“If God is good and if God is love, why do bad things happen to good people?”
I’d like to say…good question! In fact, if I’m honest with myself, MUCH of my past theology was centered around solving this question without me even really being fully aware of it at the time.
I believe it’s a normal thought which at some time or another occurs to anyone in today’s world who believes in God or would like to but who are also being honest with themselves concerning life and the world around them. The question only arises because God, in the modern age, has been “sold” to the public as a benign old grandfather figure Who loves everyone and only wants good things in their life. Of course, being God, people naturally think He would be in a wonderful position to make this a reality. People are however, not always happy ergo…God either does not exist, or He is not the benevolent “nice guy” everyone is making Him out to be! It really is a quite straightforward position. It is also, too easy of an answer and one arrived at irresponsibly.
This question was one which I was wholly incapable of answering because my bedrock theology was all wrong, and I believe that is the case with most people. A person’s paradigm is a lens through which they understand and interpret everything in life and it therefore has the power to shape their theology as well.
By using the term “bedrock theology” I mean, the first few “bricks” in my theological framework upon which everything else regarding God and religious life rests. Those theologies, which if challenged or shaken in any way, cause increasingly massive earth tremors throughout the whole building of my life.
I use this analogy of a building, because when our foundational beliefs are called into question, we all feel the deep insecurity that it brings, much like the insecurity one feels on the 100th story of a building in an earthquake – it can elicit panic in the most courageous of hearts. In most cases, during “earthquakes” of the heart, we tend to defend before we objectively listen because the threat of the structure falling is more than we are willing to face.
You might be asking at this point, “Why are we talking about earthquakes of the heart? I thought this was about ‘The age old question’! Well it is, but before I was able to venture further into those dangerous waters, I had to face my inherent “need” to defend my bedrock beliefs, and it is a thing which I suspect you will have to do also regardless of what side of the argument you from which you come.
What initiated this article was a movie I recently watched with some friends, which supposedly addressed this very issue. In my opinion, however, it failed in nearly every way to even truly address the question, much less answer it. During the movie, some of the thoughts I’ve written here came to me, and were later pieced together with revelations I’ve received over the course of the past two years concerning God’s original intent and purpose in this creation.
If God is good and if God is love, why do bad things to happen to good people?
You see we state the question with undefined terms and subjective assumptions in place. We hear that the bible claims that God is good and loving, but then do not let God define what “good” and “loving” look like. We take His claim but use our subjective definitions. That doesn’t work in the courtroom, it does not work in the science lab and it will not work here either! It is a setup for misunderstanding which will inevitably make our questions impossible to answer.
One thing which is required if we want to arrive at truth, is we must draw the definitions of the words in our question FROM the same source as our information about God’s character. Without this simple rule in place, we are at a hopeless disadvantage of arriving at anything conclusive.
So let’s first let’s lay down the 3 cardinal rules…
1. Because this belief is LARGELY a Christian one, we will allow only scripture to supply the answers.
2. As such, we MUST restrict our definition of words like “love” and “good” to biblical definitions.
3. We will address this question from the scriptural position that God is in fact good and is in fact love as the Bible says.
a) This means that God is NOT defined by the words “good” or “love”, but that true scriptural “goodness” & “love” are defined by God.
Now, with these rules in place, let’s examine our question.
The first thing I noticed when considering this question was that as it is stated, it is flawed. It begins with a subjective definition of love and the unscriptural assumption that anyone is truly good.
The word for love in relation to God and His person is Agape. This is a beautiful word and one which is ENTIRELY impossible for humans to aspire to without His aid.
Agape = a love called out of the heart by someones preciousness to you, a devotional love that impels you to sacrifice yourself for someone else with NO thoughts of glory or praise. One that willingly spends itself on another in obscurity – unwilling to draw attention to themselves.
Many people are willing to die for another, but there is far more selfishness in the motives than makes any logical sense. The soldier may be willing to die for a cause, but they harbor a desire deep within to immortalize themselves as a hero or to punish themselves for past actions – it is not 100% agape love for loves sake alone. A mother might love her children self-sacrificially but rarely without complaint and more often than not they use these acts of “selflessness” as tools of manipulation when it suites them…and the list goes on.
As for goodness, the Bible defines good without shades of gray. Good is absolute, therefore no one can be said to be “good” unless there is NO bad in them AT ALL!
