Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

7 min read

It’s easy, even natural, to ask, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?” You only have to take a look at the news to question the presence of a benevolent God, don’t you?

It’s not just the worldwide catastrophes that get us. Often, it’s the stories in our community and, painfully, in our own families that really shake our faith in a good God. 

If you’ve faced something that has left you questioning where God is, then you are not alone. 

Join us as we look at scripture and the wise words of saints and believers before us. Let’s examine why bad things happen to good people. 

What Does the Bible Say About Bad Things Happening to Good People?

Let’s start where it gets really tough. The Bible is incredibly clear that bad things will happen to good people. In fact, scripture promises us, time and time again, that we will face difficulty and trials. 

While that doesn’t seem incredibly comforting, stick with it. The more you read about the people in the Bible and all they overcame, and the more you soak up Jesus’ teaching about encountering difficulty, you realise.

God has given us everything we need to face the pain of this world.

Before we go any further, here are three truths to hold onto as we explore this subject.

  1. God is with us in every painful moment of life.
  2. Bad things happening to us are not a sign of God’s absence. 
  3. We are saved and can look upon everything with an eternal perspective. 

Scriptures About Trials and Trouble

One famous passage of the Bible that address difficult things happening in life is found in James 1. 

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

This verse is striking. Not only does it consider it a certainty that we will face trails, it instructs us to consider them a ‘joy’. Let that sink in for a moment. Whenever we question why bad things happen to good people we can be encouraged by verses like this in James. 

The passage continues to explain that the fruit of enduring trials is perseverance and faith. In short, the bad stuff we endure can sure up and even grow our faith. Which, when you apply an eternal perspective, is a huge gift.

Later on chapter 1 James writes: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

We’re Not Alone In Our Suffering

In 1 Peter 5 we’re reminded of the presence of the devil, who seeks to hurt and injure us. He robs us of our faith and can shift our focus from God’s goodness to our pain.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

Peter also talks about the whole family of believers, the global church, undergoing suffering. He continues by saying: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 

We can be confident that Jesus’ companions and followers expected to encounter suffering in their lives. And yet, they confidently proclaimed the goodness of God and the good news that we are saved. 

Why do Bad Things Happen To Good People? Jesus Is Our Model

Jesus Christ is the foundational model for enduring pain and suffering beyond imagination and, yet, still holding fast to the truth of God’s goodness. His absolute trust in His Father did not waver, not even as He died on the cross. 

In Hebrews 12: 1-4 it says:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

It’s easy to dismiss Jesus as an example of enduring faith throughout suffering, He is Jesus after all! But, we live with the fullness of the Holy Spirit in us. We have been gifted the same intimate, thriving, connection with God every day. 

Just as Jesus took His struggles, pain, and suffering to God: a son running to His Father, so can we. 

Is This Discipline? Or Is this Because Of A Fallen World?

Hebrews 12 goes on to talk about how God disciplines us. 

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.” 

We know that God refines and shapes us. Throughout our lives He actively untangles us from the impact of sin and transforms us, to become more like Him. This transformative work happens best when we’re beyond our comfort zones, often in difficult circumstances. Because it’s when we’re challenged and pressed upon that we find ourselves at God’s feet. 

But, that doesn’t mean bad things happen because God is disciplining us. Or, making life hard so we realise we need Him. It’s important to remember God’s intent: His heart’s desire is to live day by day with us, in intimate, family connection, in a garden paradise. 

The moment Adam and Eve stepped out of their relationship with God, sin, and therefore pain and death, became a very real part of this world. Since that moment, life on earth has been impacted by the presence of sin and pain, outside of God’s will for us. 

So much of what we encounter today—the losses, the grief, the pain, and the challenges—stems back to that moment. 

The Impact Of The Fall

Evil was empowered by that decision Adam and Eve made, and now we live in a world where evil has some say. This impacts and effects our lives every day. 

Yes, Jesus has overcome. Yes, He is king of all kings. But we live in the tension of the now and the not yet. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven which has overcome all and is still being established today. 

Theologian George Eldon Ladd explored the subject of the ‘now and not yet’ of God’s kingdom in depth in his work observing that we must live out our salvation now, in order to enter into its fullness in the future. 

“In order to enter the future realm of the Kingdom, one must submit himself in perfect trust to God’s rule here and now. We must also “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt. 6: 33). What is the object of our quest? The Church? Heaven? No; we are to seek God’s righteousness—His sway, His rule, His reign in our lives.” George Eldon Ladd in The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God

Why do bad things happen to those who don’t deserve it?

Bad things will continue to happen to those who don’t deserve it until this world is made new and sin’s effects washed away.

Sometimes God will heal and rescue, and sometimes He won’t. This is one of those things that, ultimately, you have to submit to the majesty and mystery of God.

The late pastor and theologian Timothy Keller wrote in his book ‘Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering’:

“Suffering can refine us rather than destroy us because God himself walks with us in the fire.”

Keller hits upon a bedrock truth of our faith here. We will encounter suffering, but because of God’s assured presence with us, right there in the fire with us, we can emerge refined rather than destroyed. 

Keller also writes:

“While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.”

This brings us back to the tension of “the now and not yet”again. Because of the foretaste of joy we have, we are able to put up with a lot of the suffering and loss that come with living in a sin-damaged world. We can be propelled forward in even the hardest seasons of life by the concrete hope of the coming fullness of the Kingdom of God. 

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