Greg Schanfish

Have you ever been blindsided by suffering? You’re just living your life doing the best you can, taking care of your family, doing everything a good parent should do, serving at church, and doing well in your career. Then all of a sudden, suffering hits. There’s a new diagnosis, a death in the family, a COVID outbreak, sudden financial problems, the betrayal of a friend, a divorce, or you’re laid off from your job. Sometimes several tragedies converge all at once, and your whole world seems to fall apart. So, as Christians, we ask ourselves, “What are you doing, Lord? Why is this happening?”

This is an age-old question that every person faces at some point in their life. Skeptics reason that the existence of evil in this world proves that God cannot be both good and all-powerful. Have you ever heard that argument? They say if God were all-powerful and if He does not stop evil, that means He’s not good. But, conversely, they say if God were good and evil still happens, it proves that God’s not all-powerful because then He must be powerless to stop it. The only option they leave is that if God is both good and all-powerful, then evil would not exist. So, to prove that God is not good, not powerful, or not real, they ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

As Christians, we know that the Bible addresses these questions. The Bible is certainly not silent on evil. However, Scripture addresses the cause for evil – and it’s not God. There are many stories of suffering people in the Bible, and when they reach the end of themselves, they are often left asking if God still cares about them or if God is still just. For example, in Ecclesiastes 7:15 and 8:14, the writer observes that evil people prosper and righteous people suffer. He comments on the injustice of what he sees. Similarly, in Psalm 73:11-14, the writer comments on the prosperity of the wicked and asks if God knows what’s happening. If you’ve asked similar questions, it’s time to examine what the Bible has to say to answer.

The Question Itself is Faulty

The question “why do bad things happen to good people” assumes that people are inherently good and worthy of good things. The Bible does not say this. The Bible tells us that we are all sinners in need of a savior. (See: Romans 3:23, Luke 18:18-19, Psalm 51:5, Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 14:3, John 3:19-20, Ecclesiastes 9:3, Galatians 5:17, Genesis 6:5.) If left to our own devices, humans are utterly depraved. Depravity refers to the utter and complete devastation of humanity by sin. It means we are so corrupt that we can even see how corrupt we are. Sin as a disease has corrupted people spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, and in every way a person can be corrupted. It’s devastated us right down to our DNA. Things like cancer, disease, depression, Alzheimer’s, and mental illness all come from sin. It also affects how we think, how we reason, how we act, and what we say. It’s why your marriage is broken, your children disobey, and there’s hatred, insecurity, jealousy, anger, self-concept, problems, bitterness, malice, and envy. The Bible says that the creation groans to be set free from its slavery to corruption, so even the Earth is under the curse of sin, which is why natural disasters happen. None of these things will exist in eternity. 

Bad Things Happen Because You Make Bad Decisions

In our brokenness, we make bad decisions. The depravity of humanity has marred our judgment. Because of that, sometimes, even with our best intentions, we make bad decisions. When bad choices are made, bad consequences follow. It’s simple cause and effect. When we experience bad consequences, sometimes we blame God. We make bad decisions and suffer for them, so we get mad at God. Proverbs 19:3 says, “A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord.” Before you start asking why God is doing something to you, it might be worth asking if your circumstances are simply consequences of your bad decision. As Proverbs says, you shouldn’t blame God for your foolishness. 

Bad Things Happen Because Other People Make Bad Decisions

Sometimes bad things happen when other people make bad decisions. You might be a good driver, but you get hit by a drunk driver, and now you’ve got medical bills, and your car is ruined. You’re in this whole mess because someone made a bad decision. It doesn’t feel fair or just, but it’s part of living in a sinful world. We wouldn’t even have this as our reality if Adam and Eve had not eaten the forbidden fruit. Because they decided to disobey God, our world is broken. Sometimes other people make mistakes or sinful choices that we suffer for. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all mankind, because all sinned.” Death came through Adam’s wrong choice, and now our world is shaped by it. 

Bad Things Happen When We Experience God’s Discipline or Judgement

For centuries, Israel’s northern kingdom was split from the southern kingdom. After the Northern Kingdom became idolatrous, God sent prophet after prophet to tell them they were breaking the covenant and judgment was coming if they didn’t repent. Instead of heeding the prophet’s warnings, they ignored them for hundreds of years. Finally, God raised the Assyrian empire in 722 B.C., and the Assyrians decimated the Northern Kingdom. Northern Israel ceased to be a nation. This wasn’t because God was cruel or mean. It’s because they lived in disobedience, and after repeated attempts to draw them back into the covenant relationship had been broken. They repeatedly rejected God, and their actions were harmful and destructive, as sin always is. So He brought hardships to them that would stop them from destroying themselves and the people around them. Later, he brought judgment on the Assyrians for the same reason. 

God always gives us a choice. We can follow his plan or disobey. If we go our way, He will bring preachers, friends, and Scriptures to convict us. But if we keep rejecting those warnings, He has to do what every good father would do to his child. Sometimes he has to punish us and discipline us because he loves us. It’s not vindictive. It’s in love. The Lord disciplines the ones He loves.

Bad Things Happen Because He’s Testing Us

Sometimes, God will lead us into times of testing. After Jesus was baptized, Matthew 4 says, “The Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” It wasn’t Jesus’ idea – the Spirit led Him there. He was the one who allowed Satan to ravage Job. Job had everything a man could want, but God allowed it to be stripped away to prove that Job would not abandon His faith even during great suffering. Suffering has a way of bringing out the quality of our faith. What is your response when you go through times of testing and trial? Our response to our faithful and loving God should be patience and faith. Our commitment to Him should not be based on how happy our circumstances are but on how good our God is.

Next Steps

Suffering is inevitable in this life. We live in a broken and sinful world where we make wrong choices, others make bad choices that affect us, and the world is cursed by sin and death until Jesus brings redemption. We can’t avoid pain in this life. It’s part of the world we live in. However, God is faithful. He will strengthen us and show Himself in the hard times if we let Him. If we trust in Him regardless of the pain, He will be with us and provide for us. 

1 Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” If you’re suffering right now, no matter what the cause is, you can take comfort in these verses. God’s heart hurts for those who are suffering. He will be with you and strengthen you in your pain because no matter how many bad things happen, He will never leave.