“Believe it or not, Christianity is not about good people getting better. If anything, it is good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good.” ~Tullian Tchividjian
As a Christian, there is a certain question that is bound to arise when speaking with someone who has recently encountered tragedy. I’ve had this question asked of me by both people who’ve professed faith in Christ, and those who’ve claimed to possess no faith whatsoever (though, in a previous post, I’ve pointed out how everyone has faith). In a culture that frequently attempts to ignore the realities of evil, sin, and death; when encountering circumstances where we must—it leaves us having to ask ourselves some difficult questions. This question always seems to be one of them:
Why do bad things happen to good people?
When others have posed this question to me, it’s not usually from a position of emotional neutrality, or with an attitude of intellectual curiosity. Rather, the question typically comes from a tormented heart that seeks comfort, and hopes to—if it’s possible—receive an explanation that grants them some semblance of peace.
Personally, I believe that God answers this question. The answer He provides, however, may not offer everyone the comfort or peace that was sought; depending on their worldviews. Again, while I believe that we all hold firm to a faith, these faiths don’t all rest on firm foundations. Nonetheless, the Truth is not contingent on our acceptance. What is real will remain real regardless of our philosophical perceptions—a paradoxical conundrum for all of us, surely. That said, let’s not be fools who fail to “delight in understanding, but only reveal [our] own mind[s]” (Proverbs 18:2, NASB). Rather, let us be people who seek to understand Truth.
For many of us, to accept the question’s answer first requires us to reassess the human condition. Because, for us to ask the question “why do bad things happen to good people?,” we’re assuming that there are good people. If adhering to a Christian worldview, however, then we must first accept that there are no “good people” in this world, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). And, since we’re not “good people,” we’re all sinners and deserve death (Romans 6:23).
Considering the casual attitudes many of us demonstrate towards certain types of sin (e.g. gluttony, white lies, etc.) through our actions, let’s not pass over this scriptural teaching without fully resting in the Truth that the judgment for any sin is death. Not surprisingly—and a logical outcome based on this knowledge—our physical bodies die in this fallen world, a world cursed by sin (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:20; Hebrews 6:8). Therefore, it’s folly to love this temporal world in which we reside in lieu of pursuing relationship with our eternal, heavenly Father. And, for those who want to hedge their bets, Christ clearly states that to love the world precludes us from loving our heavenly Father:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17, NASB).
Therefore, we should love our heavenly Father, and follow His wisdom rather than the world’s, right? But some would say, “Not so fast!” These individuals would contend that to desire eternal relationship with a heavenly Father assumes that He is good. They would question how a good God allows evil. For these individuals, allow me to further delve into the idea of goodness.
Again, my explanation operates under the assumption that we’re sinners. Moreover, let’s all agree that good and evil are, inherently, mutually exclusive. We cannot claim to be fully “good,” because we’ve committed evil. Further, we’re not the authority for determining good from evil, because if we believe in a Creator God (which, if you’re questioning His “goodness,” then I assume you do), He wields power far surpassing anything that we possess. Hence, He is the authority. And He—not we—gives us, as His creation, purpose. It’s not our place to judge Him. In the book of Job, after Job has endured significant loss and affliction and questions his heavenly Father, God challenges his logic on many positions; but particularly that of authority and power:
‘Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm and said, “Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Or do you have an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like His? Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity, and clothe yourself with honor and majesty. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud, and make him low. Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him, and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them in the dust together; bind them in the hidden place. Then I will also confess to you, that your own right hand can save you’ (Job 40:6-14, NASB).
Therefore, stop and chew on this: God is in control—always. If He desires to destroy us, He can. And if our God was without love—and was solely focused on justice—human existence would’ve most likely ended with Adam and Eve. “But [our] God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NASB).
God is perfect in how He loves, while also being perfect in His enactment of justice. We’re incapable of saving ourselves from our sin—our actions warrant death (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27). Christ, the son of God, came to Earth—both fully God and fully man—to live a sinless life; sacrificing Himself as atonement for our sins. By taking the penalty (death) that we deserve (1 Peter 3:18), He allows us the opportunity for eternal relationship with our God in heaven through faith in Him (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:8-9). What can be more loving than that?