“Why do you call Me good?” replied Jesus; “there is no one good but One, namely God.” ~ Luke 18:19
Now, Jesus was not saying He Himself was not good…no, not at all…quite the opposite you might say. Jesus was placing this man face to face with the reality that He is the Christ and is therefore God incarnate and was wondering if this man was prepared to believe this! What we learn from Jesus’ response to this man however, reveals that the premise of our question is all wrong! It is too two-dimensional and is ultimately humanistic.
Furthermore, it makes the assumption that we have the right to expect good for good and evil for evil, even though Christ Himself debunked this mythological assumption during His earthly ministry.
Jesus addresses this assumption
One day, some people came to Jesus and told Him about a tragedy which occurred to some Galileans. Why they brought such a report to Jesus is anyone’s guess, but I image that the answer Christ gave, in traditional fashion, addressed the real question at the core of their report. I believe that question is the same as the one we are addressing here…“If God is Good and if God is love, why do bad things to happen to good people?” So if my view is correct, then I can think of no better jumping off point, than with the response of the Master Himself, let’s review His encounter with this question…
“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; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
Or those eighteen 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? I tell you, No!; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
What was Jesus saying?
Well first off, it seems that according to His reply, no one has a leg up against evil happening to them.
Jesus makes two things clear.
- We are all on a equal playing field.
- Good or bad happening in a life is NOT necessarily a matter of one person being good and another bad.
Well, that just ruins the whole question doesn’t it?
Where does love (or Mercy) come in?
In the above statement I said, “not necessarily”, because I believe the scriptures clearly teach a principle of sowing and reaping which has been in effect since the creation of the world all the way to present.
“Do not deceive yourselves. God is not to be scoffed at. For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” ~ Gal. 6:7
So, I do in fact believe people reap what they sow.
I also believe that God’s mercy WILL step in an keep people from reaping all that they deserve whenever justice can allow such intervention.
For example, the scriptures tell us that mercy can always be expected by those who show mercy, but to those who show NO mercy, they can expect the same.
“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment.” ~ James 2:13
However, we need to remember that mercy does not eliminate judgment, it simply steps in and keeps us from reaping all we have sown and therefore all that we deserve.
For the evil who have shown no mercy, God allows them to continue on in sinning, holding back the harvest of their labors until they can reap a full harvest.
“…From of old their judgement has been working itself out, and their destruction has not been slumbering…the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from temptation, and on the other hand how to keep the unrighteous under punishment in readiness for the Day of Judgement…” ~ 2Peter 2:2-9
I believe this is why it appears to those looking on, that the wicked are getting away with their evil. God is simply allowing them to fill up the full measure of their harvest before applying the sickle.
For the righteous who live lives which extend loving mercy to others (especially their brothers) their judgment comes quicker, giving the bad seed in the ground less time to mature and thus, lessoning the harvest they receive. This is perhaps one reason why it often appears that the righteous seem to have trouble more often than the wicked.
The Question behind the Question
Why do we ask such a question as this one?
I believe it is a very natural thing for humans to think these thoughts, but behind the question…spurring it on is another, more fundamental assumption which reveals the true depth of man’s inherent arrogance.
What is that assumption? We believe the story is really all about us.
Now the devoutly religious will cry foul at this point, saying this is NOT about them, but about the character and glory of God. If He is good why, does He allow…etc.?
This question, AS IT IS STATED, only makes sense if the love of God and the redemption of man IS the point of creation. If it is, then no wonder the dilemma…for then there can be no logical answer to this question…regardless of the “goodness” of the person to whom evil happens.
If the purpose of creation was about the goodness of God, then why create a race that could fall and therefore need redemption in the first place?
And if THAT God WOULD redeem a race that fell WAS His point, is that not the same thing as creating a problem just to prove that you could solve it? Wouldn’t that be tantamount to self-promotion and therefore not love as the Bible defines it?
Also, wouldn’t that be in complete disregard to the fact that in order to make this point, millions of humans would wind up spending an eternity in hell?
No, this answer is simply not sufficient. There MUST be another solution.
God, the Story Teller
What if creation is nothing more than a story, set with real characters with real lives to dramatically illustrate the righteousness and integrity and faithfulness of God’s character?
What if scripture actually teaches that the love of God and the redemption of man is simply A story “WITHIN” the real story and not the STORY ITSELF?
What if the story, is about the justness of God in His claim to the position of unquestionable preeminence in the face of the accusation from Lucifer that He has no justified claim to that position?
What if the story is about proving the goodness of God’s heart against the assumption behind Lucifer’s action that God was holding out on him. For in the end, wasn’t Lucifer’s assumption that God was holding equality aloof from him simply because He didn’t want Lucifer to aspire to it?
