Why do bad things happen to good people?

Loren Yadon, Idaho Statesman religion columnist
Loren Yadon, Idaho Statesman religion columnist

The 2-year-old daughter of a local dentist was recently diagnosed with cancer. Obviously, the family was surprised and devastated that a child who hardly got started in life should face one of life’s most formidable challenges. When the initial shock subsided, the questions began. “Why should such an innocent be afflicted? Why does this happen to our family? Who is responsible for such heartbreak?” So, this family joins the multitude of others, including my own parents, who struggle with the serious illness of their children.

I stood beside the hospital bed and helped restrain an elderly gentleman who was writhing in unspeakable agony as his heart was failing and every member of his body was crying for more oxygen. His son, who was also holding his father, wept and cried out, “Why should such a good man have so much pain? Why can’t he pass peacefully?”

From the onset of human existence, people have wrestled with the seeming contradiction of why bad things happen to good people. Deep within the human psyche lives the idea that if something goes wrong in life, there must be an underlying cause. In John 9:1-2, Jesus and his disciples encountered a man who had been born blind. The initial reaction of one of the disciples was: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This response echoes one of our responses to tragedy. The outflowing of life must be the result of cause and effect.

Perhaps it was because of this native dilemma that the book of Job was one of the first books of the Bible preserved for us. In the first two chapters, the author qualified Job as being such a wonderful, prosperous and generous man, so we would know that what happened to him was not because of something he or his family had done to deserve it. Bad things can happen to good people. Why?

First, the story of Job plainly laid the blame on Satan. The devil attacked this family. At some point, people must face the reality that there is a source of both good and evil in our world. In John 10:10, Jesus contrasted his mission with that of Satan, whom he called “the thief.” The thief’s mission is to steal, kill, and destroy — everything good and decent in life. But Jesus said he had come to give people abundant life. There are evil forces at work in the world to bring havoc and heartache.

Secondly, we are part of the human family living in a “fallen” world, a planet in rebellion against its Creator. As a result of human sin, we are all susceptible to diseases, tragedies and sorrows that are common to our fellow man, regardless of merit.

Jesus’ answer to the disciple’s question in John 9 provides the third reason why bad things can happen to good people. Even though He did not send the tragedy, God’s greater purpose in our lives will turn our sorrows into avenues where grace can flow in and through our lives to accomplish a greater good. In the words of Paul in Romans 8:28, God can make all things work for our good. All things are not good, but when we yield our sorrows to Him, He can turn them into blessings. Some of life’s greatest people, moments and songs have emerged from the deepest griefs.

No one is more qualified to be a channel of compassion to those who are hurting with unspeakable tragedy than the fellow travelers who have been down that road. Don’t waste your sorrow in endless wallowing in questions. Give them to God Who alone can make you a conduit of His grace to others.

Loren A. Yadon is pastor of New Life Fellowship of Boise.

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.