“if God is a loving God then why does He let bad things happen, especially to good people?” It is a question that has been asked countless times throughout history, by devout believers and angry atheists and everyone in between. It may in fact be the question most often asked about God. Why does God let bad things happen? When someone dies at a young age, when a storm kills seemingly at random, when a job is lost, a house destroyed, cancer diagnosed, a pregnancy is miscarried, the question gets asked in the midst of pain and tears, heartache and anger.
At the root of the question are three assumptions. First that God’s attribute of love trumps all other aspects of His character. Of all the attributes of God the one most and almost exclusively held to by people today is that God is love. Certainly the Bible is clear that love is a very central aspect of God’s character. John 3:16 may be the most famous of all verse in the Bible and it affirms that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to die for it. Yet there are other aspects of God’s character that must not be negated or swept aside by love. In addition to being loving, God is also holy, merciful, righteous, omniscient, omnipresent. all-powerful, just and much more. God’s holiness must not be allowed to wipe out the reality of God being merciful. His immanence must not negate His transcendence. God’s love must not be allowed to veto the fact that God is just. In the case of why bad things happen, God’s love must not be allowed to supersede His providence which it working out His plan for all creation over time.
The second assumption is that there are good people who should only have good things happen to them. When something bad happens to them it is believed to be unfair and that somehow God should have prevented that tragedy from happening. Jesus dealt directly with this when he said that the “rain falls on the just and the unjust”. Matthew 5:45 The point Jesus is making is that we live in a world in which the same things happen to people who live righteously and people who do not. If it is raining and the result is a flood, that rain and flood impacts everybody. You don’t become exempt from hardship in life just because you are trying to follow God. People seem to have the idea that if something tragic happens to a nice or supposedly innocent person that the cosmos is somehow out-of-order.
The third assumption is that bad things should only happen to bad people and it is somehow justified. During Jesus day there was a common theology that said if something bad happened to you, serious illness, tragic accident or even death, that you were somehow deserving of that fate because you were obviously a serious sinner. This was the point Job’s friends kept pushing. They were convinced that Job must have some secret, hideous sin that inevitably brought on God’s wrath. Jesus gave two responses to that idea. One was when he spoke of a tower falling on a group of people and killing them. His point was that they were no worse than anyone else living in Jerusalem at the time. Luke 13:4 We live in a world impacted by sin and evil and bad things happen to seemingly good people. Additionally, sometimes bad things happen so that God may do something incredible and display His glory. That was the case with the man born blind. John 9 It was a theological dilemma for the scribes and Pharisees. After all, it would hardly be right of God to blind an unborn baby because of his parents sin. Why not blind the parents? And it could hardly be the babies sin. What kind of trouble could he get into while still in the womb? Jesus makes the point that sin had nothing to do with the man’s blindness but that he was born blind and lived his entire life to that point, stumbling around in darkness, just so Jesus could eventually heal him and God would be glorified. That is not something we like to hear. It runs counter to love trumping all that God would make a man live for decades in blindness just so He could heal him and have people turn to Jesus. Yet that is precisely what Jesus says.
So what we see is that sometimes bad things happen simply because we live in a fallen world in which evil is still real. We see that the level of your holiness does not exempt you from these things. Jesus also made it clear that bad things happening are not always the direct result of you doing something bad.
Let me pose a different question that I think is the one that we should be asking far more often than we do. It is simply this. “Why does anything good happen at all?” Since we are all sinners and none of us is truly good or innocent, not something we readily acknowledge, what we should be amazed at is that anything good happens at all. The standard cartoon joke is that when someone does something particularly rotten they immediately get struck by a bolt of lightning from on high. Fortunately n real life that just doesn’t happen. If it did I would be a crispy critter many times over. And so would you! Given that reality I think the real puzzle is why anything good happens. Given that I deserve God’s wrath because of my rebellion against Him, why has he not struck me, and you, down? It is all because of mercy. God is a long-suffering, meaning extremely patient God. He continues to put up with our sin and rebellion in an effort to demonstrate His kindness and love for us and lead us to Him. Paul tells us in Romans 2:4 that God kindness towards us is intended to lead us to repentance and following Christ. The problem Paul addresses is that we presume upon that kindness. We come to expect it as an entitlement. We think we are better than we are and that we deserve only good things and not bad things. When we have that attitude we miss the blessing of the good things that happen to us and we grouse and complain about the bad things, as if it is somehow unfair that we don’t get the good things we thing we deserve. The opposite is the case. We deserve the punishment but in His grace and mercy God keeps throwing blessings our way, blessings that we think are a birthright.
Rather than being miffed or angry or tormented when bad things happen, we need to be in awe, humbly grateful, always thankful, for the undeserved blessings that God gives us. Those blessings should drive us to live a life of utter devotion to God and a willingness to trust Him even in the bad times.