How do we know what was in Lucifer’s heart? Well as good place to start is to look at what he said!
How did Lucifer put it, “I will exalt MY throne above the heavens…I will be like the Most High.”
What were the thoughts behind that statement? What was going on in this Cherub’s mind?
What was in that statement but a challenge to God’s right and claim to preeminence?
What was behind that challenge but an assumption that God was holding out on Lucifer and withholding from him an equality which was within his grasp, if only God would stop blinding him from seeing it?
Perhaps the creation of this natural world and the human race itself was designed from the beginning to answer this question in story like fashion.
Does the scriptures even hint at such a purpose for creation?
I believe it does…
The Story so far…
What if, God really meant what He said through Paul… that the purpose of God in creation was to reveal His truth and wisdom to the principalities and powers in the heavens THROUGH the church…His body?
“… the stewardship of the truth which from all the Ages lay concealed in the mind of God, the Creator of all things– concealed with the intent that the Church might now be used to display to the powers and authorities in the heavenly realms the innumerable aspects of God’s wisdom. SUCH WAS THE ETERNAL PURPOSE which He has performed in Christ Jesus our Lord,” ~ Eph. 3:9-11
What if THAT is the story God is telling, while His love and redemption of man is simply part of that greater story?
Well, for me anyway, that makes the actions (and many times the lack of intervention) of God make much more sense, than if the story is really just all about me and God’s love for mankind.
Questions about why did God sometimes stands by and does nothing begin to make some sense when we view His intentions and purposes through the lens HE provided rather than the one we create FOR Him.
Consider Abel, (a man of faith and obedience) who was murdered by his brother Cain. Where was a loving and good God THAT day? Notice, that God is not hiding from this – in fact, you would not even know about it if He had not inspired it’s being recorded in scripture to begin with. God is both honest and unapologetic about this incident! The real question is – what does it teach us about God…and perhaps more importantly, what does it say about His intentions in creating mankind?
God does nothing to save Abel and yet steps in and places a distinguishing mark on the murderer to protect him from retribution.
“And the LORD said to him, “Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.” ~ Gen. 4:15
To those who claim it is only a question of free will…God could not stop Cain and still allow for free will so that is why He did nothing…to those people I ask then why did God not at least warn Abel?
Why did God not send him away until Cain’s anger subsided?
Why did God, during His confrontation with Cain prior to the murder, not warn him of the coming consequences of killing his brother BEFORE he did it?
None of these options would have taken away Cain’s free will, so it cannot be because of freewill that God did not do these things.
No…free will alone is not an adequate enough answer.
The only answer that makes any sense is that the story is not ABOUT the love of God and the redemption of man. Though the story clearly reveals this truth and states it as the story “within” the story…it is not the story itself.
Though the scriptures are full of examples and expressions of the love God has for us as His creation, it DOES NOT (so far as I have been able to tell) ever say that the love of God for humankind and their ultimate redemption after the fall WAS His PURPOSE in creating them.
The scriptures do however, offer several clues which seem to point to the idea that the creation of man is linked to the final judgment of the angels and that as such, our existence is building a case by which God will predicate their future judgment.
IF this is correct, than there is more to the story God is telling than some love-sick, sappy romance of a love smitten God for a fallen race.
The Purpose of God
God has a point and it is NOT entirely wrapped up in us as humans. To think so is to read into the creation narrative something God never says and to ignore many of the things He HAS said.
What if our lives and the gifts of Grace God has given to us in order to draw men unto Himself are NOT JUST about the love of God for man and their redemption?
What if THAT story is really illustrating another point?
What if God really meant it, when He told us of His purpose for our lives and His gifts in Eph. 3:8-12?
“To me who am less than the least of all God’s people has this work been graciously entrusted–to proclaim to the Gentiles the Good News of the exhaustless wealth of Christ, and to show all men in a clear light what my stewardship is. It is the stewardship of the truth which from all the Ages lay concealed in the mind of God, the Creator of all things– concealed in order that the Church might now be used to display to the powers and authorities IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS the innumerable aspects of God’s wisdom. SUCH WAS THE ETERNAL PURPOSE which He had formed in Christ Jesus our Lord, in Whom we have this bold and confident access through our faith in Him.”
What if God’s concern over how we submit to His established and delegated authority within the local assembly, is more about illustrating a truth of His character which relates to the angels and their rebellion and fall, than it is about us directly?
