Why do bad things happen to good people?

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Ross, from the iconic tv show ‘friends’ comes home from a trip. And he decided to take all the hotel’s toiletries, he could lay his fingers on. But, when he opens his bag, the same fingers have to find out, that shampoo and conditioner burst, leaving his carry on a total and slimy mess. He then angrily leaves the room, asking the age old question “why do bad things happen to good people”? (Obviously, this episode was taped, before we were not allowed anymore, to have liquids in our carry ons.) Just as Ross, everybody, who wants to know, why bad things happen to good people, is actually asking a different question. What we really want to know is, why does THIS happen to ME. But it sounds way better, when we can emphasize, that we are to good to deserve this. But are we?

The relationship between God and the evil in this world has triggered numerous philosophical arguments. If god is good and all powerful, why doesn’t he wipe out all evil? And if he is neither good nor all powerful, we shouldn’t worship him. In the first case, he is not worthy to be worshipped. In the second, he is not a god. But, as it is often the case, things are more difficult than that. It all comes down to free will. When we are more, than puppets on strings, we need the freedom to do evil as well. But only with that kind of free will, we can also truly love God. In any other case, our so called love would be forced upon us. In order to be able to really love God, it is imperative, that we can also hate God. That gives us the option to do bad things. An option we all to often choose. We want to see ourselves as good, even though we do a lot of evil.

Underlying the idea of bad things happening to good people, I see a few misconceptions. At first, the things, that happen, are not necessarily bad. Of course we dislike a messy carry on. But it was a direct outcome of Ross stealing all the toiletries. So it could be teaching him a good lesson. A difficult breakup can be a bad thing. But when it ends an abusive or co-dependent relationship, it might be the best, that ever happened to you. Even though, we cannot see it at that point. The problem here is, that we are too focused on our feelings in that very moment. I am not trying to say, that everything is ultimately good. But we tend to overlook the good in hard times. And some bad things, like Ross’ shampoo, happen as a consequence of our own actions. Others simply happen, because we live in a fallen word.

Asking this question, we take it also for granted, that we are good people. We are the victims here. We have a right, to be treated well. But didn’t this problem arise from Ross stealing? All to often, decisions we made in the past, let to where we are now. We try to cut corners and it comes back to haunt us. We are not good people. We are mean and selfish people, who just love things going our way. When I am honest, I don’t deserve anything good happening to me. All to often, I deserve the bad, that I have to face. Because, contrary to our feelings, we are not entitled to anything. And contrary to our hopes, we are not the good guys in this play.

Ever so often, we misunderstand the blessings of God. We are so in the here and now, that we assume, His blessings have to be as well. When we put these ten dollars into the offering, god has promised us, to give us one hundred dollars by the end of the week. And, since I believe, everything has to serve to my best. The best home, the best cars, the best marriage, the best children. No trouble about anything. (Isn’t this the promise of the prosperity gospel?) But If these blessings are a clear consequence of an obedient life, Jesus obviously did a lot of things very wrong. When He wanted to use a Roman coin, to explain the Kingdom of God, He had to borrow it. This is, how rich He was. And then, there was this beating and killing part of His life. But here, at the cross, we see, what God’s Blessings are really about. He payed the price for our disobedience. Every selfish act, every evil thought. He carried it all. And this brought about the biggest blessing there is. An eternity reunited with our Heavenly Father.

So, where does that leave us with our initial question? Why do bad things happen to good people? On the one hand, the things are not necessarily bad. Often they are called for. On the other, we are just not good people. And, to be honest, it is way more beautiful to turn this question around. Why do good things happen to bad people? Because God loves us so much, that He was even willing to sacrifice His only Son on our behalf, so that we don’t get lost, but find eternal blessing in Him.

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