Why do bad things happen to good people?

I hear this a lot — especially in times of tragedy — Why do You, God, let such awful things happen to good people. And that’s a very understandable question.

But, at the risk of offending everyone (forgive me!) — I wonder if the question has a flawed premise. When Jesus was approached by the rich young ruler he said, “Good teacher!” to which Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.”  Indeed, if Jesus is correct that only God is good… then shouldn’t the question really be…

Why do good things happen to bad people?

Beyond the evils that happen every day, I wonder if the true reality we miss when we assume that people are “good”, is the fact that not one of us is really good deep down? But who am I to judge!! If you looked in my heart you would see a convoluted mess of sinful desires, angry thoughts, and self focused narcissism. As C.S. Lewis said, “For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.”

So — if we are a morass of messed-up-ness… then how can God judge? Aren’t we “depraved on account that we’re deprived” as they say in West Side Story? We never got to live in the palatial mansions of Heaven… never enjoyed the riches of omnipotence… never understood the far reaches of the universe. And God… he’s never understood the depth of our pain, challenges, and deprivation.

There’s a great play called “The Long Silence” which, for me, has always pointed to Jesus role in suffering. It might be helpful:

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plan before God’s throne.

Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly—not with cringing shame… but with belligerence.

“Can God judge us?? How can he know about suffering?” snapped a young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror… beatings… torture… death!”

In another group a young man lowered his collar. “What about this?”, he demanded, showing them an ugly rope burn. “Lynched… for no crime but being black!”

In another crowd, a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes. “Why should I suffer?” she murmured. “It wasn’t my fault!”

Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in his world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping of fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.

So, each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a young black man, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a child with AIDS. In the center of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to resent their case. It was rather clever.

Before God could be qualified as a judge, he must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth – as a man!

“Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.

At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.”

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled.

And when the last had finished pronouncing the sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly, all knew that God had already served his sentence.


At the end of the day, I’ve come to realize that bad things don’t often happen to good people — but Jesus is always good to bad people.