By Andrew Arrol
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” That’s the question we so frequently hear. The question we have all thought at one point or another. Theodicy. The Problem of Evil. Why do we suffer? These questions remind me of my freshman year of college.
It was a warm, breezy afternoon. The sun was shining as I jogged across the grass. I couldn’t wait to enjoy the rest of the day once this flag football game was over. I’m more of a soccer (aka actual football #nohate) guy, but my floor needed me to have enough people to play. Even so, I was still enjoying the beautiful weather and exercise.
As I was thinking this, I also immediately wondered, “Why is everything black? What was that crunching sound? Why am I on the ground?” I started to realize that I had been hit so hard that I blacked out & now couldn’t stand on my right leg. This was strange, as the play had been on the other side of the field during this game of FLAG football. What had happened?
I struggled off the field with the help of a few other guys. I was hurriedly rushed to sign some papers I didn’t get to read. The senior who had hit me, who used to play college football until he transferred to our smaller, private Christian college with no football team, told me I should watch where I’m running #bestapology. I laid in bed until my roommate was free so we could go to an urgent care. I literally dragged myself across the parking lot since there wasn’t a wheelchair. They told me some really helpful advice: not to walk for now.
Weeks later my family was able to come up to my college so I could receive actual medical treatment. After a couple different opinions, months later, I received surgery for a torn ACL & a number of other ligaments. I was wheelchair/crutch bound for about 8 months. I had trouble getting around. I had been in good shape from soccer, but I gained weight. I couldn’t go to a number of classes. I was alone at a college where I hadn’t had the chance to get to know anyone before my injury. I lost many important relationships from back home. Some of this was just college life, some due to the challenge of an injury.
As a college freshman I was having a hard time distinguishing the difference. I wondered how this had happened, why had this happened? I had just been helping out my floor so they could play a game I don’t care about. I exercised, I did well in school, I was going to school for youth ministry.
Why did I suddenly lose so many important aspects of my life such as my health, my significant relationships, my ability to go where I’d like? Why did I feel more alone than ever before? Why, even though I was taking theology & ministry classes, did I feel more uncertain about my relationship with God than ever before?
About right here, we usually expect a ‘good Christian’ or ‘person of faith’ to say it’s because God wanted to show me something. That all these adverse aspects of my life were occurring because God caused them because He wanted to teach me a lesson.
That would be a sad version of the truth.
I certainly believe God desired and did work through these situations. But I also think I was tackled because a college senior who could no longer play football felt insecure. I think I was lonely and lost a lot of relationships partially because going away to college usually brings along that challenge, and partially because I was immature and unable to navigate those relationships as God wanted me to. I think I was uncertain in my relationship with God because there comes a part in the life of every person who desires a mature faith where they have to deconstruct the faith they were handed and rebuild it through the guidance of the Spirit so they can own their faith and walk with Jesus.
There are no easy answers to the question “why me,” or, “why do bad things happen to good people?” There are no easy or even ‘good’ answers, but there are good questions we can ask to help us navigate when these struggles arise.
Why do we assume that if we’re good enough, bad things won’t happen to us? Is that realistic? Do we really think bad things never happen indiscriminately? And even if only good things happen to good people and bad things to “bad” people, what makes us assume we’re so good that we only deserve the good things? Wouldn’t that assumption make us prideful and therefore “bad?”
Here’s another question: do we believe God is big enough, strong enough, wise and loving enough to work to bring the most good possible out of any situation? And should we assume that God makes every painful thing happen? Because some painful things are just evil. And we do not serve a God who desires evil, we serve a God of reconciliation.
Ephesians 6:12 reads, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
We are at war. We do battle every day. There are powers at work against those who suffer. There are systems in place against those in pain. Just because we do good things doesn’t mean there aren’t painful, unjust, purposeful & non-purposeful ‘bad things’ happening all around us. Just because we follow Jesus doesn’t mean we won’t encounter struggles and heartbreak and pain. But it does mean this:
When we follow Jesus, we follow the One who is victorious. When we follow Jesus, we follow Him into a Way of reconciliation and redemption. When we follow Jesus, we press into the heart of the Father, the heart that seeks to bring the most good out of the most bad.
We all carry a cup. We are all poured a drink that we must all drink. At times, it may taste good, it may feel light, it may be sweet. It also may be bitter. It may be poisonous. It may be heavy. But our hands are not the only hands holding that cup. Our legs are not the only thing carrying us when we take on the weight of life.
We have a Father with a heart full of reconciliation. We follow a Savior with a heart full of empathy. Who else knows suffering more than Jesus? Who else can teach us how to suffer well?
Jesus cried. He sweat blood. He asked “why?” He lived in poverty. He did not have a place to rest His head. He died the violent, embarrassing death of a criminal.
He didn’t stop there. He rose again. He forgave those who would kill Him. He showed us how to suffer well:
Jesus would rather die than kill His enemies. Jesus brought life out of death, victory out of defeat. He championed reconciliation, redemption, healing and life.
We need better questions. We need better responses. The question for followers of Jesus isn’t “why do bad things happen to good people?” It’s not wrong to ask this. It’s not sinful or evil or making you a “bad Christian.”
I’ve asked. We’ve all asked it. But following Jesus eventually leads us to living a life more and more like His. We follow a Way that is not the way of the world. And we can all admit that anyone, Christ follower or not, can and will ask the question “why do bad things happen to good people?”
Better questions, better responses that are Christ-like, that form within us as we follow the example of Jesus may look more like:
Processing grief in a healthy manner. Crying. Admitting pain. Being honest and real. Feeling our feelings. Seeking wise counsel.
And on the other side of that, as we seek healing and wholeness through Jesus, asking questions like “What story does God want to tell through this?” “How does this fit into God’s desire for reconciliation?” “How has this affected my life and others’ lives?” “What may have caused this pain? How should I react?”
These words aren’t the answer to “why do bad things happen to good people?” They’re a step towards that answer. Just as with anything related to following Jesus, this all occurs when we follow Jesus. When we just take that first step.
I don’t know a single person who has “arrived” at an answer. Our feelings related to this question are always contextual. But I do know this:
We follow someone who finds victory in defeat. We follow someone who provides comfort & care & freedom to the marginalized. We follow One who wants to bring healing to a hurting world. We can all follow the Way of Jesus.
And all it takes to start, wherever you’re at today, is a step.
If you could go back in time, what point in time would you choose and why?
Think about a time when you have grown the most spiritually and personally. Was it during a good time in your life, or was it during a time of struggle? What happened?
You heard Pastor Bryan and Christine say this week that trusting Jesus does not guarantee a good or happy life, but a perfect eternity. Discuss the implications of that in the life of a believer. Should we expect bad things to happen to us? Why or why not?
Question 3: Read James 1:2-3
What do you think James means when he says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance”?
You heard Pastor Bryan talk about choosing to trust God with “your cup”. What do you think that means and what would that look like in your life right now?
What’s in your cup and how does God want to use your story to impact those around you?
Thank God for the promise of eternal life in Him! Ask him to help you keep a right perspective when you see bad things happening to good people or they happen to you. Ask God to help you decide to let the bad things that happen in your life make you better and not bitter knowing that He is there, He is in control, and He will never leave you or forsake you!