The question “Why do bad things happen to good people” is one that Christians, no matter what their doctrine, get asked by people with various motives. Some are bitter and angry at God and secretly blame him for something they do not want to be open about (so they could be healed). Some look at the world – including the destructive forces of nature like earthquakes, fires, tsunamis and hurricanes, and genuinely wonder what people have done to be in such situations. They also wonder why children are get horribly painful diseases.
Atheism says there is no God, thus there is no good or evil. Pantheism denies the ultimate existence of good and evil because in their view God is only good. Naturalism (the worldview undergirding evolution) supposes that everything is a function of random material processes, and thus there can be no such thing as good and evil in an ultimate sense. Polytheism is the belief in many gods. Theism (believing in God) alone has the only true response and only true disciples can answer the question appropriately.
Romans 8:28 states, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Unless one is outside of the structure, order and protocol of Christianity, there are technically no bad things. There are only “things we don’t like.” As a true disciple, the only thing that is bad is anything outside the will of God!
Also, we must understand that the Bible teaches very clearly that there are no good people Romans 3:10-12 states, “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Since there are no “good people” we all deserve death. I know that is bad news, but we cannot appreciate “good news” until we know the bad news! That is the reason we need the Gospel.
There are nice people, but no “good” people. Niceness is not “goodness.” Even criminals can be nice. Ted Bundy, kidnapper, rapist, serial killer and necrophile, was described as “an open smiling young man … the perfect son, the perfect student, the Boy Scout…” Ted Bundy may have been nice, but no one can argue that he was not a good person.
Also, avoiding evil does not make any of us an inherently good person. On the contrary, if we know the good we ought to do and we do not do it, we sin (James 4:17).
This study will look at this question of “Why do bad things happen to good people” and help us see that God can be trusted through even the most challenging of circumstances.
If God is so good, why does evil exist?
This is a good question and one that theologians, philosophers, and even sceptics have wrestled with for centuries. Several possible answers have been proposed, but each one seems to spark more questions.
The problem really boils down to three statements, which at first glance seem to contradict each other. We could take any two of them and have no problem, but when we take all three together, that is when we need to think harder.
Three statements that appear contradictory:
1. God is all-good
2. God is all-powerful
3. Evil exists
If God is so good and evil exists, why does he not doing something about it? He must not be all-powerful. But if God is able to eradicate evil, why does he not do so? He must not be so good after all.
Is God all-good?
According to the Bible, yes!
James 1:17-18: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”
1 John 1:15: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”
Psalm 34:8: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
So why does evil still exist? If God is all-good, it seems logical to believe He would want to destroy evil. If God is all-powerful, it seems logical to believe he would be able to destroy all evil.
Evil is the absence of God. Consider the story of a student and his university professor:
The professor of a university challenged his students with this question. “Did God create everything that exists?” A student answered bravely, “Yes, he did.” The professor then asked, “If God created everything, then he created evil. Since evil exists (as noticed by our own actions), so God is evil.
The student couldn’t respond to that statement, causing the professor to conclude that he had “proved” that “belief in God” was a fairy tale, and therefore worthless. Another student raised his hand and asked the professor, “May I pose a question? ”
“Of course” answered the professor. The young student stood up and asked: “Professor does Cold exist?”
The professor answered, “What kind of question is that? …Of course the cold exists… haven’t you ever been cold?”
The young student answered, “In fact, sir, Cold does not exist. According to the laws of Physics, what we consider cold, in fact, is the absence of heat. Anything is able to be studied as long as it transmits energy (heat). Absolute Zero is the total absence of heat, but technically cold does not exist. What we have done is created a term to describe how we feel if we don’t have body heat or we are not hot.”
“And, does Dark exist?” he continued. The professor answered, “Of course.”
This time the student responded, “Again you’re wrong, sir. Darkness does not exist either. Darkness is, in fact, simply the absence of light. Light can be studied; darkness cannot. Darkness cannot be broken down. A simple ray of light tears the darkness and illuminates the surface where the light beam finishes. Dark is a term that we humans have created to describe what happens when there’s lack of light.”
Finally, the student asked the professor, “Sir, does evil exist?” The professor replied, “Of course it exists. As I mentioned at the beginning, we see violations, crimes and violence anywhere in the world, and those things are evil.”
The student responded, “Sir, Evil does not exist. Just as in the previous cases, Evil is a term which man has created to describe the result of the absence of God’s presence in the hearts of man.”
