What If Bad Things Only Happened to Bad People?

July 7, 2011

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Steve Cornell

What If Bad Things Only Happened to Bad People

Imagine God appearing to you on New Year’s Eve to tell you that nothing bad will happen to you in the coming year. What a great sense of relief this would give! Each time you felt the pull of anxiety, you could dismiss it because of God’s promise. You’re in for a great year! A year free of sadness, disappointment, failure, pain, or any other bad thing!

But how much would God have to rearrange to make this happen? How many people and events would have to change to make one person’s life turn out this way?

I would love to live in a world where nothing bad happens to anyone. The harsh and painful realities of evil and suffering are sometimes overwhelming. But in this world, bad things happen to all of us. And sometimes bad things happen to people we might consider to be good and undeserving of their suffering.

Why Does God Allow the World to Be This Way?

Does God care about how bad things are on this planet? I meet people who feel that there has just been too much suffering for the idea of a powerful and caring God to make sense. They feel that belief in the providence of a good God has been forced into implausibility under the weight of so much tragedy. How could a loving, all-powerful God exist when His world is so full of evil? Why doesn’t He put an end to the bad things that happen?

I doubt that the skeptics would become believers if nothing bad happened to anyone. But let’s suppose that bad things only happened to bad people. Perhaps then the doubters would accept God’s existence. But if things went this way, how should “goodness” and “badness” be judged? Who should be “spared” and who should be “judged”?

Would We Eliminate Ourselves?

To demand from God a world where nothing bad happens, is to risk eliminating ourselves. Why? Because we all do bad things. After his horrific experience in the Gulag, Russian prison, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote:

“If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The fact that, “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), tells us that sinners who are still alive are themselves evidence of God’s mercy.

Remember that we are the ones who rebelled against a good Creator.

“The sovereign and utterly good God created a good universe. We human beings rebelled; rebellion is now so much a part of our make-up that we are all enmeshed in it. Every scrap of suffering we face turns on this fact. The Bible itself centers on how God takes action to reverse these dreadful effects and their root cause, sin itself, and the believer’s hope is the new heaven and earth where neither sin nor sorrow will ever be experienced again” (D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?).

Do We Recognize God’s Mercy?

Perhaps God’s willingness to allow a world where bad things happen is an amazing demonstration of His mercy. I recognize that this is easier to believe when bad things are not happening to you. Yet it is what Scripture teaches (see Romans 9:22-23), and Scripture is not judged by our experiences.

“If in fact we believe that our sin properly deserves the wrath of God, then when we experience the sufferings of this world, all of them the consequences of human rebellion, we will be less quick to blame God and a lot quicker to recognize that we have no fundamental right to expect a life of unbroken ease and comfort. From the Biblical perspective, it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” (D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?).

Do we want God to run His world on a principle of immediate justice unless we are the ones in the wrong? The fact that God would show kindness to any sinners is sheer mercy. Living sinners are enjoying undeserved extensions of life.

When God Endures Evil for Us

In flesh and blood, God entered this evil world in the person of Jesus and allowed sinful people to commit evil acts against Himself. Did He have power to stop those who opposed Him? Yes. Why didn’t He use his power? Why didn’t He protect Himself? In love, He willingly chose to provide us with salvation by bearing the punishment our sin deserved. Those who receive this salvation will one day be delivered from all evil.

“The Bible does not give us a quick and easy answer to why God allows evil to continue in his world. But if we think back about how God involved himself in such a costly way in the ultimate defeat of sin and death (crucifixion), then whatever reason he may have, it is not that he is indifferent to the human race” (Dick Keyes, Seeing Through Cynicism).

An Anchor for Troubled Bodies and Souls

Our desire for nothing bad to happen must be placed beside this acknowledgment of God’s mercy. Salvation is still offered to sinful humanity.

We also have a great promise to which we may anchor our troubled bodies and souls in turbulent times. The apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

“We note that Paul does not say here that all things that happen to us are good things. In fact, bad things happen to us. Painful things. Things that crush our spirits. Things that leave wounds and scars. Things that evoke grief and lead us into the house of mourning. Yet all of these bad things that happen to us are working together for our good” (R. C. Sproul, The Invisible Hand).

Join the Conversation

How might these insights change your perspective and response the next time bad things occur in your life?