Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
Copyright © September 1, 2011 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
One of the questions that sometimes enters a person's mind is the following: "Why do bad things happen to good people?"
There are at least two different answers to this question depending on whether or not a person believes in God:
Answer One: A person who does not believe in God usually believes that the earth and the rest of the universe just happened. That person may believe in any one of several different explanations for how the universe came into being but one of those explanations is not that it was intentionally created by God. Although the universe and everything in it does conform to certain scientific principles, most events simply occur on a random basis. Since most events are random in nature then there is no logical reason why good things should only happen to good people and bad things should only happen to bad people. Good and bad things will happen to good people and bad people and there is no reason to give this any additional thought because it is simply the random nature of the universe.
Answer Two: On the other hand, a person who does believe in God and who believes that God intentionally created the universe, and the earth, and mankind, will sometimes stop to consider the question of why bad things sometimes happen to good people. The purpose of the remainder of this article is to consider this question from the perspective of a person who does believe in God and who does believe that God is good.
This article will not discuss the concept of good and bad from the perspective of any one religion. Instead this article will discuss the concept of good and bad in a very general way. In addition, this article will not discuss the concept of God from the perspective of any one religion. This article will not try to define God but will instead simply accept the fact that there is a single supreme all-powerful God who created everything without trying to prove the existence of God. If you don't believe in God then the above first explanation of the random nature of the universe should be satisfactory for you and you do not need to read any further.
If God created the universe and the earth and mankind then God had the option to create the earth and mankind any way He desired.
Let's look at two of the possible ways that God could have created the earth as follows:
1. A world that was perfect.
2. A world that was not perfect.
Let's examine each of the above two options one-at-a-time.
A World That Was Perfect: In a perfect world God would have needed to instill within mankind a specific set of guidelines that mankind could not deviate from for any reason. In other words, it would not be possible for mankind to experience the emotions of lust, hate, envy, anger, jealousy, or the desire to cause another person any kind of pain for any reason. God could have easily created mankind so that each one of us would start each new day with nothing but good thoughts in our heads and we could only do things during the day that would benefit ourselves or other people. Each person may have been able to choose from a wide variety of possible activities each day but none of those activities would have been harmful in any way. And God could have created the world so that an accidental injury was impossible. In this perfect world everyone would have done some type of productive work each day and there would have been no poverty, no sickness, and no differences between the places that people slept each night or the possession each person had. No one would have cared what any other person looked like because this would not be important to anyone. It would make no difference if a person were male or female, or tall or short, or green or blue. And everyone that God made in this perfect world would live forever and that person would do some type of work every day and go to sleep every night and never have to worry about anything for any reason. Nobody would do any more work or any less work than anyone else. Nobody would eat any more food or any less food than anyone else. Nobody would get any more sleep or any less sleep than anyone else. Nobody would need to spend any time thinking about the future because each new day would be very similar to all previous days. In this perfect world there would have been no need for God because God would have made everything perfect and self-sustaining and God would never have to look at the world because it would have continued functioning perfectly forever.
A World That Was Not Perfect: On the other hand, instead of making the world perfect, God could have decided to give each person the right to decide whether or not he or she would sometimes do good things and sometimes do bad things. But if each person has this right then that means that some good people may get hurt by some bad people. In fact, a bad person may decide to intentionally kill another person or lots of other people. In this situation God would have to make the decision whether or not to intervene and protect the good person or whether to let the bad person do whatever he or she wanted. If God intervened then God would need to remove the freedom of choice from that person and from every other person who may want to do something bad. In other words, God would be constantly intervening to prevent anyone from doing anything bad. In effect, this would not be much different from the perfect world described above. Another way that God could have managed this imperfect world would be to judge each person when he or she died and then reward a good person by allowing a good person to enter some type of eternal paradise where there are only other good people, and by punishing a bad person by casting that bad person into some type of eternal horrible place that only contains other bad people. Then God could have made this final judgment known to all the people of the world and He could have given each person the choice to believe or not believe in the final judgment. A person who truly wanted justice would choose to believe in a final judgment. A person who wanted to do bad things and who wanted to believe that he or she was constantly getting away with his or her bad deeds could simply choose to not believe in a final judgment. The interesting thing about this option is that each person gets to choose his or her final destiny by the way he or she behaves here on earth. This means that the place of eternal paradise will only be populated with good people who wish to do good things and who respect God's authority. And the place of eternal punishment will only be populated with bad people who wish to do bad things and who reject God's authority.
