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Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why do bad things happen to good people?  I have long been plagued by this question.  Some of the best people I know are continually called upon to face the most difficult and trying challenges this world has to offer.  On the flip side, some of the worst people I know seem to have everything: good jobs, good looks, nice cars, and (more importantly, and perhaps even more unfairly) people that love them.  Lots and lots of people.  So what gives?

There are a number of different explanations, and the answer you reach probably depends on your belief system.  If you believe in God, then you believe that God is in control.  As such, you are left with two options: either (1) God causes bad things to happen to good people and good things to happen to bad people, or (2) (and more common) God allows these things to happen.  Most people that believe in God, at least a Judeo-Christian God, believe that He is inherently kind and good.  So they have a hard time getting their heads around a God that would cause bad things to befall the good and good things to bless the bad.  Maybe it’s just semantics, but they prefer to believe that God allows these things to happen.

The catch-all explanation is that everything has a purpose, and this life is a chance to learn and to grow.  To be stretched.  To be challenged.  So if God allows something bad to happen to you, it is, ultimately, designed to help you grow.  To become better.  It’s for your good.  It is, in essence, a good thing, happening to a good person, albeit by roundabout and difficult means.

Of course, good things happen to good people sometimes, too.  If something good happens to a good person, then it is a blessing, something God causes to happen to you to reward you for your goodness.  If you are a good person and bad things happen to you, though, it is something God has allowed to happen to you, it is for your good, and you will grow from it.  Essentially, also a blessing, though not quite as directly so.

Under this system, then, why do good things still happen to bad people?  It’s simple, good things happen to bad people so that God-fearing good people can look on the bad people with the good things and be stretched even further.  If you can look at a bad person lavished with good things while your life is in the toilet, and still believe that God is good and life is fair, then you are either very naive, or very convinced that even this (good person forced to see bad person up to his eyeballs in good things while good person’s life flounders) is a blessing.  And I think this is the conclusion most religious people come up with: everything is for your good.  Everything is a blessing.  There is no such thing as a bad thing.  These God-fearing good people have an explanation for everything.

Of course, not everyone believes in God.  Erase God from the equation, and it becomes quite simple: there are good people, there are bad people, sometimes good things happen, sometimes bad things happen, there is no rhyme or reason, that’s just the way it is (and no matter what your belief system, doesn’t it seem, at least sometimes, like this is the way it really is?  If you’re honest, I think you have to answer “yes”).

So what do you think?  God is omniscient and He knows when your life needs something really crappy to happen so that somewhere down the road you will appreciate what you have?  If so, is He allowing these things to happen?  Causing them to happen?  Or is His role less active?  Is He just a passive observer?  Or is He there at all?


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  • Jon September 21, 2011, 7:34 am

    Hello Spencer,

    I saw your blog and I was intrigued with what you wrote. Your right this does seem to be one of the big questions. Here’s some thoughts to ponder that have come across my mind. First, what is a bad thing. I come up against many situations were a ‘bad thing’ was relative to time space and even history. My girl friend got cancer and died, bad thing right? Except that I met my wife had a wonderful family. Funny how we never ask why do good things happen to us, right? While from human perspective it was a bad thing from a long term perspective it was an opportunity for something else.

    Good people? I don’t believe there are ‘good’ people. People can be more kind than others, perhaps less selfish, but that’s really no measuring stick of good. If I’m a murderer, but in the a prison environment I’m actually trying to make good decisions, obey the rules of the institution ect. Compared to the crazed maniac who spends 90% of the time in disciplinary measures, one might say I’m a model prisoner. Other prisoners might say I’m a good person. Doubtful though the person’s family whom I hurt would classify me as a good person. OK so this example is a bit extreme, but my point is we are just comparing this person to another person, both of which have a propensity to act in an evil way and do act in an evil way. In the end about the best we can achieve is “model prisoner.” But good person? I don’t think so.

    Second, I’m not sure I like the ‘God allows it answer.’ Except that in he allows free will. That is to say, God allows us to chose good, and conversely choose evil. So why is there evil? Well I don’t think there is evil, only an absence of good. Reality is that we can’t have good and free will and not have evil. If bondage is evil or ‘bad’ and free will is good and God is Good, than God allows people to choose evil.

    Natural disasters are apart of the natural order; mother nature if you will. Why is there death might be another question, but if we lived forever we’d have a whole different problem on our hands. As part of natural order, we live, we die, and new people are born again.

    To me this seems to answer the question better than the purposed ‘christian’ answer above, or the non-christian answer for that matter, which really is not an answer all but more just a statement of reality. Like “well that’s just way it is.” I suppose it is an answer, just not a very satisfying one. Cheers, thanks for the post.

  • spencer throssell September 21, 2011, 8:06 am


    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I have to agree with you; the terms “good” and “evil” are over-broad. “Good” people? If by that we mean “perfect” or “never bad,” of course those people don’t exist. I agree with you too that no one is inherently good, but only better or worse than someone else.

    You raise a very interesting point asking “why do we never question when good things happen to us?” I don’t know. What do you think? Are we too busy enjoying our luck? Or do we not question it because we feel like that is what we deserve?

    Whatever the source of “good” or “bad” things, I have seen too how, in retrospect, it was all for the best or all for my experience.

    The natural order is also an important consideration.

    Is there a “Christian” answer I am not considering? I’m not challenging you, just curious.

    Appreciated your insights!

  • Alben Roland April 30, 2012, 11:01 am

    Jon has pointed out one of the things about religion that drives people crazy. The whole primiise is that because we make mistakes, humanity is somehow dirty. Now we have to invent something to deliver us from the dirt. Yet, God is accredited to many horrible acts in the Old Testament. Believers attempt to explain this away by saying that God can do what God wants… when God commands genocide or rape or whatever, it’s not bad because God wanted it. I personally prefer spirituality over religion. Spirituality is a personal quest to connect to the universe (everything around us) to find where we fit within that tapestry and be at one with it. That can happen without the dogma. What do i mean by dogma? here’s an example…
    I have the best news in the world. Here’s what I believe …
    Now if you believe what I just told you, you will be blessed 🙂
    If you’re skeptical, bad things will happen to you when you die… so believe what I told you or else!!! Oh, and if you’re horrible but you believe, grace will allow you to escape bad things. If you tend to be a very ethical and loving person but you’re skeptical about what I told you, well sorry but no grace for you! get ready to take your eternal punishment.