Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

October 13, 2014

Yesterday at church a woman raised her hand and said, “I have always had an easy time feeling close to Jesus, He loves us and died for us, and He understands pain and suffering and helps us through it. But I have had a hard time understanding God’s role. Why does He try us along with the Devil, and let such terrible things happen to us?”

I couldn’t stop thinking about her question the rest of the class, and as it ended I promised her I would have something for her the next week. This message is part of what I want to give to her, and is for any of you who are struggling with the same question.

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Understanding who God is and why He lets bad things happen may be the question of all questions, for in the answer lies the whole purpose of life. Unfortunately the world doesn’t have many answers. In doing a quick Google search “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People” the first three hits basically say we should stop asking, we can’t know, and that no one is good so we deserve the bad we get.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that God lives and loves us as only a good father can. He wants us to know Him and He wants us to understand why we’re here. (Otherwise this life is like my awful recurring dream where I’m back at college and have to take a final for a class that I didn’t attend all semester!) We are His children, and He doesn’t want any of us to fail!

What is the purpose of this life?

Before this life we lived with God. He was our father and we wanted to be like Him. To do this we had to leave Him and come to earth, receive a body, and make our own decisions. This life would be our schoolhouse, and He would give us the power to choose for ourselves and be taught by the consequences that followed, whether good or bad. God knew this was the only way we could become like Him.

But there was a problem, well two really. First because “no unclean thing can dwell with God”, how could He set up a condition on earth where we would learn by experience, if choosing incorrectly would leave us unclean and therefore unable to return to Him? Coming to earth would be a death sentence! Second, true freedom to choose means inevitably our poor choices will cause others pain, and vice versa. So He, and His Son, had a plan. To mediate the consequences of our sin and poor choices, they would provide a Savior who would give His life as a ransom for us.

The perfect testing conditions were therefore created; we could come to earth and have a body and learn and grow, but were also provided a way to access Christ’s power to overcome death, pain, sin, and weakness. Hearing this plan we made the choice to come to a world with sorrow, injustice, heartache and evil, knowing that we would have the opportunity to grow, learn, and experience true joy as we became more like God.

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The fact that God won’t interfere with our ability to choose cannot be misinterpreted that He doesn’t care! The opposite is true! He cares so much about us that He allows us to make decisions, even bad ones that cause pain to ourselves and others. He cares for us more than we can imagine, and He wants more than anything for us to have the joy that He has. Most importantly, He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to pay the price for all.

So how does understanding God’s plan help us understand why He allows bad things to happen?

First, sometimes bad things happen to good people because of the poor choices of others. My heart aches when I see individuals crushed by others unkindness, selfishness, or abuse. Understanding God’s plan helps us recognize that He allows bad things to happen because we must be free to choose in order to become like Him, but He gave His only Son to make up for the pain caused by the choices of others.

Second, sometimes bad things happen to others as a result of our own poor choices. This obviously causes pain to others, but also to ourselves when we recognize what we’ve done. Here again God allows us to make poor choices because all must be free to choose, but through His Son we can be forgiven, and those who we hurt can be made whole.

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Lastly, what about when bad things just happen? This is mortality, and pain is a part of this life from which no one is exempt! Sometimes we get sick no matter how healthy we are, we are unable to have children no matter how long we have prayed and hoped for it, or we lose a family member too soon to death no matter how good we have lived. No matter the choices we make and the precautions we take, sometimes this life will be unfair. However we can be sure that everything that is unfair about this life will be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know this. Not only that, but God’s plan for us helps us know that pain can shape us to become like Him.

At a particularly dark point in my life I found this quote that I carried with me for months, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. All that we suffer… especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our heats, expands our souls, and makes us more charitable. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.” (Found here.)

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I know that God lives; I have felt His love heal me in my own times of pain. I won’t claim that my life has been the hardest, but I know what it feels like to be left out and looked over, and to fail even when I’ve given my best. I know what it feels like to not have one friend in an entire city, and the heartbreak of a crumbling relationship. But I also know that in every one of those situations God has been by my side, showing me the way through the pain, and letting me know that it won’t last forever.

That’s what I hope my dear sister in church will come to know. God lives and He loves her, so much in fact, that He sent His only Son so she can heal from the pain of this life and eventually return to live with Him.

xo

Lizzy

Resources that have taught me a lot on this topic (and say it better than I do):
The Atonement Covers All Pain, The Grandeur of God, The Songs They Could Not Sing,

Have questions or want to chat more? Leave a comment, or email me at lizzy@thesmallseed.com!

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4 Comments

  • Reply Juliana P. October 14, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Beautiful post, Lizzy.

    To me, this always comes back to Jesus Christ. He was the ultimate “good person” and endured the ultimate of all “bad things”. And the purpose of our life on earth is to become as close and complete of a similitude to His life as possible. His behavior was kind and humble, and so should ours be. And since His experience included cruel suffering, so will ours. Whether we like it or not (in my opinion), the fundamental nature of life is all founded on living and becoming parallel to Him in as many ways as our life permits.

    “And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of [Jesus Christ]…” Moses 6:63

    My personal thought is that through the atonement of Jesus Christ, there was a rebirth of all things spiritual and physical. This infinite rebirth testifies that “all things which are in the earth” and “things which are spiritual” will bear witness of Him. I think this means that each of our lives will reflect a similar path of ironic, consecrating sacrifice, just like Jesus faced. Just like our bodies bear similitude of His, the circumstances of our lives will shadow the unfair pains and afflictions that Jesus suffered first.

    • Reply The Small Seed October 15, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      Wow so well said Juliana, if there ever were an example that bad things happen to good people it’s the life of the Savior!

      I think the phrase “bear up your cross” is used so often in the scriptures so that we recognize that we too have a cross we must carry. Though it will never compare to the Savior’s in it’s impact, reach or weight, it also requires of us all we have and are.

      The beautiful thing about it is that He carried it all without becoming bitter, hardened or despairing, and has offered to yoke with us in our trials so we can too.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Heather Hoyt October 14, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    We have such a limited perspective in this stage of life. I think if we could have a glimpse of what we knew before and what we will know after, then perhaps we wouldn’t have those questions. This life is so short and even those the bad moments can seem so overwhelming, they will pass. And I think we will be glad that we went through them because we will see that they were for our experience and for our good.

    • Reply The Small Seed October 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      Totally agree Heather. When I looked to see what “Google” taught about why we suffer, it was really hard for me because I realized that so few people really had an idea of what this life is all about (which makes for so much unnecessary suffering!!). When we realize the purpose of it all, then this life does seem short, and holding out in faith becomes doable.

      Your last line I couldn’t agree with more–the toughest times in my life are also the most sacred because they humble me and help me know the Savior and Heavenly Father better.

      Thanks for sharing!

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