When we reflect on the nature of our God (i.e. His character. Who He is), I believe that many of us tend to focus on either His justice or His love, but rarely consider both as perfectly intertwined elements of His being. This encourages us to embrace a number of incorrect perspectives pertaining to our heavenly Father’s character. For instance, if we take for granted the grace and love that He demonstrates for us, we may exhibit resentment when we see that same loving mercy provided to someone who has wronged us. Conversely, if we only see the grace and love He exhibits towards us—ignoring His perfect judgment—we may fail to see the need to live rightly; encouraging sinful behaviors that can harm both us and others.
So, who is at fault for death in this world? We are. If God enacted His final judgment upon us at the instance of our first sinful act, many of us wouldn’t need to worry about being “unjustly” wronged by others—we’d already be dead, or would’ve never existed. Do we understand, through this thought exercise, the dilemma in which we find ourselves?
Rather, we should be thankful that God exhibits patience—being slow to anger, and gracious with us (Nehemiah 9:31; Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 86:5, 15; Joel 2:13). This, however, also means that He’d exhibit that same loving patience and compassion when judging others—He being consistent in character (1 Samuel 15:29). This means that sinful people (i.e. all of us) have time to commit sins that cause harm to others. Furthermore, it’s highly likely that we’ll wrong others, since we live among one another in this world—we all possess relationships.
If God embraced instantaneous judgment, then we wouldn’t know love, or mercy, or grace—or, possibly, even relationship. This helps provide one explanation (of many) for why fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are only possible through the Holy Spirit (i.e. God). We’d never have the opportunity to engage in these behaviors if everyone was judged instantly! And, if we always sought instant judgment, then we’d be condemning ourselves!!
Consider the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). How often do we pray this prayer that Jesus gives us; failing to delve into the meaning of the words that we speak? In the Lord’s prayer, we:
- honor God and give Him praise (vs. 9)
- acknowledge His sovereignty and power (vs. 10)
- ask for His provision (vs. 11)
- ask Him to show us the same mercy that we show to others (vs. 12)
- ask Him to keep us from engaging in evil (vs. 13)
So, for us Christians out there, let’s not be blatantly ignorant in our hypocrisy.
Now, on a related topic, why does God allow for natural disasters? Personally, I’m not capable of providing a thorough answer for why God permits any specific natural disaster, but—in seeing our sinfulness, and acknowledging God’s sovereignty and just character—there must be warranted justification. And for those that want a better explanation, my broadly positioned response is that all evil is caused by sin.
Also consider, while we grieve for those whom we lose in this world—especially when their demise is unexpected—do any of us anticipate to live forever in our current, human state? Would any of us want to live forever as our bodies slowly break down; encumbered by the sins of this fallen world? Few blame God for old age…ever reflect on that? It’s because we accept it as natural.
Regardless of our faith—whether we’re Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, etc.—when we’re asking the question of why bad things happen to good people, we’re questioning whether the life to come is better than here (or, whether there is an afterlife). For those who believe in an all-powerful and omnipotent God, we’re questioning His character and goodness.
As a Christian, I accept that I don’t possess a perfect understanding of God’s plan. It’s more of a general understanding (i.e. whatever my Lord wishes to reveal to me). When writing to the church in Corinth, Paul refers to our inability to see Truth in its fullest, stating that we see in a “mirror dimly” until we’re fully in the presence of our Lord (1 Corinthians 13:12-13). This life is a journey where we’re to grow in faith; developing a relationship with the Father, which has been made available to us from Christ, through His gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the sanctification process, we’re to become more like our perfect loving Lord, Jesus Christ. We’re to find our identity in Him—not anything of this world. Simply, we’re to prepare for the kingdom of heaven, and for eternal relationship with our heavenly Father.
If, in some way, I’m taken from this world earlier rather than later—my faith and salvation are found in Christ. And wouldn’t being with God be better than being here?
I realize that my explanations above are not likely to convince those with different faith foundations to see God’s goodness—or bring them some sense of comfort and hope in their sinful state—but maybe it’ll provide anyone whose read what I’ve written some general understanding for why others do. As Christians, our beliefs (when actually placed in Christ and His Word) aren’t contradictory—only our actions when we fail to follow Him. And while Christians are called to serve as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), to judge a perfect God’s Truth solely by His imperfect followers is unwise.
Therefore, as I conclude, I encourage you to take it upon yourself to seek Truth. I encourage you to seek Christ. Because we, as sinners, all need Him. And He is good.