Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why does God allow suffering?

  • Did a good God make a bad world?
  • Why are the evil and sin and suffering in this world permitted by God?
  • Why doesn't God destroy the devil?

In trying to answer these questions, various people at various times have given different answers.

  • First, many have denied that there is a God and are called atheists. But there are many pieces of evidence of God's existence in the universe around us and within us to ever let athe­ism get a very strong hold on the thinkers of the world.
  • Others have denied the world itself; that is, they say that this entire universe is just a gigantic illusion. So is all the suffering. There is nothing to it. But too many people suffer to let this idea become very widespread.
  • Still others have denied that God made the world bad, but say that He found it bad and is trying His best to make it over into a better world. This was the view of H. G. Wells and others who taught the idea of a limited God.
  • The fourth class also deny that God made the world bad. They say that He made it good, as the Scripture declares. At the end of the six days of creation, God beheld His work and said that it was “very good.” (Genesis 1:31.) This last group of people say that evil, or something called sin, came into the universe and perverted its original condition. They say that God is permitting that sort of thing while He is working out a great plan, which, when finished, will bring the world back to His original program. Therefore, it would not be wise for us to judge the efficiency of this plan of God for the regen­eration of the universe from the experiences that we have while the plan is still incomplete. This is the Bible answer to the question “why does God allow suffering?” and "why do the innocent suffer?"

Article Overview

Evil (suffering) is the result of sin

The Bible tells us that all the evil and suffering in our world is the result of sin. Sin is rebellion against God's plan by free moral beings. Chris­tianity teaches that God is a God of love. He is also a God of justice and of perfect righteousness. He hates sin, but sin is the only thing in the universe that He does hate.

In order to show sins hideousness He must let it go on developing and bring its inevitable consequences, so that all the universe—not only this world and angels, but the unfallen worlds above us and about us—may see that God truly is love and that all sin and rebellion bring only misery and sorrow and death.

Sin is the real cause of all pain—past, present, and yet to come—the cause of every tear and every heartache.

God governs by love

God is not governing the world arbitrarily. He is governing it through love. He could have smitten sin out of existence with all the sinners in whose hearts it grew, including Lucifer. But, had He done so, He would have been looked upon as a tyrant, and the seed of insecurity and doubt would still have been in the universe. When God's plan is finally completed, there will be no doubt, and “affliction shall not rise up the second time” (Nahum 1:9).

Freedom and rebellion

Someone may say: “Well, what would cause a free, happy being to enter upon a course of deliberate rebellion against his Creator? How hopeless and foolish such a warfare would be!”

We cannot give all the reasons for this rebellion. If we could, we would have an excuse for it. All we can say is that the first sinner abused the high freedom which the Creator had given him. All God's created beings are free moral agents. God is no tyrant, no dictator. He is our heavenly Father. God is love.

The cure for suffering and sin

The whole plan of redemption, including the death of the divine Son of God, is simply a phase of the plan of God for dealing with the moral disease of the universe. The death of One equal with God was the only means His divine wisdom could devise for accomplishing the cure of the condition of sin.

And finally, out of this troubled world will come the “new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13). This final redemption will include a clean, happy universe, filled with free and immortal beings having the power of choice.

God's wisdom is rapidly working out the vindication of His plan. The fault is with men, not with God. We must remember the words of Abraham, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Causes of suffering

No man can say, “I was lost because God permitted sin to come.” God has made full provision for the salvation of every being. If we are lost, it will be our own fault. However, the innocent do suffer—by the guilty, with the guilty, and for the guilty. Christ, Himself is the greatest ex­ample of this. On the cross, He suffered for the guilty, “the just for the unjust” (1 Peter 3:18).

Jesus also gave examples to show that suffering often comes upon the innocent.

  • By natural disasters.
    “Or those eighteen [men] on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no” (Luke 13:4, 5).
  • By physical affliction.
    “Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man [that he was born blind] nor his parents’” (John 9:3).
  • By injustice.
    “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?’ I tell you, no” (Luke 13:1-3).

Suffering caused by others

It is not true that all the suffering that comes upon people is because of their personal mis­deeds. Many children suffer because of the mis­deeds of their parents or others. Every genera­tion inherits confusion, difficulty, and suffering from the follies and crimes of the ages preceding it. The Bible puts it this way: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2).

However, we never object to the benefits that come to us from our ancestors. But we must remember that the tares which our fathers have sown must be ours as well as the wheat.

Suffering caused by nature

Nature itself is often an enemy to man rather than a friend. In Genesis 3:17, 18 we read the announcement made to our first parents: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.”