After this, the professor bowed down his head, and didn’t answer back.
God did not create evil, but He created the potential for evil
God created us with the ability to choose. We often call this free will. It means that we have the capability to make decisions in everyday life, and we have the capability to decide whether we will love and honour God, or if we will reject Him. When we reject Him, evil becomes a reality. However, God could have made us without the ability to choose. But without the ability to choose, we would end up being his robots, not his disciples. He wanted us to be able to freely choose to love Him and express that love to Him. He did not want to force us to love Him, because any love that is forced is not genuine. It needs to be offered willingly. Of course, along with the ability to choose to love God comes the ability to choose not to love Him. And when we reject Him and reject Biblical morals and values, we are left with evil.
There were 2 trees in the garden for a reason
“… it is not logically possible to have free will and have no possibility of moral evil. In other words, once God chose to create human beings with free will, it was up to them, rather than God, as to whether there was sin or not.
That’s what free will means. Built into the situation of God deciding to create human beings is the chance of evil, and consequently, the suffering that results.”
Evil is a corruption of what is good.
As we mentioned, God created us with the ability to choose. But when the choices we make lead us away from God, that is when Satan enters our heart (Luke 22:3, John 13:27). Free will is a good thing that God allows us to have, but evil is a corruption of that free will. In Genesis 3 we learn that thorns and thistles appeared in the ground for the first time as a consequence of Adam and Eve disobeying God. That helps us understand why natural evil exists… things like earthquakes and floods and volcanoes and famines – we brought it on ourselves by our sin in the very beginning.
Genesis 3:17-19: “To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,” Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’”
God is sovereign but technically not in control. If God was in control of everything and everything is a mess, then he is to blame. Of course, this is not true.
The Bible is clear – man is in control of what happens on the earth for the present. God has given man authority to run the earth. One could say God “leased the earth to mankind.”
Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’”
Genesis 1:28: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”
Psalm 115:16: “The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind.”
Psalm 8:4: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet.”
2 Corinthians 4:3-4: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age [SATAN] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Jesus came as man to defeat Satan at his own game as a man and recover man back to God.
John 3:16: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
1 Corinthians 2:7-8: “No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for it they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
Satan is our enemy. Jesus came on earth and has given man authority over the devil through the cross. Now, the devil can only have authority if man gives it to him. Ironically, God can only have authority if man gives it to Him! Jesus is lord of all or not lord at all.
Who is the “authority” in your life? Godless men give control to Satan and righteous men give control to God. Even though God allows Satan to control the earth right now, we can make the decision to allow God to have dominion over us for eternity!
Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
So instead of complaining that God allows evil to exist, we should be thanking Him for not destroying us. Because when it comes to sin and evil, it is only a matter of degrees, and God cannot stand any of it!
Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
1 Corinthians 15:54-55: “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’”
Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
It is ok to ask God a few questions. Sometimes as disciples we can be uncomfortable with people asking the question of why evil exists.
It is okay to ask God, “Why?” It is okay to express our grief and our disappointment and our frustration and our pain. God understands all of that and welcomes our honest questions. He has faced worse. We may or may not be aware that David wrote many of the Psalms we find in our Bible. Psalm 13 is one of them. Listen to this:
Psalm 13:1-4: “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on answer, and me Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.”
David obviously had some serious issues. He had faced evil and actually felt abandoned by God. So he expressed that openly to God. And I do not think God minded that at all. Because God cares deeply about what we are going through. And He wants us to be honest with Him
Psalm 34:6: “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.”
Trust in God because He is trustworthy
When it comes to questioning God and his love for us, for me it normally comes from an emotional place. It can come from being disappointed in God, thus producing a wicked level of bitterness. It can also come from wanting my will, not his will. When I trust and obey, I usually find that there is “no other way.”
I think about the day my physical father told me at 12 years old that it had all been a lie. He was never my true biological father. I think about roaming the streets of Portland, Oregon as an abandoned 14-year old boy. I think about the allure of adult bookstores at age 16, and the frequent attempts by so-called friends to convince me to use drugs to self-medicate. I think about the emotional pain I experienced in frightening visits to multiple “crack houses” in search for my mother and brothers. I think about the constant nights where I felt I was all alone in this world. Yet through all that pain, God was there. God was preparing me to stand tall as a “tree of life,” showing others that I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength!
The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.
The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.
Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.
Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the purpose of pain in the Christian life.