Why do bad thing happen to good people? This is one of those questions that people of faith have pondered for millennia. Why do seemingly good or innocent people suffer? Why do children die in natural disasters? Why are infants born with debilitating diseases and why do babies get cancer?
Job is the book in the Bible that deals with this issue head on. In it we are told the story of a man who is truly righteous. In fact God Himself says that Job is blameless. Yet Job suffers horribly! He loses all his possessions and his family in one day. Then he loses his health and suffers from a horrible disease. Yet in all of this, Job does not sin against God.
But the question of why bad thing happen to good people is much closer to home than some guy who lived thousands of years ago in a far away land. For me it’s in my own family. Why did God allow my daughter Mary at the age of 7 to lose much of her hearing? Why did God allow Melissa at the age of 3 to lose much of her hearing and vision? They were surely innocent, yet God allowed this to happen to them.
As I said, people of faith have wrestled with this issue for thousands of years. The book of Job was probably written between 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. So there have been a number of different approaches to this issue. Let’s just take a quick look at a few attempts to answer the question: Why do bad things happen to good people?
The first response is “Who is really good?” After all, the Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” So all of us are deserving of punishment and suffering. So really, bad things do not happen to good people because there are no truly good people.
Well what about Job? Could he have been truly blameless? Maybe he was just as blameless as a person could be. Or maybe he was blameless by Old Testament standards. Like many of us, maybe he never actually stole anything or killed anyone. But Jesus raised the bar of righteousness to show us God’s standard. Jesus says if we covet we have stolen and if we hate we have killed. By those standards we are all thieves and murderers – sinners all! So Job may have been blameless by human standards but not by God’s eternal standards. Therefore he deserved his suffering as punishment.
But this answer falls woefully short. It might cover most of us. But what about suffering endured by children and infants? It doesn’t explain people born with debilitating and painful ailments. To just say we all deserve punishment isn’t an adequate answer to the question.
The second answer is that bad things happen to good people because God chooses not to interfere. This is based on the attitude I talked about last week that many people have––the idea that God is somehow detached from the universe. God started the machine going and people have messed the universe up. As a result bad things happen to good people because we have messed up the way the universe is supposed to work. Our sin has thrown a monkey wrench into the internal workings of the cosmos and gummed up the machine.
But that is not a Christian belief. God is involved in His universe. God does intervene in its workings to cause oceans to part and rain to fall or not fall and to heal diseases and save people. God even went as far as to come in the flesh in Jesus Christ. And Jesus didn’t just teach, he also healed and then he died for the sins of the world.
So like the first answer this one too is not adequate.
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Another answer is that bad thing happen to good people because God allows us to have free will. God in His eternal love has allowed us to do what we want. We can choose to do evil because we have been given free will as a gift. We can choose to drive drunk and kill innocent pedestrians. We can choose to dump toxic chemicals into the water supply and cause innocent people to get cancer. We can choose to fire a gun into the air without a thought about where the bullet might land and who it might injure or kill.
This would explain many of the tragedies of the world. Much suffering can be attributed to the malicious or irresponsible acts of others. Perhaps infants are born with birth defects because of our society’s use of toxic and radioactive chemicals. Maybe those chemicals and materials in the environment cause other illnesses too.
But it still doesn’t explain things like natural disasters. Oh, maybe global warming can be blamed for some of it. But it doesn’t explain all the earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and tornados that inflict suffering on so many innocent people. Again this answer explains some incidents but still falls short of being a complete answer.
I have barely scratched the surface of the question. You can go to the library and get all kinds of books by theologians and philosophers that deal with this issue. But none of these answers is God’s answer. Don’t get me wrong. Many of them are good answers and they may help us understand parts of the question. But God gave a different answer.
Near the end of the book, Job demands that God give him an explanation for why these things have happened to him. In chapters 38 – 41 of Job we have God’s answer. But God doesn’t give an explanation. Instead God asks Job a series of questions: Were you there when I put the stars in the places? Can you tell the sea where to go? Do you understand the ways of the creatures of the deep? Can you control them? In the end Job says, “Surely I have spoken of things I did not understand, thinks too wonderful for me to know.”
Basically God’s answer is: “I am God, I know what I am doing and you don’t.” God is the one who created this universe and God is the one ultimately in control of it. We should just trust God. Sure, things happen that don’t make sense or don’t seem right to us. But we are incapable of understanding the fullness of the universe. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask questions and seek understanding and even question God as Job did. But ultimately God is in control.
I began by asking the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Perhaps the more important question is not “why” bad things happen but how we respond “when” they happen! That is really what the passage we read today is all about. In chapter 1 Job loses all his possessions and his family. His response is to say “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” In Chapter 2 he loses his health and suffers from a painful disease. His own wife tells him to just curse God and die. But his reply is “Shall we accept the good from God and not trouble?”
Job shows us the response of the faithful to suffering. It is to acknowledge that God is the one in charge. It is like the song “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” He’s got you and me and the little bitty babies in His hands. All we can do is trust HIM.
When bad thing happen to good people what do we do? How do we respond when the innocent suffer? What do we think when natural disasters injure and kill? We look to God, and trust in his wisdom and power. He, after all, is the one who created this world, and only He understands it completely.
Copyright 2008, Alex Stevenson. Used by permission.