“Man does not take his origin from woman, but woman takes hers from man. For man was not created for woman’s sake, but woman for man’s. That is why a woman ought to have on her head a symbol of subjection, because of the angels.” – 1 Cor. 11:8-10
Until I began to realize that I am part of a greater story God is telling, and not it’s main point – verses like that one made NO sense at all to me! It was as if Paul suffered from a senior moment as he was penning out this letter – like a mental speed bump that he neglected to erase. Now, as I take into serious consideration God’s OWN CLAIMS as to His purpose in creation and how it connects to the heavenly beings who were created LONG before there was ever an earth or mankind on it, these things begin to make sense in a larger context.
Would this not address the exact side-stepping of Adam’s authority as head in the marital relationship when Eve, unilaterally made a choice for both of them without consulting Adam. Does it not also address Adam’s tendency to stay in the background, never assuming the position and responsibilities of headship with which he was delegated? And don’t they both point back to the first rebellion of Lucifer against his headship namely, God?
What if God, in order to answer the unspoken objection of Lucifer to God’s supremacy, answered in true God-like style by asking another question and thereby, create a case for Lucifer’s impending judgment?
What if God chose not to give an answer as much as illustrate one through the human race for the purpose of dramatically proving His righteousness and His future judgment of Lucifer and those who fell with him?
“Absolutely not! God must be true, but everyone is a liar, as it is written: That You may be justified in Your words and triumph when You judge.” ~ Rom 3:4
What if Lucifer’s unspoken accusation was that – the only reason to serve God is because He’s bigger and more powerful, and if justice were allowed..anyone could rise to Gods level of power and authority?
What if Lucifer’s assumption behind the accusation was that God could not be trusted, because He knew that in fact Lucifer could be “like the Most High” but was hiding that knowledge from him?
IF these things are true, what better way to build a case than to make a race of beings who bear God’s likeness and image, are His very offspring and yet LESSER in power and might than the Cherub wielding the accusation?
It would illustrate in dramatic terms the righteousness of God in His justified claim to supremacy IF…
- these same ones willingly served Him
- did not defend themselves against evil
- loved Him regardless of whether they benefited from that allegiance in any way
What was satan’s point in his confrontation of God in reference to Job?
“So Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” ~ Job 1:9-11
This is the same accusation satan had at the beginning only poised in different words.
“Why should I be the one under you? Who would CHOOSE to serve You unless it is only to promote their own agenda!”
What if our lives of surrender to God, regardless of whether we immediately benefit from such allegiance or not, IS part of the His answer?
What if God’s command to, “…let those who are suffering in accordance with the will of God entrust their souls in well-doing to a faithful Creator” IS God’s answer to this accusation and is dramatically illustrated as justified in the lives of Abel, Paul or even the savior of the human race…Jesus Christ Himself?
“Do you refuse to speak even to me?” asked Pilate; “do you not know that I have it in my power either to release you or to crucify you?” “You would have had no power whatever over me,” replied Jesus, “had it not been granted you from above…” ~ John 19:10-11
What?! God GRANTED IT?!!! Yes…and what if that is WHY God did not jump in and find some way to deliver Abel?
What if in doing so it would only proved the point satan was making from the beginning?
The Litmus Test
If I am correct in thinking that making a case against the accusations and actions of Lucifer and those angels which followed him IS God’s overarching purpose for this creation, then it becomes important to look closer at the assumption behind the accusation of Lucifer. If I am correct, then the “litmus test” would prove my belief true, if we can see God addressing this assumption of Lucifer in what He expects from the human race.
The question Lucifer had (which manifested as an accusation against God) was based upon two simple things which are revealed out of his own mouth as he speaks to Eve in the garden.
The significance of that encounter is hard to overstate!
Lucifer clearly took exception with authority, therefore, it only makes sense that he would blatantly side-step Adam (who to him would very much represent God as the head) and go to Eve directly and that RIGHT IN FRONT of Adam (oh the arrogance).
The action itself was a defiant act against the establish authority of God. It also could be argued that he sought an ally in Eve, for to him, she was…as he had been. Close to the top in terms of glory and authority, but still directly under another’s headship.
How does Paul state it?
“But I want you to know
- that the head of every man is Christ,
- the head of woman is man,
- and the head of Christ is God…
For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is man’s glory.
FOR man is not from woman, but woman from man.
Nor was man created for the woman but woman for the man.
For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” ~ 1Cor. 11:3,7-10
It all seems to fit rather nicely!
