Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

For four primary reasons: free will, sin, discipline, and testing. Beyond these four biblical reasons, why God allows the undue treatment and afflictions of those who live uprightly may only be known to him. The truth of the matter is, we are not to fear man, as the Lord said to Isaiah, "The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary" (Isaiah 8:13-14).

  1. God has given mankind free will, along with the responsibility of living with the consequences of his decisions and actions. This also means having to live with the consequences of the decisions and actions of everyone else. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden due to transgression and sentenced to lives of painful toil and painful childbearing. Of their first two offspring, one killed the other out of jealousy, which was just the start of mankind's injustice against mankind. By the time of Noah's day, there was nothing good about mankind: "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain" (Genesis 6:5-6). The result of man's free will is not only pain and suffering for all involved, but for God who created us. The question therefore, more appropriately phrased, should be: Why do we go on committing evil deeds when we were created by a good God who detests evil?

  2. Because of our free will, we have inevitably made the wrong decisions and have fallen from God's grace. Romans 3:23 declares that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." One of the consequences of the original sin -- eating of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil -- was death, through which suffering would come. Sin has made our bodies mortal, subject to pain and misery. Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 says, "What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless." We cannot fully comprehend the results of our fallen state with God. The best we can do is acknowledge it, repent of it, and "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Even so, our struggles are often not against our own physical bodies, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:10-18).

  3. For those who love God, he continues to allow bad things to happen for the sake of discipline. Hebrews 12:7-11 says, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? ...No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Even Jesus had to suffer in order to learn obedience (Hebrews 5:8).

  4. God also allows the testing of those whom he loves to see where their faith stands. Two biblical examples are Abraham and Job. Abraham trusted God for a son past his wife's childbearing years, yet when he finally received it, God required it as a sacrifice. Since Abraham followed through with this command, not only was his son spared, but God fulfilled his promises to Abraham (Genesis chapter 22). In the case of Job, who was found blameless by God, Satan was allowed to destroy his family, servants, livelihood, and belongings and to strike his flesh with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. His wife's plea to him was to curse God and die, to which his reply was, "Shall we receive good from God and not trouble?" (Job 2:10). In all his afflictions, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:22), however, he did complain openly to God about his plight and questioned why God would do such a thing to a man such as him. God's reply to Job was to rebuke him for questioning God's own morality out of a lack of understanding and failing to trust his absolute power and sovereignty. Job's final reply was, "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:2-6)

        "Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:18-21)

For the Christian to suffer is to be expected. Of this, the Apostle Peter had much to say. "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed" (1 Peter 3:13-14). In 1 Peter 4:12-19, he also teaches that we are not to suffer as common criminals, but to participate in the sufferings of Christ, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you if you do. He concludes by saying, "So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." The primary argument with the issue of bad things happening to good people is the fact that many cannot accept that a good God allows the suffering of innocent people, especially through atrocities. God must be insensitive to allow such acts against others as rape, torture, incest, genocide, and terrorism, not to mention acts of nature like disease, birth defects, and natural disasters, especially for no apparent reason. As the psalmist cries out, "But I cry to you for help, O LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me? From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend" (Psalm 88:13-18). Some even go so far as to deny God for these reasons. They refuse to believe or accept a God who either causes afflictions or allows atrocities to be carried out by one or more persons against another without provocation, reason, or justice. To this, the psalmist replies, "My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life" (Psalm 119:50). Romans 5:3-5 says that we rejoice in our sufferings, "because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Without this hope, then, we are left to ourselves and our own despair. Our own reasoning about why such things happen can only lead us to bitterness against God because, inevitably, we have to blame someone. If God is ultimately in control, then he must be ultimately to blame. The only problem with this logic is that God respects our free will by allowing the consequences of our choices and actions to run their course.

        "He is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God's rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot. I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free reign to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked? Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees? Are your days like those of a mortal and your years like those of a man, that you must search out my faults and probe after my sin -- though you know that I am not guilty and that no one can rescue me from your hand?" (Job 9:32-10:7)

It is a problem such as this which often cannot be explained in words, nor can reasons be given to console those in pain and anguish over the loss of a loved one, a life-threatening disease, a physical violation, or a catastrophic event. All that can be done is to suffer with them and pray that they may seek God for peace, consolation, absolution, and imdemnity. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." If they wait on God for an answer to the reason for their suffering, rather arrive at their own foregone conclusion, then he will be faithful to eventually answer them, although the answer will usually be in God's own perspective: "But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath -- prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory -- even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?" (Romans 9:20-24)

        "But what can I say? He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this. I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul. Lord, by such things men live; and my spirit finds life in them too. You restored me to health and let me live. Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back." (Isaiah 38:15-17)