Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? What is the purpose of suffering?
The first thing I could say about “good” people from a biblical perspective is that no one is really good but God. Even Jesus said to the young, rich ruler, in Matthew 19:17,
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” Jesus plainly means that only God is good.
Romans 3:10 shows that no humans are good but God alone, “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
Now if we refine the question to why do bad things happen to Christians, then this makes it easier to find answers and obviously answers that make sense will be found in the Scriptures. There are storms that every Christian endures in this life. These can be said to be storms of correction, storms of perfection, storms of direction, storms of reflection, and storms affection. Let me explain.
There are storms that every Christian endures in life.
Storms of Correction
Ecclesiastes 8:17 shows that many times we will not know why we are going through sufferings: “then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.” Further in Ecclesiastes 3:17, “I said to myself, “God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be time for every activity, a time to judge every deed.”
I would recommend all of Ecclesiastes chapter 8 for the “why” of suffering. In chapter 8 verse 6 it reads, “For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a person may be weighed down by misery.” God is the perfect parent and as you will see in the subsection of “Storms of Affection”, He corrects every son and daughter that He loves. No discipline is equal to no love. Where a parent corrects their child they show that they care about the child. When God corrects us, and He does every child of His, it is because He loves us. Jesus rebuked most of the churches in Revelation (chapters 2 and 3) except the Philadelphia church.
In Ephesus they had forsaken their first love.
In Pergamum they needed to repent.
In Thyatira they had false prophets.
In Sardis they had fallen asleep.
In Laodicea they were lukewarm.
Jesus rebuked or corrected them but He did this in love and He was not going to forsake them despite their many imperfections.
Storms of Perfection
Hebrews 10:32-36 reveals that suffering or “bad things” yield in us great rewards for the future: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
Hebrews 5:7-9 shows that, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Not that Jesus needed to learn obedience because He lived a sinless life, but we are being perfected in our sufferings.
First Peter 4:12-15 reveals the work of suffering, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
Storms of Direction
When Gold is refined, it takes up to seven times to have it refined to complete purity. The way gold is refined reminds me that we are the gold and God is the Refiner. Gold is heated up to extreme temperatures which allow all dross (impurities) to be burned away. The closer the gold is to being purified, the more the refiner sees his reflection. The refiner knows when the gold is completely refined when the refiner sees his reflection perfectly. Do you see the implications? When the gold (us) have had all the impurities (dross) burned away (by suffering), then the gold (us) reflect the Refiner (God). So suffering makes us reflect God in our lives and we are growing in perfection although not yet perfect. God’s sovereign hand is always leading us, guiding us, directing us to something better, whether we see it or not. Sometimes He is directing us to our knees. At other times He directs us to repent. Yet at other times He directs us to depend upon Him. And sometimes He directs us away from something that would hurt us. He will not leave us to ourselves…He loves us to much to do that. Storms of Reflection
First Corinthians 10:13 reminds us that, “No temptation (literal Greek is “testing”) has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted (again, “tested”) beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted (“tested”) he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” When we suffer testing times in this life, He wants us to rely on Him. We can not endure in our own strength so when storms of life come, and they most certainly will, they make us reflect upon our own life and our deep dependency on God.
Romans 8:28 is a time honored and godly principle that all suffering will yield the best possible results: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We can reflect while we suffer on the fact that even the bad things that happen to us can have good results. In Romans 8:18 Paul understood “that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Storms of Affection
I am a father and a grandfather. When I corrected my children I did so out of love and affection. The opposite of love is not hate – it is indifference. God loves us and He corrects us because of His perfect love for us. In Proverbs 3:12 it says, “because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” God equates discipline with love. And since He delights in us (Psalm 37) He corrects us. When I corrected my son for playing too close to the street, it was because I loved him and didn’t want him killed or hurt. My correction was swift and sure because I delight in my son and all my children.
Hebrews 12:6 essentially says the same thing, “because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Punishment is not indiscriminate. It is because we are His sons and daughters – because He loves us. If He didn’t discipline us, then He wouldn’t really love us and we really wouldn’t be like a son or daughter to Him. He is our Father and any good father disciples those children whom he loves as it is written, “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you” (Heb 12:5).
Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?
Psalm 73:2-3 “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
Psalm 73:12 “This is what the wicked are like— always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.”
Ecclesiastes 9:2 says “All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.”
Ecclesiastes 9:11 “The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise nor wealth to the brilliant nor favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”
Psalm 73:12, “till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” and Psalm 73:27 “Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.”
When good things happen to “bad” people is a very hard thing to understand.
Let me say again that none are really good but God (Matt 19:17) but it is really hard to understand why people who are dishonest and criminal in behavior still prosper.
Even the wisest man who has ever lived (save Jesus of course) couldn’t understand the ironies of life saying in Ecclesiastes 8:14 “here is something else meaningless (puzzling) that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.” That is something that is hard to understand: “the righteous get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve.” But in the end, as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 8:12, “Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him.” He is saying, in the end, God will serve justice. All will give an account to Him on judgment day. Either as rewards from the Lord and King, or from their final Judge at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20).
Why Do Bad Things Happen at All?
John 6:44 reveals that “bad things” may be God’s way of drawing us to Himself. It is a fallen world. Ever since Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, God has left man to decide for himself good and evil and the results have been catastrophic. Creation groans under the travail of sin and corruption waiting to be restored when the children of God are born to eternal life (Rom 8:22).
Solomon’s conclusion on suffering and on bad things happening to good and bad people, “When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night— then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it” (Eccles. 8:16-17). In other words, God does not tell us everything about why we go through certain things. He is sovereign. He is working all things out in His own way. It is God’s prerogative to tell us what we need to know and withhold those things that are none of our business.
A very bad thing will happen to all who do not know Jesus Christ some day and a very good thing will happen some to those who call Him Savior. Either people will be eternally separated from God forever or they will be with the Lord for eternity. Choose today whether you will be with Jesus and have Him be your Lord and Savior – or reject Him and have Him be your Judge and Jury. Today is your day of salvation. All things will be good some day – all suffering, pain, heartache, and all tears will one day be wiped away forever. Choose life and live (Acts 4:12). That is my prayer for you.
Please share your thoughts and prayer requests about this post. We are happy to connect with you.
GOD BLESS YOU.
Author: Jack Wellman is a father and grandfather and a Christian author, freelance writer, and pastor at the Mulvane (KS) Brethren church in Mulvane, Kansas. Graduate work at Moody Bible Institute. His books are inexpensive paperbacks that are theological in nature: “Teaching Children The Gospel/How to Raise Godly Children,“ “Do Babies Go To Heaven?/ Why Does God Allow Suffering?,“ "The Great Omission; Reaching the Lost for Christ," and “Blind Chance or Intelligent Design?, Empirical Methodologies & the Bible.worldwide.