We live in a world of pain and suffering. There is no one who is not affected by the harsh realities of life, and the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” is one of the most difficult questions in all of theology. God is sovereign, so all that happens must have at least been allowed by Him, if not directly caused by Him. At the outset, we must acknowledge that human beings, who are not eternal, infinite, or omniscient, cannot expect to fully understand God’s purposes and ways.
The book of Job deals with the issue of why God allows bad things to happen to good people. Job was a righteous man (Job 1:1), yet he suffered in ways that are almost beyond belief. God allowed Satan to do everything he wanted to Job except kill him, and Satan did his worst. What was Job’s reaction? “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21). Job did not understand why God had allowed the things He did, but he knew God was good and therefore continued to trust in Him. Ultimately, that should be our reaction as well.
Why do bad things happen to good people? As hard as it is to acknowledge, we must remember that there are no “good” people, in the absolute sense of the word. All of us are tainted by and infected with sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8). As Jesus said, “No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19). All of us feel the effects of sin in one way or another. Sometimes it’s our own personal sin; other times, it’s the sins of others. We live in a fallen world, and we experience the effects of the fall. One of those effects is injustice and seemingly senseless suffering.
When wondering why God would allow bad things to happen to good people, it’s also good to consider these four things about the bad things that happen:
1) Bad things may happen to good people in this world, but this world is not the end. Christians have an eternal perspective: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18). We will have a reward some day, and it will be glorious.
2) Bad things happen to good people, but God uses those bad things for an ultimate, lasting good. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). When Joseph, innocent of wrongdoing, finally came through his horrific sufferings, he was able to see God’s good plan in it all (see Genesis 50:19–21).
3) Bad things happen to good people, but those bad things equip believers for deeper ministry. “Praise be to . . . the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5). Those with battle scars can better help those going through the battles.
4) Bad things happen to good people, and the worst things happened to the best Person. Jesus was the only truly Righteous One, yet He suffered more than we can imagine. We follow in His footsteps: “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:20–23). Jesus is no stranger to our pain.
Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Despite the sinful nature of the people of this world, God still loves us. Jesus loved us enough to die to take the penalty for our sins (Romans 6:23). If we receive Jesus Christ as Savior (John 3:16; Romans 10:9), we will be forgiven and promised an eternal home in heaven (Romans 8:1).
God allows things to happen for a reason. Whether or not we understand His reasons, we must remember that God is good, just, loving, and merciful (Psalm 135:3). Often, bad things happen to us that we simply cannot understand. Instead of doubting God’s goodness, our reaction should be to trust Him. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6). We walk by faith, not by sight.
Prophet Nathan Emol
Writing from a prison cell in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote about the attitude a Christian should have: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). The “whatever happens” here is a reference to whether Paul can come to visit the Philippians or not. Paul gave this instruction so that “whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). No matter what unexpected disruptions, frustrations, or difficulties come our way, we are to respond with a Christlike attitude. We should be standing firm and striving for the faith. Paul later writes, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:5). He is talking about demonstrating humility and selflessness in relationships. He also encourages us in Ephesians 5:1 to be “imitators of Christ as dearly beloved children.” As children love to imitate what they see and repeat what they hear; we also are charged to imitate and model Christ’s behavior and to be clear reflections of the Lord (Matthew 5:16).
Jesus maintained a perfect attitude in every situation. He prayed about everything and worried about nothing. We, too, should seek God’s guidance about every aspect of our lives and allow Him to work out His perfect will. Jesus’ attitude was never to become defensive or discouraged. His goal was to please the Father rather than to achieve His own agenda (John 6:38). In the midst of trials, He was patient. In the midst of suffering, He was hopeful. In the midst of blessing, He was humble. Even in the midst of ridicule, abuse, and hostility, He “made no threats . . . and did not retaliate. Instead He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
When Paul writes that our “attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” he had summarized in the previous two verses what such an attitude was: selflessness, humility, and service. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). In other words, the attitude a Christian should reflect is one that focuses on the needs and interests of others. Without question, that does not come naturally to us. When Christ came into the world, He established a whole new attitude to relationships with others. One day when His disciples were arguing among themselves regarding who was to be greatest in His kingdom, Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). Jesus is teaching us that, when we become preoccupied with our own things, it can cause conflicts and other problems with people we know. Instead, God wants us to have an attitude of serious, caring involvement in the concerns of others.
Paul speaks more about this Christlike attitude in his letter to the church in Ephesus: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Many religions of today, including the New Age philosophies, promote the old lie that we are divine or that we can become gods. But the truth of the matter is that we will never become God, or even a god. Satan’s oldest lie was promising Adam and Eve that, if they followed his advice, “you shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5).
Each time we try to control our circumstances, our future, and the people around us, we’re only demonstrating that we want to be a god. But we must understand that, as creatures, we will never be the Creator. God doesn’t want us to try to become gods. Instead, He wants us to become like Him, taking on His values, His attitudes, and His character. We are meant to “be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24).
Finally, we must always keep in mind that God’s ultimate goal for His children is not our comfort, but the transformation of our minds into the attitude of godliness. He wants us to grow spiritually, to become like Christ. This doesn’t mean losing our personalities or becoming mindless clones. Christlikeness is all about transforming our minds. Again, Paul tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
It is God’s will that we develop the kind of mindset described in the Beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew 5:1-12), that we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), that we emulate the principles in Paul’s great chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13), and that we strive to pattern our lives after Peter’s characteristics of an effective and productive life (2 Peter 1:5-8).
