Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

Several years ago Rabbi Harold Kushner had the tragedy of watching his young daughter slowly die of a horrible disease. Through this pain, Kushner came to decide that God is good and cannot desire such evil, therefore He must be limited in His ability to do anything about helping hurting humans in their suffering. Kushner accepted that God exists, but could not accept that God would allow horrible things if He could prevent them, therefore Kushner concluded that God could not prevent evil. God is therefore finite and limited, according to Kushner. He spells this out in his book Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

However Kushner’s conclusion is not necessarily logical nor inevitable. As Norman Geisler so aptly pointed out in several places, we can also conclude that God will right every wrong in eternity. It could very well be that God has an overarching purpose for people, and since we are finite, we may not understand His ultimate purpose. The scriptures give us an analogy of God being a Father and we being a child. Have you ever tried to explain an adult purpose to a small child?  Despite your best intentions, sooner or later the child will ask “Why?” and you will simply answer, “Because I said so.” To the child they are genuinely suffering, but you know that in order for them to grow, they must go through the pain. As C. S. Lewis said, “Pain is God’s megaphone.”

But the view that Kushner presents assumes that this world is the end of things. What if there is an eternity, and an eternity with a purpose? Does not the Potter have authority over the clay, without asking the clay what it wants to be?

Philosophers have also questioned, asking “If God is all-powerful, then why couldn’t He make a world where people could mature without suffering?”  and “If God is all-powerful, why couldn’t He stop the worst of it?” These are valid questions.  As to the first, God cannot make impossible and contradictory things. He cannot make a square circle, or a stick with only one end, or two mountains without a valley between them. Nor can He make people to mature without growth. As to the second question, how do you know He isn’t already stopping the worst of it?  Could God not already be restricting the worst of evil?  We can all think of how things could be worse.  Remember our small child? The child often experiences pain and thinks that nothing could be worse, but the parent knows there can be much worse suffering, and is protecting the child from the worst suffering.

But the question about why bad things happen to good people assumes that people are good. Instead, we are told in scripture that none of us are good. Romans 3 says that we have all gone astray, the poison of asps is under our tongues, for we have all sinned. Only God is good. The question should rather be, “Why do good things happen to bad people?”

Ultimately, we are forced to recognize the pain of suffering as real pain, and throw ourselves on the mercy of God and not lose trust in Him, for He is our only source of salvation.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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2 Responses to Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

  1. David Bower says:

    My heart goes out to Rabbi Kushner, no parent wants to outlive their children; the fact is, this does happen and when it does the parent hurts. I too have shared in that pain not only as a father but also as a grandfather; I have watched as both my son and my grandson died and there was nothing I could do.

    I had three inestimable advantages over Rabbi Kushner when that happened to me; I had a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior, the indwelling Holy Spirit of God as my Teacher and my Comforter, and I had the New Testament revelation from God as my guide.

    The doctors had discovered a mass in my son’s head and he had gone in for surgery to remove the mass; after the surgery we were told our son had a virulent inoperable form of brain cancer and that he had no more than three months to live. The job of telling our son fell to me; he was 24 years old at the time and had a bright future before him that was now over. I don’t think I have to tell you how difficult that was for me to do.

    I tried to tell him what the doctors had said in as gentle a manner as possible; I still vividly recall how he was sitting up in the hospital bed listening silently as I spoke. A few tears started running down his face as he asked me, “did God allow this,” and I told him yes, God had allowed this to happen.

    That was the only time I ever saw him cry about what had happened to him; he was prepared to accept this as God’s will for his life. He struggled valiantly for four years, but the cancer finally did its work and our son went home to be with the Lord on a Sunday evening as the family watched.

    When we saw he was gone, we gathered around him and I led the family in prayer that the Lord would use us to show all who might witness that God’s grace is abundantly sufficient in the worst times of testing and that our faith would honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

    God very graciously answered that prayer and sustained our family over the next few days enabling us to turn our son’s funeral into a celebration of a life and a time or rejoicing in our son’s homecoming. I found out later the celebratory nature of the funeral was instrumental in helping an unsaved business associate of mine find the Lord as his Savior.

    Our grandson, our daughter’s first child, was born without a pulmonary artery; initially it was thought he would not live after life support was removed. My daughter called the funeral home to put them on standby and gave permission to remove life support. To everyone’s amazement he did not die and although his blood oxygen level was low, he was alive. He was transferred to Texas Children’s Hospital where diagnostic surgery would be tried; during the surgery the surgeons discovered that there was no pulmonary artery, not even a stub for one; there was nothing they could do. After several days of recovery he was permitted to go home with his parents with the warning that he could die at any time.

    During the 10 months he lived he was a precious child, always having a big smile for anyone who walked up to his crib. My concern was that the one who was with him when he died would condemn themselves for not taking some action that would have possibly prolonged his life.

    By God’s grace he was in the Texas Children’s Hospital for a checkup when that final moment came; when his initial distress was observed only seconds passed before he was surrounded by a team of professionals who could do nothing to delay his death any longer. All knew that anything that could have been done had been done. He had gone home to be with the Lord.

    Through both of these events my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ never wavered; God had indeed demonstrated that His grace is truly abundantly sufficient in any time of testing He might allow us to experience. I sincerely look forward to seeing both of them when the Lord is ready to call me home.

  2. humblesmith says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your experiences. I cannot imagine how difficult this was for you and your family.

    One beauty of our God is that He has a purpose for what happens. Another is that we will be able to be in eternity with our loved ones in Christ.

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