Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

A pastor has a tragic car accident while on a mission trip. His family is left devastated; four young children are left without their father. How did this happen? Another influential Christian minister is struck down with a mystery illness and, in spite of the prayers of thousands, dies at the peak of her ministry; why? Does God want this to happen?

We should preface everything that is discussed on this topic by the understanding that we all are under God's grace. No matter how strong, weak, mature, knowing or lacking in knowledge, one person does not stand in less favour than another. There is simply no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. (Romans 8:1)

Some Things We Will Never Know

In specific cases, we may never have an answer that will satisfy everyone. People often say they believe something, but in reality, they may have serious doubts. They may appear to be living one way, but in fact, have a secret thought life. This is the typical experience of many people. (James 1:8) We do not know what is going on in people's lives; usually, it isn't any of our business.

Things Happen That Are Not God's Best For People

We can presume that Jesus walked in God's perfect will, but he's the only one who has. Just because something happened to the Apostles Paul, or Peter, or Aunt Mary, doesn't mean it was God's best. God's perfect will is only known by understanding His Word (Romans 12:2).

Just because something happens, doesn't mean it is God's will. The most we can say is that God allowed it to happen.

In the church in Corinth, a man had been living with his father's wife. The man was living out of God's will and in disobedience. Paul commanded he be removed from the protection of the church, to allow Satan to deal with him.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you … you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
— 1 Corinthians 5: 1-5 ESV

The interesting thing about this case is that while the man was in the protection of the church, Satan couldn't get to him. Only the man's disobedience and the action of being removed from the church, allowed Satan to get to him.

Paul was suggesting that once the man had suffered for a while, he might come to his senses. We know that this is what happened. In 2nd Corinthians, Paul implores the church to accept the man back into fellowship 'so that he will not be overwhelmed with excess sorrow'.

It is not God's perfect will for people to suffer, but suffering because of their stupidity can, at times, allow people to come to their senses and move back into the will of God.

Asking The Right Question

In many ways, the question, 'Why do bad things happen to good people?' is the wrong question. Like asking a loving husband, 'Have you stopped abusing your wife?', the enquiry is based on inaccurate presumptions.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
— Matthew 5:44-45 ESV

God provides good things for everyone to enjoy, the righteous and the unrighteous. Indeed, in Matthew 5, Jesus commands us to act graciously to all people, as a reflection of His character in us.

Similarly, the thief, Satan, attempts to do his work of 'stealing, killing and destroying' (John 10:10), to everyone-often times, regardless of their spiritual condition.

Some things, good or bad, happen to people just because they live in this world. This doesn't mean we have to suffer, or need to be overcome by situations. It just means we will face difficult circumstance because we live in a fallen world.

Jesus Turns The Question On Its Head

In Luke 13: 1-5, Jesus deals with the issue of why bad things happen to 'good' people.

Jesus was approached by religious types over a tragedy where Pilate had killed some Galileans as they were worshipping at the temple. They implied that the Galileans were terrible sinners for such a horrendous thing to happen to them.

Jesus reminded the people of the deaths of eighteen people when a tower collapsed on them. He then went on to explain that the victims were neither worse or better than anyone else- in other words, these tragedies didn't happen because they were good or bad. The assumptions behind their religious beliefs were based on false premises.

Jesus said, 'do you think they were worse offenders than those who didn't perish- I tell you, NO!' He then went on to say, that 'unless you repent, you will likewise perish'. (Luke 13:5) Jesus was saying that the default destiny of everyone who does not turn to God is to perish.

The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13: 6-9)

Jesus went on to tell the self-righteous crowd about a farmer who delayed cutting down a fruitless fig tree, giving it full opportunity to bear fruit. Although we are all deserving of judgement, God's personal and active judgement is being withheld from people, urging us all to repent and turn to him.

The Real Question Is? (Luke 13:10-17)

Immediately following the account of the Galileans murdered by Pilate and the parable of the Barren Fig Tree, Luke records Jesus healing a woman who had been crippled for over eighteen years.

Jesus approaches her in the temple, on the Sabbath day. Unlike most other occasions, when Jesus responded to acts of faith, in this instance, Jesus deliberately singles out someone who has not asked for healing. This is a different class of miracle. It's an example of a miracle that is initiated by the Holy Spirit. God wanted to demonstrate a point with this miracle.

The Sabbath day miracle stirred up the religious people who were angry at Jesus for ignoring their religious laws, the same type of people who were interested in being more virtuous than the Galileans murdered by Pilate.

Then Jesus dealt with the real question that we should be asking about suffering.

Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?
— Luke 13:16 NIV

This woman was a child of the Covenant. She was under covenant with 'the Lord who heals you' (Ex 15:26). Satan had bound her. Satan had lied and deceived her into not knowing her covenant rights. The religious teachers had neglected to teach and practise the terms of the Covenant.

The real question is not 'why bad things happen to good people'. The question is 'why do covenant children suffer when they have a covenant of healing and protection!'

The answer to that question can be found throughout the New Testament.

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Written by Pastor Grant Peterson

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