Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, and Vice Versa
You can’t talk about this subject and not broach the topic of religion or God (just remembered a movie title perhaps appropriate to mention here: The Gods Must Be Crazy), so here goes my take on it.
An excerpt from a Church talk (speech) I made back in November 2009:
“Many times during my conversations this theme came up: Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people? This is a complicated question, and has many facets that I do not have the time to delve into here. But I find that there is one answer that most gives me solace and understanding, understanding of how God’s love can possibly result in allowing “his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and send[ing] rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). That answer is this: that he wants people to be good no matter what happens to them afterwards. He ultimately doesn’t want people to be good for earthly rewards, such as health, prosperity, success, or avoidance of tragedy. He wants people to be good for the sake of goodness. For the sake of being good. Because he knows that if all the people who do good are consistently, reliably, and predictably rewarded with fancy cars, banquets of plenty, and treasures untold, and people who do bad are consistently, reliably, and predictably punished with death, chronic illness, and failure, then most everyone will do good, but not because to do good is good, but because to do good will make them rich, healthy, and beautiful. And people will refrain from evil not because evil is bad, but because they don’t want to suffer pain, poverty, disease, rejection. God wants a truly righteous people, people who do good and don’t do evil because they know in their hearts that that is right.
In His perfectly designed world, we see all around us examples of amazing, wonderful kindhearted people who suffer financial insecurity, abuse, war, murder, genocide, death, and loneliness. And we also see bad, evil mongers, do-no-gooders, corrupt to the core, who are striking it rich, living the high life, healthy, strong, powerful, and famous. Once we understand that this earth and this mortal life is a learning experience and ultimately a test, to teach us, challenge us, and perfect us, it all makes so much more sense. It is only in this type of world (in which good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people) that we are tempted to do evil, to cheat, to lie, to abuse others and to treat others like trash, because to do so can potentially — not always — but can potentially gain us great reward. And it is by not giving in to such temptations that we grow and perfect ourselves, build our character, and transcend the standards of the world. We need to prove and demonstrate to ourselves and to God that we will choose the right whenever and wherever, and whatever the consequences or effects may be.
This is not to say that by doing good we get no reward at all, because we do, but not the ones the world usually tells us we should strive for and the ones we probably initially wanted. We probably won’t get a yacht, a vacation home, or a country club membership, and sometimes we won’t even get practical, modest things such as career opportunities or basic health, both things that are appropriate to desire. But what we will get trumps anything the world can give, and is more precious and valuable than all of the world’s treasures put together. They are called spiritual blessings, and include inner peace, understanding, self-esteem, true happiness and joy, optimism and hope, healthy relationships with family members, love for humanity, wisdom and knowledge, a sincere desire to serve others, faith in God, and ultimately, eternal salvation. God wants to cultivate in us (or perhaps more accurately, for us to cultivate in ourselves) a desire to obtain these spiritual blessings more than their physical counterparts; wanting frugality more than money, wanting faith more than worldly security, wanting self-esteem more than beauty or talent.
Because when we have these spiritual blessings, and our spiritual health is high, we realize how very little can bring us down. It is our spiritual health that will help us mold our circumstances, and take control of our lives. It will help us maintain hope and recognize opportunities, instead of passing them by defeatist and resigned. It will help us be joyful in the midst of illness, happy amid bankruptcy, loving among enemies. When the weather looks terrible, the future appears bleak, and the possibilities dire, we can be of good cheer and be at peace. God wants us to be able to be happy and peaceful no matter what happens to us. That is power. And with power over self and over circumstances comes peace. And these things can only come from always doing good, no matter what may come of it. God designed this world so that we can rough it through life so all of our rough edges will be smoothed out to perfection. The most inspirational people in the world, I would say, are the ones who had it bad, who suffered the rains that God sent on the just, and continued living righteously, praising God for giving them light and truth, while all around them was despair.