In fact, the whole creation is affected by man's sin. We read in Romans 8:22, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”

But there is a divine purpose in the permitted derangements of nature. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope” (Romans 8:20).

We have the beneficent laws of nature, but through sin the laws of nature often bring suffering on the innocent.

Suffering through cause and effect

First, there is the law of cause and effect. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will [and often other innocent ones] also reap.” (Galatians 6:7, See also 2 Corinthians 9:6).

Suffering caused by heredity

Then there is the law of heredity. “The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18).

Is God indifferent?

From ancient times men have wondered why God permits the in­nocent to suffer at the hands of wicked men. We read in Habakkuk 1:13: “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?”

Do you think God is indifferent to all their suffering? No.

Suffering: how long...

Proverbs 17:5 tells us that “He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.”

They will be punished, but when? Not always in this world. But there is a judgment coming in which things will be made right.

God does not settle everything with men in this life. Some­times people ask, “Why aren't the oppressors cut off before this time of judgment?” The apostle Peter tells us: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

God delayed the Flood so that wicked men might repent. So today He is giving extra time to the world. He gives extra time to individuals. He is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish, but giving more opportunity for repent­ance.

God’s care and comfort

Then, too, the Lord reveals His sympathy for the afflicted. He says: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:13).

And He promises to give us help in times of trouble. “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29).

David, the writer of the Psalms, found God's help in times of trouble. He said: “Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul would soon have settled in silence” (Psalm 94:17). “In my distress I called upon the Lord and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, And my cry came before Him, even to His ears” (Psalm 18:6). “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9).

In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, And my cry came before Him, even to His ears.

Millions can testify to the truth that in this world of suffering with its disturbing and perplexing prob­lems, and amid the clouds of trouble that some­times assail us, God will be a refuge. He is a refuge.

Parable of the wheat and tares

You will remember that in the parable Jesus gave of the tares and the wheat sowed in the same field, the servants came to the owner of the field and said, “Let's go and pull up those tares from among the wheat.” But Christ said: “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30).

The separation will come at the time of the harvest. And we read later in the same chapter (Matthew 13:39) that "the harvest is the end of the world."

Can we understand suffering?

Do not be discouraged because you cannot understand the perplexing problem of why so many must good people suffer, apparently unjustly. Job won­dered about it, too. He couldn't understand it. When so many troubles came upon him, although he had attempted to be a righteous man, his wife said, “Curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). Job didn't attempt to understand all the mysteries of God's providence, but only said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

One ancient servant of God said that when he saw the prosperity of the wicked, his feet almost slipped (Psalm 73:2, 3). He saw the wicked in prosperity. He saw good men suffer. And he was almost discouraged, he said until he went into the sanctuary of God. Then he understood their end (Psalm 73:17).

In the sanctuary he saw that God doesn't make full settlement at the fall of every year. But God's plans, when fully worked out, will bring full and complete and impartial justice. There in the sanctuary of God he saw revealed the plan of redemption.

He saw this age and the age to come revealed in Jesus Christ. He saw His sac­rifice for sin. He saw the final end of the wicked. And, seeing things as God sees them, even in that shadowy service of the sanctuary, his heart was again filled with trust and he saw that all God's plans are right and what had seemed re­proof was love of the truest sense. He saw the great truth that the apostle Paul later expressed in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

No, we cannot understand why the good suffer, but we can believe that God works out all things in the end.

The end of suffering, finally

Many of God's people have been oppressed during the ages, but they looked forward to final deliverance. The apostle James urges: “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7, 8). Then their sorrow will be turned into joy (John 16:20).

The Earth made new...

Great changes will follow the second coming of Christ. Moral evil will be eliminated from the universe. “Behold, I make all things new...Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:5, 1).

This will mean the earth will be restored to its glory at creation. There will be no hurt, no pain, no death because there is no sin. God's plan for the human race will finally be fulfilled. There will be a clean universe with a clean race, immortal, undying.

Many changes will then be seen.

  • First, the elimination of all physical afflictions. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (Isaiah 35:5, 6).
  • Nature itself will be restored. “Because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of [a]corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).
  • But the most convincing evidence of all will be the complete elimination of suffering from nature and from the experience of mankind, for “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Final justice

We are now living in the midst of those “form­er things.” We know that all suffering is the result of sin, direct or indirect. We find the answers to some of our questions revealed in the Bible; others we still wonder about. As we read in Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us.”

In the new world which is to come, the Lord Jesus Christ will be our teacher. When we see as God sees and look back upon the world with the fuller knowledge of that day, we shall see that all God's plans were right. We shall join with all intelligent beings of the universe in saying: "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages." Revelation 15:8. (A.RV.)