Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Tough question.

But for this five-week series, tough questions are what we’re about here at CrossWay Church. Yesterday’s question was: Why do bad things happen to good people?

A disclaimer I made up front in the message yesterday: This question is not only tough, but also quite complicated. I refuse to pretend that I’ve got it all figured out, and spoon-feed people some kind of pat answer and send them on their way. But I do believe we can gain a better understanding of this question and its answer if we spend some time wrestling with it.

One of the things that makes this question so complicated is that it’s loaded with assumptions. For instance, it assumes that some things that happen to us are categorically good, while others are bad. It also assumes that people can be divided into two classes: good and bad. Both of these assumptions are highly suspect. For example, if I find twenty bucks, that seems good, right? But what if it was lost by a single mom and it was all she had to buy groceries for her children? If I break my leg, that seems bad. But what if I meet someone in the hospital who’s contemplating suicide, and I manage to talk them out of it? One more example: If God takes on flesh and becomes a man, but then dies on a cross, that’s bad, right? But what if He comes back to life and, because of His death and resurrection, billions of people are given the gift of eternal life?

Another assumption concerns values. What we value affects whether two people interpret the same event as good or bad. Suppose Hank’s goal in life is to be comfortable, pain-free, and live in luxury. Then his wife writes a large check to feed starving children in Africa. To Hank, a this is a bad thing. But Carl’s goal in life is to make a difference in the lives of suffering people by helping them. If his wife writes a large check for the same amount as Hank’s wife, then this is a good thing. The question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” assumes that we have certain values and can interpret whether something is good or bad. Since we can’t see the chain of events that begin with one single event, it would be difficult for us to know whether more good or bad ultimately resulted from an event.

What causes bad stuff to happen? In a nutshell: bad decisions, sin, and accidents.

What might God be up to when He allows these things to happen?

First, He might be working out our greater good. The Bible says in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God is working for our good, but for His purpose. Sometimes something might seem bad to us, like not getting what appears to be the perfect job, when really God’s purpose is to give us an even better job.

Second, God might be working out the greater good for other people. In the Bible, young Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. And from there it only got worse! But through a God-orchestrated chain of events, he ended up rising to a position of world leadership. He was then able to use his authority to save millions of lives by wisely leading them through a severe famine. When his brothers feared Joseph’s retribution years later, he assured them with these insightful words: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Third, sometimes God is drawing us or others closer to Himself. The highest, greatest purpose in life is knowing and loving God. Sometimes things that seem bad actually draw us closer to God. When the apostle Paul was thrown into prison for his ministry, he could have sulked, whined, and questioned God. Instead he celebrated because he saw God’s purpose in it–lots of people around Paul saw that he was incarcerated for the sake of Christ; it convinced them that Jesus was the real deal, and they committed their lives to Him.

Life can be painful. God knows that from personal experience. But He has proven His love for us, and we can be sure that God can take the things that hurt us and turn them around to do great things. It’s His area of expertise. We know that bad things will happen. The key is to decide ahead of time that we will trust God when they come.

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Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

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