Why do bad things happen to good people?
With the news still reflecting the horrendous repercussions of the Parkland, Florida tragedy, with 17 students being murdered and many others wounded or traumatically impacted by this profound evil, I have heard many questions posed in various venues regarding… “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” That question inevitably surfaces in times of tragedy. Why do bad things happen to good people? I thought it would be good to address this prevailing concern from a faith perspective.
I begin by mentioning that there is no totally satisfactory answer to these questions because evil and suffering are divine mysteries. Philosophers and theologians have pondered this for thousands of years, and there has never been, nor will be, complete answers for us this side of heaven. However, looking at theory can correct misconceptions about the role of God in suffering. Moral suffering is suffering that we caused or could have prevented, based on choices we made. Non-moral suffering comes from things we didn’t cause or couldn’t prevent. I will focus on moral suffering.
Evil exists because God respects our freedom. When we suffer, we might conclude God doesn’t exist, or doesn’t care. God granted us freedom that even He won’t meddle with because He respects our freedom. Our freedom is necessary for our love to be authentic. God loves every person he has created, Saints and sinners; He will not force His love on anyone and will allow them to choose against Him. Choosing against God involves the possibility of moral suffering and evil.
There is a tendency to blame God for suffering, especially suffering resulting from things outside of us, choices made by other people that affect us. If we are honest, we can’t blame God for this sort of suffering, because it involves people making choices out of their own free will. God respects and protects our freedom to love, so much, that He risks the possibility of us choosing not to love people, and even, not to love Him.
But you may ask… Isn’t there an exception? Can God coax our family, our sweetheart, our friends and co-workers to love us more? We perceive God as being silent because He allows our freedom to be non-coerced, even by Him. God does not intrude upon free will, but can give divine influence. However, how He dispenses divine influence is also a mystery. Our human capacity to understand this mystery is limited, and it is a tough reality to contend with. I do know God can ultimately redeem whatever goes wrong; and therein lies my hope. Where evil, sin and suffering abound, God teaches me to respond, that out of suffering we can create beautiful qualities that last forever. I’ve come to learn that the only really satisfactory way of dealing with evil is not to simply bind it, but rather to overcome it with good.
Suffering gives us the opportunity to move beyond ourselves to create beautiful qualities that transform our hearts. Hidden in the poignancy of suffering is a choice. Will I turn inward to myself because my suffering is pointless and unbearable? Worse yet, will I deny the existence of my suffering altogether? Or will I open myself to the possibility of growth and improvement through the embrace of my suffering? When suffering turns us in on ourselves, we tend to seek instant pleasures in things, appearances and egos. Yet these pleasures only distract us momentarily; they can never satisfy suffering. We sadden and grieve God when we retreat into ourselves, because He seeks to draw us out of ourselves freeing us to do good and service others.
We need to embrace the fact that God is not to blame for my sufferings of being forgotten, suspected, lied to, slandered, rejected, dominated, humiliated, tormented, afflicted by prolonged illness or abandoned. My own free will and that of other people bring about these harms. I need to be cognizant that when harm comes my way, God weeps with me and extends His gifts of grace, comfort and humility. We have to admit that in the poignancy of suffering, we tend to feel self-pity, resentment, bitterness and betrayal by the very God whom we love. We are tempted to perceive His silence as the “withdrawal of consolation”… as Him being uncaring or indifferent.
Yes, there is anguish in our not entirely understanding the mystery of suffering. Let us always be mindful, however, that our Lord exhorts us to trust in Him, and believe that His grace is always sufficient if we will do so. Trust and patience go hand-in-hand. and we are told in Psalm 27:14. “Put your hope in the Lord, be strong; let your heart be bold, hope in the Lord.” His comfort comes when we most need it. When I think God is far away, He is often really closest to me. Perhaps God also desires someone to console Him.
Lord, deliver us from all evil,