When bad things happen to good people

Arkansas_Buffalo River valley near Ponca

Most everyone has either heard this phrase, titled from a book published some twenty years ago by a respected Jewish Rabbi or like many have pondered the question yourself. Why is it that bad things happen to good people? This world contains untold suffering, from disease or natural phenomenon, all the way up to evil perpetrated upon each other. The tragedy of weather, destructive hurricanes, wildfires, all taking a heavy toll on our communities, leaving some to wonder, how can a loving God allow this to happen?

For the non-believer, the atheist, these sorts of events are often the example they use to justify their non-belief and it is used as a point of debate. How do we, as believers, respond to these types of rebukes and what is our role in doing so? Should we enter the debate, attempting to prove that God is real and that the love we have experienced is palpable, or do we stand by and say nothing? The answer is not always black and white and we must always follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.  But let’s break this down from the beginning and make sense of the matter at hand.

There is much to discern in what man considers knowledge compared with spiritual teachings given down by our Creator. When we, as believers in Christ, accepted the free gift of salvation, we were also given the gift of the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. It is through the guidance of the Holy Spirit that we are able to learn and grow in spiritual wisdom through the Word of God. However, natural man, not having come to a place of salvation, does not know God and therefore cannot understand the workings of our Creator in this world.  1 Corinthians chapter 2 verse 14 states,

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 

It is no wonder that men of great worldly knowledge are unable to make sense of the wisdom of God through his Word. Without the Holy Spirit to discern the Word, it is foolishness to the mind of man.  This also accentuates our role as believers, to also be teachers of the Word, having the benefit of discernment that only comes through the Holy Spirit.

In addition, without any knowledge of God, there is no acknowledgment of Satan. When we accept Christ as our savior, we confess our sins and turn away from the sinful nature that was introduced into this world by our adversary, Satan, thus acknowledging his existence. We know through the Word and through spiritual discernment that Satan and his legion of demons roam this earth searching for those they may devour, as written in 1 Peter chapter 5 verse 8. But if you do not believe in God, then you do not acknowledge the enemy in this world that is roaming to and fro leaving his own path of lies and destruction. This is why non-believers are quick to point out and question how a God of love could allow such horrible things to happen. They have no knowledge of God and likewise, have no understanding of the evil that permeates this world we share. Consequently, they deduce that God does not exist, otherwise these terrible things would not be allowed to happen.  They conclude that if God is Love, then certainly He would be all protecting, like a comic book superhero, averting disaster at every turn in order to save humanity.  As I’ve pointed out in previous messages, this is ignorance, as it shows they do not understand God, but I caution, this is not their fault – this is simply how a lost person reacts to a world they do not understand.  Why should we expect them to act any other way?  * I refer you to our message titled “Can I get a Witness?” to follow this aspect in more detail including our responsibilities to share the good news with everyone.

This takes me to a deeper point that we must discuss, the topic of “bad things” and “good people” as taken from the title of this message.  At this point, we should understand why non-believers react to “bad things” and the relation they draw to any conclusion that God does not exist – they do not understand, the Word of God is foolishness.  However, even believers struggle with this concept of bad things and good people, so I ask the question, what qualifies someone as a “good person” as opposed to something else? Is it based on how nice they are to others or how often they go to church? Is it their standing in the community or their success at whatever line of work they’ve chosen? Do we see ourselves as “good people” thence anyone that we see as similar to ourselves must also be “good people?” I warn you, when you start thinking of yourself as good, as if through your good works you are now elevated to some higher level of existence, that is a slippery slope that can lead to a fall.  Let’s compare this to God’s example, the only good person, without fault, that has ever walked the earth, Jesus Christ.  Does anyone want to stand up and claim to be on that level, I think not. So who are we to declare anyone, other than Christ, a good person?  Isaiah chapter 64 verse 6 declares;

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” 