The above very general discussion is not based on the teachings of any single religion because many religions that believe in one God also believe in a final judgment and a place of eternal happiness and a place of eternal misery. One of the differences between some religions is whether or not a person only gets one chance at life before the judgment, or whether a person is reincarnated many, many times until that person either reaches one extreme or the other.
The above was not intended to be a theological discussion. It was only intended as a brief introduction to one possible explanation of why bad things sometimes happen to good people.
The above simple discussion has not yet addressed any of the following situations:
Events such as the above are part of the original question posed at the beginning of this article and this article has not yet addressed these issues.
- A newborn baby gets very sick and dies.
- A person is born handicapped.
- A kindhearted generous person trips and falls down some stairs and dies.
- An earthquake destroys an entire city that contains thousands of people including many righteous good people.
- An evil wicked person becomes a ruler and he lives to be 100 years old and during his reign he executes hundreds of thousands of good people to satisfy his blood lust.
A person who does not believe in God will use examples similar to the above to defend his or her beliefs and to theoretically prove that there is no God.
However, a person who does believe in God will not have any rational logical way to explain any of the above events. Therefore the above events can easily lead a weak-minded person away from his or her belief in God. However, a person who cannot be shaken in his or her beliefs will realize that each one of us only has a very small brain and there is absolutely no way any one of us could possibly understand God's sovereign plan for mankind. There is simply no way we could understand the total ripple effect of one simple action.
For example, a lifeguard may jump into the water and rescue a drowning person. Instead of drowning that person may then live another forty years and during that time that person may voluntarily help other people on hundreds of occasions, or that person may become a homicidal manic and randomly kill one or two people each week over a period of forty years. When the lifeguard originally rescued the drowning person the lifeguard was only doing what he or she was trained to do and the lifeguard is not responsible for what that person does for the rest of his or her life. But the ripple effect is still there.
As another example, a tornado may unexpectedly and without warning destroy the homes of two-hundred families and kill five-hundred people. The ripple effect of this disaster is impossible to understand. The loss of the economic output of those families will impact that area for many years. Some good deeds that some of those people would have done will never be done. And some bad deeds that some of those people would have done will never be done. The loss of life will be tragically felt by the family members and close friends who survived. The people who died will not have any more children and their family lines will come to an end. Some of the people who died will have been young children and they will never have the chance to grow up and make decisions for themselves. The total combined ripple effect of this one tragic event could never be completely understood by a person. But God understands the ripple effect from before the event happened all the way into eternity.
The only thing a person who believes in God can do is to trust in God and have faith that God knows exactly what He is doing and God uses all events, both good and bad, to work together to accomplish His sovereign plan for all of mankind.
It is also helpful if a person believes in a good God and an evil spiritual being. A person who believes this way will be careful not to blame God for an event perpetrated by the evil spiritual being. However, God is still the Supreme Ruler of the entire universe and He limits the activities of the evil spiritual being. God is also able to easily use tragic events to bring about good outcomes for the benefit of one person or for all of mankind.
Finally, it is also helpful if your belief in God also includes a belief in the hereafter and you believe that every person who dies will spend eternity in a good place or a bad place based on God's perfect unbiased judgment of that person. How God judges a person is not the purpose of this article because each religion has its own beliefs on this issue.
This is the advantage that a good person who believes in God and a hereafter has over all the other people in the world. He or she believes that death is not the end of life but the transition of life into another level of existence that is either infinitely better than this one or is infinitely worse than this one.
In conclusion, this type of good person does not need to waste time trying to answer the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" because only God knows the answer and it is impossible for any person to understand things the way that God understands things.
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