Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Leibniz, in his metaphysical work The Monadology, argues that this world is the most perfect of all the possible worlds. God being perfect, loving and all-knowing could not have given to us a bad world had there been any better than this one as he understands it. The classic question arising from this argument is why is there so much evil in this world if it was chosen by God? Well, simple answer, the other ones are worse than this one. So there would even be more evil had we had a different one.  That is a very depressing answer because many of us believe that the God we know and obey must be able to do better than this, so why this evil one? It seems, from this view, that God did not create the world. He only had to choose the best of many worlds. People like me believe that though the big bang happened, God was its author, and so He had control over what emerges from it. If He only had to choose from many worlds created from the big bang, it would seem that He did not monitor the big bang as we understand it.

It seems to me that that question, though it has taken many different forms over the centuries, has been a concern for many generations before us. We see that St Augustine, who was very well versed in philosophy before converted to Christianity, had tried to provide an answer to this classic question. For him, a good God could not possibly create evil. Evil could not be if good is not. “All things are good because their maker is supremely good”, he says. But in these things goodness can be increased or decreased. As he sees it, all things were created good, but when its good decreases, we call it evil. So evil is a diminution of good. Evil is corruption of the good. Though things are created good, they can be contaminated by evil/corruption. Since all things are created good, they can never be totally deprived of goodness. So no matter how evil a thing is, it has some good in it. Evil would be unable to exist if there were no good for it to exist in. I know that answer may make you edgy, but it’s a very apologetic answer that may not satisfy objections such as by what mean did the first evil/corruption enter the world since everything was originally good? Why did God, the author of all, allow the good to dwindle and so become evil? These are concerns that don’t make us comfortable with St Augustine’s very insightful answer. Keep reading!

Another way that question surfaces is through reflection from the creation story. If God is the creator of all things, God must be the author of evil. If God is not its author, where does it come from? If God is a loving, merciful God, why in the world does He need to allow or create so much evil? The way I see it is that God is not responsible for the evil in the world; we are. It’s only because we misuse our free-will that evil exists in the world. Our free-will is given so we can choose the good, but we don’t always do so. When we don’t, it has consequences. All of us have at some point misused our free-will, so we all deserve what happens to us. Does the evil that happens to us proportionate to what we do? You answer that. Is evil a consequence of sin, or does it occur even when we don’t sin? Who can say he does not sin?

The third way that question emerges is why do bad things happen to good people? The most classic and puzzling writing about this question is the book of Job. May that book be our guide in our endeavor to answer that question.

The book of Job seems to provide the most straightforward answer to the problem of evil, and why bad things happen to good people. According to the book of Job (one of the books in the Bible), there are things that transcends our understanding. So we don’t know why bad things happen to good people. Though Job deemed himself good, God actually boasts of Job’s goodness, evil almost destroys him. Job, before then, never expected evil to happen to him since he served God so well. God only allows evil to happen to Job to teach (him) a lesson. Who knows whether each one of us must not learn that lesson about life? Maybe through experiencing suffering ourselves or seeing someone suffers. Who says that suffering is not part of life’s cycle? Job’s friends attempted to convince him that he must not be as good as he thought he was. He rightly rejected that. Job maintains his integrity and uprightness despite what his friends say. He believes that his suffering is not on par with his sins. He refrains from cursing God, though his wife suggested it. Finally, God intervenes and condemns Job’s friends for acting as if they understand the way of God. He makes Job understands that there are mysteries surpassing man’s knowledge. Job repents for having spoken too arrogantly.

There is such a thing as mystery. We don’t know why bad things happen to good people. It is so easy for you and I to determine whether someone is good or bad. A kind, generous, loving, peaceful person who loves God and neighbor is undoubtedly a good person. Children are undoubtedly good people. We cannot access someone’s conscious; we only judge from appearances, and so make assumptions. We assume a lot when we ask why bad things happen to good people. First, we assume as if we can really say who’s good or bad. Does not good or bad in this case depend solely on our own standard? Such assumptions kick God’s standard, whom we cannot thoroughly know, out of the equation. Secondly, we act as if we understand God’s way. He says in Isaiah 55, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts”. Thirdly, we assume that suffering is bad. Well, bad for us I know. What about God? Did Jesus not conquer the world through the most humiliating suffering? So we should stop blaming God for the way things are. It is best to say that they are that way for a good cause.

Now it is understandable these kinds of questions are asked. We are, after all, weak human beings unable to understand our own self. So it is no surprise we cannot crack open the mysteries of God. Shall we say then evil happen or sufferings are the cause of our own condition, or our innocent loved ones suffer because  of our own wretchedness?

From a purely secular viewpoint, suffering is a curse hampering us from living life to the full. However, only when looked at from a religious’ perspective does it make sense. Only when we add God in the picture is suffering bearable. Only then is there a reason to suffer. Without the cross our suffering would be meaningless. There would be no reason to endure it. It is no surprise the unbeliever committed suicide as soon as the doctor says his illness is incurable. The believer, though he may not know the reason for his particular suffering, knows it is a good one and can make use of his suffering and be transformed by prayer. More importantly, the God the sufferer is calling upon is not a distant God who does not know what suffering entails. He went through it himself and so is capable of helping those who are undergoing similar things.

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