Broken down in simpler terms, basically, at our very best, we are like filthy rags, and our sins take us away like a passing breeze.  This is where we get ourselves into trouble when we start seeing ourselves as anything other than a sinful wretch that has been granted eternal life through the unconditional love of our Father and Creator.  Somehow along the way, we start seeing ourselves and others as being “good people” and thus we deserve something better in this life.  Don’t misunderstand my point, this is not a bashing of believers and we certainly do not intend to discourage the good works of ministry and outreach. We have to remember and embrace what we are and not lose sight of the incredible grace of our heavenly Father who loves us so much that even while we are yet sinners, He gave his only Son as a sacrifice for our sins.  The debt has been paid, so how much more do you think we deserve? Why do we allow Satan a free pass on all these bad things that go on around us? We know better, but those that are in darkness have no clue, they are unable to discern the truth that we find in the Word because they do not have the ability without the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Shame on us, as believers, for ever questioning the will of God.  We are in a world that has turned it’s collective back on the Creator, yet these same people will quickly point their fingers in anger at our concept of a “loving God” and scoff at us for our beliefs because as they see it, a loving God would not let these things happen.  The truth, however, is that the farther away from God we become, the closer to evil we find ourselves and we deal with the consequences of our own betrayal. But let us be clear on this point, life is in motion and constantly changing all around us, within a world of darkness and sin that was corrupted by Satan.  Mankind is here to build upon a relationship with the Creator, navigating a world corrupted, with good and bad all around, which is not to say that all bad things are some form of punishment.  A hurricane making landfall does not mean a specific area on this earth is being punished, it is a circumstance that comes with living in this turbulent world, whereby believers have an opportunity to shine the light of Jesus Christ in their response, to grow in their own faith while sharing and helping others. Jesus said in Matthew Chapter 5, verse 45,

“for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” 

Maybe the question becomes, why do bad things happen to believers? Why do we suffer when we are following the path of righteousness? Let’s face this head on and not mince our words.  There is no declaration in the entirety of God’s Word that life for those that believe in Jesus Christ will be easier.  To the contrary, Jesus tells us in John chapter 15, verses 18 and 19,

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  

We will be persecuted for His sake.  But there are also other challenges that we face in daily life and we should not lose sight of the will of our heavenly Father. God is the potter and we are the clay, once we have given ourselves over to Him, we should anticipate challenges and trials as the process of God working with us for our own good.  2 Corinthians chapter 4 verses 8 through 11 states,

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 

God is constantly at work in our lives, molding us, building our character, growing our faith, so that we may glorify Him and have the tools we will need to be able to persevere to the end. This life is only the beginning and we know that our true rewards are waiting on the other side.

Take hold of these and all promises found in the Word of God. This is why it is of the utmost importance for believers to read the Word at every opportunity and maintain a robust prayer life with our heavenly Father.  The more we look to God, the less we will focus on ourselves.  When we become caught up in our own little world, it becomes easy to see our own problems magnified beyond what they are and the enemy will use those opportunities to create questions and doubts.  This is what leads us to start wondering, why does God let me suffer, doesn’t He love me? Before long, you can find yourself drowning in your own self-pity, rendered totally ineffective for God’s purposes in this life.

So the next time you question why, I challenge you to stop, seek the Lord in prayer and lean on the great examples we find in the Word.  Acts chapter 7 gives us the example of Stephen, who stood up for the truth and did not back down in the face of great opposition.  God loved Stephen, and I dare say, if we are still caught up in the debate of good people, then this man would be at or near the top of any list aside from Jesus himself.  Yet Stephen is taken away into the streets where an angry mob stones him to death. While falling to his knees, Stephen cried out to God in verse 60 “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”  Even unto death, Stephen demonstrated a love for his fellow man that most of us will never attain.  With his dying breath, he showed the utmost compassion to those that would kill him.

Listen to the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy chapter 4, verses 6 through 8,

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”  

Paul was imprisoned and awaiting his certain execution by one of the evilest leaders that Rome had ever seen, Nero.  Yet even in these direst of circumstances, Paul didn’t waste his time wondering why bad things were allowed to happen to a good person.  Paul had grown in his faith to a point that nothing around him could take his eyes off the prize, the eternal life that awaited him and all believers.  

Clearly, we all strive to fight the good fight and push forward to finish the race. This is our calling as disciples and we should push to overcome the trials we face, knowing God is working in our lives, and keep our eyes fixed upon the prize.  Peter put it in the proper perspective in 1 Peter chapter 4, verses 12 and 13,

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:  But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”  

May God bless you and keep you.  If you are not a believer and want to know more, please reach out to this ministry.  We have no strings attached, we do not want your money, we want to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  For those that are believers, thank you for reading, I encourage you to share your thoughts with us, prayer requests, and any comments you may have on this or other messages.

Share our site with your friends, family or co-workers. If you meet a stranger today and the Holy Spirit tugs at your heart to open up about salvation, pass along this website in the process, direct them to our messages about salvation. Also remember that we offer, free of charge, ministry cards that will help you break the ice to start a conversation about Jesus – go to the comments link at the top of this page and request your cards today.

 John Stephen Frey, Director and Senior Editor, Life Beyond Horizons

J Stephen Frey

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4 thoughts on “When bad things happen to good people”

    1. Thank you for visiting this site and for your comments. Please feel free to share this site with your friends and with those in need of salvation. It is wonderful to be able to share the good news of Jesus Christ. God Bless.


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