Prophet Nathan Emol
The issue of sickness is always a difficult one to deal with. The key is remembering that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). When we are suffering with a sickness, disease, or injury, we usually focus solely on our own suffering. In the midst of a trial of sickness, it is very difficult to focus on what good God might bring about as a result. Romans 8:28 reminds us that God can bring about good from any situation. Many people look back on times of sickness as times when they grew closer to God, learned to trust Him more, and/or learned how to truly value life. This is the perspective God has because He is sovereign and knows the end result.
This does not mean sickness is always from God or that God always inflicts us with sickness to teach us a spiritual lesson. In a world tainted by sin, sickness, disease, and death will always be with us. We are fallen beings, with physical bodies prone to disease and illness. Some sickness is simply a result of the natural course of things in this world. Sickness can also be the result of a demonic attack. The Bible describes several instances when physical suffering was caused by Satan and his demons (Matthew 17:14-18; Luke 13:10-16). So, some sickness is not from God, but from Satan. Even in these instances, God is still in control. God sometimes allows sin and/or Satan to cause physical suffering. Even when sickness is not directly from God, He will still use it according to His perfect will.
It is undeniable, though, that God sometimes intentionally allows, or even causes sickness to accomplish His sovereign purposes. While sickness is not directly addressed in the passage, Hebrews 12:5-11 describes God disciplining us to “produce a harvest of righteousness” (verse 11). Sickness can be a means of God’s loving discipline. It is difficult for us to comprehend why God would work in this manner. But, believing in the sovereignty of God, there is no other option than suffering being something God allows and/or causes.
The clearest example of this in Scripture is found is Psalm 119. Notice the progression through verses 67, 71, and 75 – “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word…It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees…I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” The author of Psalm 119 was looking at suffering from God’s perspective. It was good for him to be afflicted. It was faithfulness that caused God to afflict him. The result of the affliction was so that he could learn God’s decrees and obey His Word.
Again, sickness and suffering are never easy to deal with. One thing is for sure, sickness should not cause us to lose faith in God. God is good, even when we are suffering. Even the ultimate of suffering—death—is an act of God’s goodness. It is hard to imagine that anyone who is in Heaven as a result of sickness or suffering regrets what they went through in this life.
One final note—when people are suffering, it is our responsibility to minister to them, care for them, pray for them, and comfort them. When a person is suffering, it is not always appropriate to emphasize that God will bring good out of the suffering. Yes, that is the truth. However, in the midst of suffering, it is not always the best time to share that truth. Suffering people need our love and encouragement, not necessarily a reminder of sound biblical theology.
Prophet Nathan Emol
The biblical doctrine of the sovereignty of God states that God is almighty over all. He is in complete control of all things—past, present and future—and nothing happens that is out of His jurisdiction. Either He directly causes—or He passively allows—everything that happens. But allowing something to happen and causing something to happen are two different things. For example, God caused the creation of the perfect, sinless Adam and Eve; then He allowed them to rebel against Him. He did not cause them to sin, and He certainly could have stopped them, but He chose not to for His own purposes and to bring about His perfect plan. That rebellion brought about all manner of evil—evil not caused by God, but allowed by Him to exist.
Sickness is one manifestation of the two broad types of evil—moral and natural. Moral evil is man’s inhumanity to man. Natural evil is composed of things like natural disasters and physical sickness. Evil itself is a perversion or corruption of something that was originally good, but is now missing something. In the case of sickness, illness is a state where good health is missing. The Greek word for evil, ponerous, actually implies a malignancy, something that is corrupting a good and healthy state of being.
When Adam sinned, he condemned all of humanity to suffer the consequences of that sin, one of which is sickness. Romans 8:20-22 says, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” God—the “one who subjected” the creation to frustration following the Fall—has a plan to eventually liberate creation from its bondage to sin, just as He liberates us from that bondage through Christ.
Until that day, God uses sickness and other evils to bring about His sovereign purpose, to glorify Himself, and to exalt His holy name. At times, He miraculously heals sickness. Jesus went through Israel healing all manner of sickness and disease (Matthew 4:23) and even raised Lazurus from the dead after illness killed him. At other times, God uses sickness as a method of discipline or as a judgment against sin. King Uzziah in the Old Testament was struck with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:19-20). Nebuchadnezzar was driven to madness by God until he came to understand that “the Most High rules in the affairs of men” (Daniel 4). Herod was struck down and eaten by worms because he took God’s glory upon himself (Acts 12:21-23). There is even at least one case where God allowed disease—blindness—not as punishment for sin, but to reveal Himself and His mighty works through that blindness (John 9:1-3).
When illness does come, it may not be the result of God’s direct intervention in our lives, but is rather the result of the fallen world, fallen bodies, and poor health and lifestyle choices. And although there are scriptural indicators that God wants us to be in good health, (3 John 2), all sickness and disease are allowed by Him for His purposes, whether we understand them or not.
Sickness is certainly the result of the fall of man into sin, but God is very much in control, and He does indeed determine how far evil can go (just as He did with Satan and Job’s trials—Satan was not allowed to exceed those boundaries). He tells us He is all-powerful over fifty times in the Bible, and it is amazing to see how His sovereignty unites with the choices we make (both bad and good) to work out His perfect plan (Romans 8:28).
For those who are believers and suffering with sickness, illness, and/or disease in this life, the knowledge that they can glorify God through their suffering tempers the uncertainty as to why He has allowed it, something they may not truly understand until they stand in His presence in eternity. At that time, all questions will be answered, or perhaps more accurately, we will no longer care about the questions themselves.
Prophet Nathan Emol