Don’t blame Him for suffering, but look to Him for blessings, even in the suffering.

Here are some examples.

1. JOSEPH

Joseph suffered at the hands of his sinful brothers. For years. Not his fault.

Genesis 50:20 (ESV)
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

2. JOB

Job is a fascinating peek behind the celestial curtain. I’ve heard some people say that the reason Job suffered so much was because he had fear…

Job 3:25 (ESV)
For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.

That is a load of rot, and completely ignores the first two chapters, where God, for reasons unbeknown to me, challenges Satan about his servant Job. Here, while God doesn’t do bad things Himself, He clearly allows Satan limited scope for a limited time.

Job 1:8-12 (ESV)
And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

Job 1:22 (ESV)
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

3. PAUL

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (ESV)
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

No one really is sure what this thorn is. Maybe it was a disease; many scholars feel its his eyes. It could be a person, I’ve encountered a few of those too. It could be persecution, but how can a good God allow His faithful servant to suffer? Whatever the thorn, it’s a classic case of bad things happening to a good person!

In my quiet time this week, I read about how Paul was falsely accused and shipped off to Rome. One commentary wrote,

God had work for him to do in Rome. You may not understand why God permits lies to triumph but leave it all in His hands. He is in control, and the final judgment rests with Him.

THE BIG WHY! WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?

OK, as we have established, none of us are good. But here are four thoughts…

1. BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, BUT THIS WORLD IS NOT THE END

Romans 8:18 (ESV)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Christians should have an eternal perspective. Whatever happens in this world, it is not our home, we are just passing through. I wrote a song last year, the words were,

I am destined for another place, where heaven’s joy will soon be mine, I am destined for another place, but until that day I’ll stay right here and shine.

If you are a believer and bad things happen to you…

Colossians 3:2 (ESV)
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2. BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, BUT GOD BRINGS ETERNAL GOOD OUT OF IT

Romans 8:28 (ESV)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Andrew Womack points out that all things don’t work for good for everyone, but only those who know God, and are moving according to His purposes. In other words, disobey God, and all bets are off.

Let’s be clear, God isn’t causing the bad things, but He is somehow, amazingly bringing good out of it. He makes lemonade out of lemons. Anything we suffer with, grapple with, are hurt by God brings good out of it.

Fiona and I financially lost everything at age 48. We went from being millionaires to debt millionaires. It was unpleasant and it hurt. It nearly killed us trying to stay afloat. But as I said a few weeks back, He is restoring us, and we are better and more faithful servants as a result.

It takes faith to pray and see a miracle. But it takes greater faith to pray and not see a miracle, but still believe and trust God! Corrie Ten Boom wrote this…

My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colours He worketh steadily.

Oft times He weaveth sorrow and I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper, And I the underside.

Not till the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly, Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful In the Weaver’s skilful hand,
as the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.

He knows, He loves, He cares, nothing this truth can dim.
He gives His very best to those who leave the choice with Him.

(Author Unknown)

If you say you can trust God for blessings, can you also trust Him when bad things happen?

3. BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, BUT GOD USES THEM TO EQUIP US FOR DEEPER MINISTRY

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (ESV)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

I don’t think God sets out to make us suffer just to teach us a lesson. But when suffering comes, which it will, He is gracious enough to use it for good in our lives.  Those who have suffered much often have incredible ministries, such as Joni Eareckson Tada.

4. BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, AND THE WORST THING HAPPENED TO THE BEST

Jesus was perfect, completely sinless, but He suffered in our place. Let’s be clear again, God did not cause the crucifixion of His Son. But despite that fact Jesus was sinless, God permitted His Son to suffer and die for us.

1 Peter 2:20-21 (ESV)
But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

The bottom line is…

KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE

When we see bad things happen to ostensibly good people, most people feel that it is not fair, and that God is somehow unjust. Yet as Christians, we recognise that none of us are good, and if God was only just, without mercy, we all would be dead because that is what our sin deserves.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV)
Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

We live in a fallen world. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but I believe He does permit limited scope for a limited time to the devil, and he does also permit us to experience the consequences of our sinful decisions, to reap what we sow.

In fairness, He probably protects us from some of the consequences of our foolish actions, but not all.  We can choose to be obedient or not. Many times in this fallen world, we suffer the consequences of our choices, and sadly many suffer the consequences of someone else’s choices.

It’s a fallen world, but here’s the great news… It’s not our home! We are just passing through. In a world where bad things happen all the time, we need to take our eyes of our circumstances, off the bad things and place them firmly on Jesus Christ.  Instead of trying to figure out why the mysteries of God’s actions, can we as believers not just simply trust Him, no matter what?

Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus (fixing our eyes on Jesus), the founder and perfecter of our faith,

We think life is like Facebook. On Facebook, everyone has an opinion about everything, and we now think that every opinion is valid and worth fighting over. This is not real life. Look at Job, look at Habakkuk. Our opinion, our desires, our comments are irrelevant before the God who created the universe.

Most theologians agree that God allows things to happen for a reason. Whether or not we understand His reasons, we must remember and trust that God is good, just, loving, and merciful. Often, bad things happen to us that we simply cannot understand. But we can rest assured that we we follow God and when we are obedient, He is in our corner, He is on our side and whatever He decides we should go through, we can fix our eyes on Him and trust Him.

Instead of doubting God’s goodness, or trying to analyse His actions, our reaction should be to trust Him, no matter what. Tony Evans said, “No matter how grim your circumstances appear, do not forget the glorious truth that God is in control. Trust him to accomplish his will for your life as he sovereignly directs your path.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

We walk by faith, not by sight.

If you have experienced bad things happening to you recently, or in the past but you still feel their effects, please stand.

It’s ok to struggle trusting God in difficult times, but we need to bring it to Him.

QUESTIONS

WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, CAN WE STILL BELIEVE THAT GOD IS IN CONTROL?

WHAT SHOULD BE OUR ATTITUDE TO LIFE WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO US?

HOW DO YOU BALANCE FAITH IN GOD WORKING IN YOUR BAD CIRCUMSTANCES WITH ACCEPTANCE OF GOD’S WILL?

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