The Three Reasons That God Allows Bad Things to Happen to Good People
Have you ever wondered about this?
As a Christian, there is one question you hear posed more than any other. Sometimes it’s asked sadly by other Christians and other times, it’s tossed out vindictively by atheists. It’s always some variation of “If God is all-powerful, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?” I was reminded of that as I ran across a Facebook post with the following meme on it, which was reinforced by the comment below:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
Now, I am not a theologian, a Bible scholar, or a pastor. Furthermore, if you do not believe in God, I’m not going to try to talk you into it (if you’re a non-Christian who wants to explore that possibility, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis could be a good book to read). However, I can answer the questions posed in that meme/comment and the day before we celebrate Christ’s birthday seems like a good day to do it.
First of all, when I was younger, I would have started and finished with the concept of choice. If God simply wanted programmable robots, He could have easily built us that way. We could all just be “Christian bots” who walk around saying, “Praise Jesus” as we do nice things for each other with absolutely no choice in the matter. However, instead, God gave us free will. We can choose to accept Him or reject Him. We can choose to do good or do evil – and we Christians believe our choices determine where we go after this life is over.
Well, it’s impossible to have free will unless you can choose to be evil. If every person who did something good was rewarded by angels blowing their trumpets and showering them with gold while every evil person was poked in the butt by a demon with a pitchfork while Hitler popped up from behind a bush to shout, “Join me in my endless suffering in Hell, sinner,” what meaningful choice would any of us have about believing in God or doing God’s will? Theoretically, we might have a choice, but theoretically, we all also have a choice to jump headfirst into a woodchipper. That’s not a real choice.
Getting beyond choice, we cannot forget that in the Christian religion, our life in this world is temporary, while our life in the world beyond this one is eternal. How our lives play out here on earth seems very important to us because it’s all we know. That’s why we’re incessantly asking God for things. Sometimes we believe He even decides to favor us and grant our requests. I wish I could say that we Christians always appreciate that when it happens, but most of the time, we convince ourselves that we just got lucky. That’s because what we really want is that undeniable BOLT FROM THE BLUE followed by, “YOU ARE GOING TO PASS YOUR GEOMETRY TEST BILLY, DESPITE THE FACT THAT YOU DIDN’T STUDY, JUST AS YOU PRAYED FOR. THUS SPEAKS GOD,” but that’s not how it works. Instead, our God is a God of bank shots. Billy goes to school, the teacher misses class because she’s hungover, the test gets moved to Monday, Billy studies all weekend, passes with a C- on Monday and he goes, “Whew! I really got lucky this time” instead of thanking God for answering his prayers by helping him get a C- instead of an F.
Of course, as we all know, a lot of things in life worse than flunking a test happen as well. Torture, rape, terrorism, slavery, starvation, murder, pestilence, war, and every form of horror you can imagine are all going on somewhere as you read this now. Still, if you’re a good person who dies badly at the hands of cruel people, but you spend the rest of eternity in heaven, you did really well. Even Jesus, who exemplified this concept by allowing himself to be crucified, said to Pontius Pilot:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” -- John 18:36
At the end of a lifetime, how important are any cruelties, inconveniences, and suffering we face in this world compared to whether we go to heaven or hell after we die? Not very.
Last but not least, we also can’t forget that famous phrase, “God moves in mysterious ways.” Some people may consider that to be a cop-out, but it’s not at all. It’s an acknowledgment that as smart as we human beings think we are, we know nothing compared to God. I always like to think about it in terms of my dog. If, in a play on that meme, my dog was given an opportunity to be in charge instead of me, she would most certainly do an enormous number of things differently. For one thing, she hates it when I talk on the phone because she genuinely doesn’t seem to understand what I’m doing, so there’d be no more of that. She’d also probably prefer that I dumped all of my garbage on the floor where she can easily get to it instead of putting it in a trash can where she can’t reach it. She would set things up so she could go outside without a leash and roam around the area anytime she wants, would demand I take her into other people’s homes so she could play with their dogs, and she’d insist I spend my entire income on bones, treats and toys. There are a lot of things she'd do differently than me because she doesn't have the intellect to understand why certain things are done in certain ways.
We don't either.
A human being does not have the knowledge, raw intelligence, or experience to judge what God is doing or why He’s doing it any more than my dog can judge what I’m doing. It’s simply beyond us and in our time on Earth, that will always be the case.
We may want the world to be a paradise where everyone is kind to one another and life is one long walk in the park, but that’s not how this world is designed. Of course, you can still choose to be a decent, kind, respectful, and good person who makes the world a better place for the people around you. That won’t fix the world, but you will have at least done your part to make it a better place. Combine that with a belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and we Christians will tell you that after you shed this mortal coil, you can go to the kind of paradise that is also denied us in this life. No one can make that decision for another person though. As was noted earlier, each person gets to make their own choice.