Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
Yesterday at church a woman raised her hand and said, “I have always had an easy time feeling close to Jesus, He loves us and died for us, and He understands pain and suffering and helps us through it. But I have had a hard time understanding God’s role. Why does He try us along with the Devil, and let such terrible things happen to us?” I couldn’t stop thinking about her question the rest of the class, and as it ended I promised her I would have something for her the next week. This message is part of what I want to give to her, and is for any of you who are struggling with the same question.
Understanding who God is and why He lets bad things happen may be the question of all questions, for in the answer lies the whole purpose of life. Unfortunately the world doesn’t have many answers. In doing a quick Google search “Why do bad things happen to good people?” the first three hits basically say we should stop asking, we can’t know, and that no one is good so we deserve the bad we get.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that God lives and loves us as only a good father can. He wants us to know Him and He wants us to understand why we’re here. (Otherwise this life is like my awful recurring dream where I’m back at college and have to take a final for a class that I didn't attend all semester!) We are His children, and He doesn't want any of us to fail!
What is the purpose of this life?
Before this life we lived with God. He was our father and we wanted to be like Him. To do this we had to leave Him and come to earth, receive a body, and make our own decisions. This life would be our schoolhouse, and He would give us the power to choose for ourselves and be taught by the consequences that followed, whether good or bad. God knew this was the only way we could become like Him.
But there was a problem, well two really. First because “no unclean thing can dwell with God”, how could He set up a condition on earth where we would learn by experience, if choosing incorrectly would leave us unclean and therefore unable to return to Him? Coming to earth would be a death sentence! Second, true freedom to choose means inevitably our poor choices will cause others pain, and vice versa. So He, and His Son, had a plan. To mediate the consequences of our sin and poor choices, they would provide a Savior who would give His life as a ransom for us.
The perfect testing conditions were therefore created; we could come to earth and have a body and learn and grow, but were also provided a way to access Christ’s power to overcome death, pain, sin, and weakness. Hearing this plan we made the choice to come to a world with sorrow, injustice, heartache and evil, knowing that we would have the opportunity to grow, learn, and experience true joy as we became more like God.
The fact that God won’t interfere with our ability to choose cannot be misinterpreted that He doesn't care! The opposite is true! He cares so much about us that He allows us to make decisions, even bad ones that cause pain to ourselves and others. He cares for us more than we can imagine, and He wants more than anything for us to have the joy that He has. Most importantly, He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to pay the price for all.
So how does understanding God’s plan help us understand why He allows bad things to happen?
First, sometimes bad things happen to good people because of the poor choices of others. My heart aches when I see individuals crushed by others unkindness, selfishness, or abuse. Understanding God’s plan helps us recognize that He allows bad things to happen because we must be free to choose in order to become like Him, but He gave His only Son to make up for the pain caused by the choices of others.
Second, sometimes bad things happen to others as a result of our own poor choices. This obviously causes pain to others, but also to ourselves when we recognize what we've done. Here again God allows us to make poor choices because all must be free to choose, but through His Son we can be forgiven, and those who we hurt can be made whole.
Lastly, what about when bad things just happen? This is mortality, and pain is a part of this life from which no one is exempt! Sometimes we get sick no matter how healthy we are, we are unable to have children no matter how long we have prayed and hoped for it, or we lose a family member too soon to death no matter how good we have lived. No matter the choices we make and the precautions we take, sometimes this life will be unfair. However we can be sure that everything that is unfair about this life will be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know this. Not only that, but God’s plan for us helps us know that pain can shape us to become like Him.
At a particularly dark point in my life I found this quote that I carried with me for months,
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. All that we suffer… especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our heats, expands our souls, and makes us more charitable. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.”
— Kent F. Richards
I know that God lives; I have felt His love heal me in my own times of pain. I won’t claim that my life has been the hardest, but I know what it feels like to be left out and looked over, and to fail even when I've given my best. I know what it feels like to not have one friend in an entire city, and the heartbreak of a crumbling relationship. But I also know that in every one of those situations God has been by my side, showing me the way through the pain, and letting me know that it won't last forever.
That’s what I hope my dear sister in church will come to know. God lives and He loves her, so much in fact, that He sent His only Son so she can heal from the pain of this life and eventually return to live with Him.
Resources that have taught me a lot on this topic (and say it better than I do): The Atonement Covers All Pain, The Grandeur of God, The Songs They Could Not Sing. Have questions or want to chat more? Leave a comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!