Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?


February, 2003

Dear Ministry Partner,

Why do bad things happen to good people? Unbelievers often ask (with a hint of accusation in their voice), "If God is a good God, why is there pain and suffering on the earth?" The answer is simple, and complicated. In fact, the simple aspect is so obvious that almost any adult or child should be able to answer — the reason there is pain and suffering is because there is a Satan! (There is no suffering in Heaven where there is no Satan.) The fact that there is an earth teeming with complex life proves there is a God. The fact there is so much evil here proves there is a devil.

If there is a devil, who is he going to be most interested in afflicting — those that cooperate with him the most, or the most devoted followers of God? Naturally, Satan would prefer to afflict the devoted followers of God. The fact there are any Christians left alive on the planet is testimony to God's grace and protection. Because Satan's character is to afflict and injure, and because he cannot harm the Christians as he would like to, Satan vents his anger toward God on whatever humans he can — since all humans are created in God's likeness. The Bible says Satan goes about "seeking whom he may devour" (1st Peter 5:8). Sinners "give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:27) through their disobedience, thus opening the door to destruction in their lives. But Christians can similarly open a door to the devil with disobedience, both through ignorance and also willful sin.

On pain and suffering, God created "pain nerves" in the human body not to afflict us, but to serve as an early warning system when we are coming into contact with something harmful. If I lived my life carefully enough, it would be theoretically possible to go my whole life without feeling pain. It is primarily through poor judgement that I have fallen off my bike when showing off, injured myself by cutting toward my finger instead of away, or gotten burned carelessly from a pan on the stove. These pain nerves were actually a friend or ally — trying to tell me to stop a harmful behavior. In the same way, pain and suffering in any area of life is shouting at us to change a harmful behavior. Jesus would say, "Let him who has ears to hear, let him hear!" (repeated 24 times in the King James New Testament). I know of no other statement of Jesus repeated that many times in the Bible. So the issue seems to be that God is warning us in various ways (through His Word, through the inner witness, through other people, through circumstances, even through common sense), but the issue is whether we will pay attention.

If God was going to let us do anything we wanted with no negative consequences, he would be protecting and encouraging sin and evil. So He has built into the world system situations and mechanisms that produce pain (physical, emotional, spiritual) when we are violating His design. But some people see a sign that reads "Dangerous Curve Ahead" — and they push further down on the gas pedal! I sort of imagine that Jesus runs into many new arrivals in Heaven and says, "What are you doing here so soon?"

Then there is the case of other people inflicting pain and suffering on the innocent. This is a reality in a post-fall world because of the authorization of Satan's influence into the lives of humans by Adam and Eve. We are living out a large "experiment" that our "parents" decided to try in the Garden of Eden. Yes, everyone has the ability to affect others through their decisions. (That's why the argument is false that people should be able to do anything they want "in the privacy of their own home." Adam and Eve had total privacy, no one else yet lived on the planet.) This is why God tells us to pray "for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life" (1st Timothy 2:2). The decisions of others can be crucial to our own well-being, and so we need to pray for others (and work to increase the prayer level in other believers). "No man is an island" were the words of the famous English preacher John Donne, and he was right. We are affected by the decisions of others.

Another major factor in what happens to us and others in life is what we express as our will. God honors the free will of humans — it was He who decided to give us a free ability to choose. (Omnipotent God would be bored with robots for eternity.) So as we express our will in day to day life, we begin to "get what we say". Some people dismiss the "idle words" that people mutter or thoughtlessly remark through the course of their day as meaningless and having no consequences. But Jesus disagrees, stating "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37). From my law classes in college, I can tell you it was not that long ago that "verbal contracts" were admissible and binding in court as long as there were witnesses. The words that we speak create spiritually legal opportunities for either God or Satan to operate through. It doesn't usually happen instantly any more than a house is instantly created when you sign the real estate contract. But we would be more careful about what we said if we realized we were writing binding contracts with our mouth. "And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven... whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven." (Matthew 16:19). A lot of what we "bind and loose" actually happens not in our prayer time, but through the various good and bad things we say in the course of a day on the telephone, to our friends or relatives, and at work or school.

Proverbs 26:2 says, "a curse without cause shall not alight." There is always a reason for whatever happens — good or bad, even if the reason is not apparent (even if we don't find out until we get to Heaven). Whether we understand why a space shuttle explodes, a child dies of a disease, or a marriage breaks up, there is always a reason and we should not blame God or imply He caused it. It is humans that are imperfect, not God. "Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father" (James 1:17). "Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!" (Psalm 118:1).

There are many more Biblical reasons that bad things can happen to people. The Bible says, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). Is it possible that NASA could have been warned of a space shuttle problem, but ignored it out of pride? That kind of pride can cause "destruction" and "a fall" according to the Bible. Sad but true.

Sometimes people have yielded to a fear, and fear is a legal opening to the devil to bring to pass what the person fears. One of the keys to understanding the book of Job is in Job 3:25, "The thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me." This principle of fear works the same on the unrighteous, too. "What the wicked fears will come upon him" (Proverbs 10:24). Fear is simply faith in the devil's ability, and what a person believes in his heart and says with his mouth tends to happen (Mark 11:23). God exhorts us to have faith instead of fear. The Bible says, "The just shall live by faith," "without faith, it is impossible to please God," and "whatever is not of faith is sin."

Another entire area of spiritual dynamics is the area of sowing and reaping. This "reaping" in our lives (of blessing or harm) is by definition larger than what we sowed. Time causes it to increase "some 30, some 60, some 100 fold." In addition, it often even carries down to later generations. In the ten commandments, we find this principle listed in the second commandment where God allows "the iniquity of the fathers" to be reaped "on the children to the third and fourth generations" (Exodus 20:5). When Pilate was judging Jesus before the Jews, he told them, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person" and all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children." (Matthew 27:24-25). It fell on their children 37 years later when the Roman general Titus overthrew Jerusalem and killed over a million Jews according to the historian Josephus. This gets into what is popularly called "generational curses" and is too complex to fully cover in a few sentences. However, as a child of God, you are no longer obligated to receive the penalties of your natural father — you have a new Father! But steps must be taken to force the devil to release you (he doesn't play by the rules unless he has to). I have a cassette teaching tape titled The Law of Consequences which discusses these issues in detail, and provides the Biblical way out of the negative things we would otherwise reap in life.

The answers are in God's book. God is a good God, and He has "provided everything that pertains to life and Godliness" through knowledge of His Word (2nd Peter 1:3). Write us today for more teaching.

Living by the Word,

Dale & Judi Leander


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