Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?


A church in my area has suffered intense heartache recently. A number of deaths, cancers, and other illnesses have plagued them with a savage sort of onslaught. In response, their young adults group began a series through the book of Job to address the needs of the people. In the midst of this series, I had the opportunity to speak on Job chapters 18 and 19, and specifically tackle what is considered by many to be the question of questions: Why do bad things happen to good people? As I stood before the group of young adults, and preached on the biblical answer to this difficult question, I was more nervous than I had ever been before when preaching. Let me tell you what I told them.

Does God Let Bad Things Happen?

Before we deal with the question— which I will answer directly by the end of this article—  there are a few foundational things we should deal with first. What is God’s role in our suffering? Some have said that not everything that happens is God’s will; that God is the great card player, always able to make a winning play out of a bad hand. While it’s true that God is all wise, the Bible paints a very different picture than God merely being a good card player. God creates evil.

  • Isaiah 45:6b–7 (KJV)
    “…I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”
  • Deuteronomy 32:39 (LSB)
    “See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.”
  • Exodus 4:11 (LSB)
    “And Yahweh said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?”
  • Amos 3:6b (LSB)
    “…If a calamity happens in a city has not Yahweh done it?”
  • In Psalm 105:16 it says God caused a famine.
  • In 2 King’s 17:25 He sends lions to kill people.
  • Need I remind you of the great flood (Genesis 6:13)?
  • In Genesis 3 God curses all of creation, saying that He will multiply our pain.
  • Lamentations 3:37–38 LSB
    “Who is there who speaks and it happens, Unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both calamities and good go forth?”

From Bad to Worse

Now the question is even worse! Originally we knew evil existed, but now we’ve seen that the Bible says God literally creates it?! Originally it was ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ Now it’s ‘Why does God make bad things happen to good people?’ Be careful here saint! Yes, the scriptures say explicitly ‘Yahweh creates evil,’— and by that it’s talking specifically about natural evil, calamity— but it never says He commits evil (1 John 3:5). God never commits sin, God cannot commit sin (1 John 3:5), God is righteous (Psalm 11:7), He is good (Psalm 25:8), He is loving (1 John 4:8), He is just (Proverbs 16:11). But how can He be just then? How can God create evil without being evil Himself? This is what we call Theodicy (Theos = God, dicae = to justify). What justifies God? What vindicates God? To make this personal, what makes it okay for God to hurt you (Deuteronomy 32:39, Isaiah 45:6b–7)?

Good People

How can He be good and just if He is responsible for every moment of pain ever felt by anyone ever (Deuteronomy 32:39, Isaiah 45:6b–7)? The answer is: Evil. Moral evil. Our moral evil. God is vindicated by the fact that we have earned for ourselves so much more pain than we are receiving. We ask ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ But the scriptures don’t recognize that as a valid social category.

— Romans 3:10–12 LSB

Our Pay

Does God owe us anything? Yes! He owes infinite pain for all eternity “For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23 LSB).” You see, we ask the wrong question. It is not ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ The question is: How can an all good, all powerful, all knowing God look at me as I press the thorns into His skull, and pound the nails through His hands, and scream ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him, crucify Him,’ and look at me and say, ‘That’s the one I love, that’s the one I want, crucify Me for him!’ It isn’t ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ It’s ‘Why do good things happen to bad people?’ How can He love me? I’m not worth it, it isn’t a fair trade, He got my sin I got eternal life (Romans 3:12, 2 Corinthians 5:21). Job cries out of his agony saying, ‘There is no justice, God has wronged me (Job 19:6–22)!’ And we must ask the question too, ‘God how are You just?’ However, we ask this not because of our pain, but because of our comfort. God has given us years of pleasure, when in fact we deserve an eternity of pain.

Our Response

I’m not trying to depress you, I’m trying to get you to worship! Remembering our sinfulness should never drive us to look at ourselves. Rather we should ascend to awe of the God Who is revealed more merciful the more we understand our own sinfulness. Is it not as John Newton puts it in the greatest hymn ever written, Amazing Grace, ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved’? It was the grace of God that I even came to understand my sinfulness before a righteous Judge (John 6:44), but it was grace once again that quelled my fear for it is by grace that I have been saved (Ephesians 2:8–9, 1 John 4:18). For every thought you have of the wrath you rightly deserve, think 10,000 of the Savior Who drank it down for you (Hebrews 12:1–2).

The Answer

Why do bad things happen to good people? It’s true, the question is flawed, there are no good people, but that is not the answer. See we can attack it from different angles like saying that there are no truly good people, or we could flip the question and ask ‘Why do good things happen to bad people?’ These are fine approaches, but they do not answer the question. Why do bad things happen to good people? Four little words: To save your soul. I’ve heard it said, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people? Well that only ever happened once and He volunteered.’

The Bible answers this question explicitly; we just don’t often think of this verse as answering the question. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21 LSB).” Do you see how this verse relates to the question? ‘He made Him Who knew no sin’— good people. ‘To be sin on our behalf’— bad things. ‘That we might become the righteousness of God in Him’— the why. The spotless Lamb of God, the sinless Christ, endured more suffering than anyone else ever even could, for your salvation (Isaiah 53:5, 1 Corinthians 15:3–4).

Two Imputations

Allow me to take you one step deeper into this, because this is the Gospel by which you must be saved. This is what’s called the double imputation of the cross. What is imputation? It means to ascribe something to somebody, or lay the blame on them. At the cross Jesus had all of our sins imputed to Him, the blame for the evil you have done was laid on Him. Therefore God justly punishes Him as if He were the worst sinner ever to be. Isaiah 53:4–5 says, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our peace fell upon Him, And by His wounds we are healed.”

But there is another imputation. Not only were our sins placed on Jesus’ ledger, and atoned for. Not only is the slate wiped clean. The cross doesn’t just bring us from being in the red so we can break even. He puts us in the black! Romans 5:19 says, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were appointed sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be appointed righteous.” Philippians 3:9 continues the same idea, “Not having a righteousness of my own which is from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God upon faith.” Jesus’ righteousness, His goodness, His perfection was imputed to us. His righteous life, the righteousness of the God-Man Himself, was ascribed to us, so that we might be rightly raised on the last day and accepted into heaven. This is why bad things happen to good people. This is why bad things happened to the only good Person. So that His goodness could be accounted to us!

For Those Still Struggling

Listen, if you still struggle to deal with this emotionally, maybe this will help: The Bible says God killed Jesus. We see this in Isaiah 53:10, “But Yahweh was pleased to crush Him.” We also see it in Acts 2:23, “This Man [Jesus], delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of lawless men and put Him to death.” The scriptures say that God killed Jesus, never denying that Jesus was murdered by lawless men, but still affirming that ultimately, it was God’s plan to kill His own Son. If we can be okay with the sovereignty of God willing for the sufferings and death of the only truly innocent One, then can’t we be okay with Him ordaining our pain? If Jesus’ pain presents no issue of faith for us, but is actually the basis of our faith, then our pain shouldn’t present such a stumbling block, right?

Blessed be the name of Yahweh

So let me just end with this, as I think it really brings together all of what we’ve been talking about. “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing good rather than for doing wrong. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that He might bring you to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:17–18 LSB).” “…Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil (Job 2:10 KJV)?” “…Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away. Blessed be the name of Yahweh (Job 1:21 LSB).”

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