Satan’s temptation of Eve was in the form of a question and it was specifically crafted to draw the character, love and goodness of God into question – much like our question has done.
“Did God really say?”
“God really knows that if…” are statements which reflect on the core of Lucifer’s heart and therefore (I believe) the reason for his fall.
At some point, Lucifer began to question the integrity, kindness and benevolent nature of God. Like us, he was asking “If God is love and God is good, why is He sitting on the throne instead of me?”
Ultimately, Lucifer did not TRUST what he knew of God. So, if I am correct in believing that the purpose of God in creation was to build a case against the accusation of the enemy, then no wonder God has made nearly everything in this creation about knowing and trusting Him – and this is the litmus test!
No wonder when Christ bottom-lined a parable which was very similar to this same core question, He ended it with the question, “… when the Son of man comes, will He find relational trust on the earth?”
The passage this is lifted from is all about questioning or relying upon the goodness and character of God, and therefore not loosing heart.
Let’s look at it…
“He also taught them by a parable that they must always pray and never lose heart.
“In a certain town,” He said, “there was a judge who had no fear of God and no respect for man.
And in the same town was a widow who repeatedly came and entreated him, saying, “‘Give me justice and stop my oppressor.’
“For a time he would not, but afterwards he said to himself,”
‘Though I have neither reverence for God nor respect for man, yet because she annoys me I will give her justice, to prevent her from constantly coming to pester me.'”
And the Lord said, “Hear those words of the unjust judge.
And will not God avenge the wrongs of His own People who cry aloud to Him day and night, although He seems slow in taking action on their behalf?
Yes, He will soon avenge their wrongs! Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” ~ Luke 18:1-8
In this last part of the verse I almost hear in His voice, “I know what your subjective question is…but the REAL QUESTION is, when the Son of man comes, will He find that you trust Him?”
Lucifer’s fall was entirely based upon not trusting what he knew of God. He seemed to believe God was hiding something from him, which provoked his rebellion. He did NOT want to be played the fool in case God was deceiving him into servitude based upon a false premise.
The questions running in his mind were probably something like these…
- What if God is not good?
- What if this is all some elaborate facade and I am just playing into it like some ignorant fool?
- What if I could be like Him instead of under Him?
All these questions come out in his confrontation with Eve.
- Satan’s thought…..What if God is not good?
- Satan’s temptation of Eve…… “Did God really say…” “…you will NOT surely die…”.
- Satan’s thought…. What if I could be like Him, but He is tricking me into servitude?
- Satan’s temptation of Eve…..“For God KNOWS that if you eat your eyes will be opened and you will be like Him”
Sounds like something was consuming him from within, and I believe it was (is) a lack of trust that God is in fact good!
So, now we’ve come full circle and connect yet another dot.
Why would we ask such a question as the one we are addressing?
“If God is good and is love, why would do bad things to happen to good people?”
I believe we have an enemy, disguised as a subtle snake in a tree of desire who is still whispering his lies into our ears…”Is God really good?”
All the while we have a Creator Whose self-designation is “Faithful & True”. He also whispers into our ears…”I am Good, will you trust Me?”
You might ask, how does this answer the question?
I understand that it would be easy to get lost in all I’ve written, so I will summarize it for you.
- I believe the question is flawed because it is based upon the false premise that WE ARE good, that God’s love requires that He immediately rights all wrongs and that humans are THE point of God’s creation.
- I believe that our creation in His image, yet being in strength lesser than the angels, is a statement and a context for debunking Lucifer’s accusation. God has placed us within the sphere of satan’s influence where he may tempt us to remove our trust in God by manipulating external circumstances and thus cause us to wonder, “Is God really good”? When we, as humans do not succumb to this, but believe in Him as faithful, true and good – it proves satan’s accusation as false, and thus builds the case against him.
- Being within the sphere of satan’s temptations and accusations makes us prey for both unmerited opposition and well deserved reaping, both of which play a large role in why human’s suffer.
- I believe the fact that we as humans, will eventually judge the angels only further strengthens my case. For why else would we (who were clearly created after angels and are lesser in power and might) be called upon to judge them if we were not placed in the same situation as they and yet without the sin of mistrusting and forsaking Him? (1Cor. 6:3)
- I believe that if God just stepped in and arbitrarily removed all adversity and all chance of harm due to our service to Him – it would only strengthen satan’s case, proving that we would not trust Him if we did not benefit from such trust.
- Don’t forget the role that sowing and reaping play.
- In truth, the fact that we are all on level ground in terms of personal goodness, as Jesus clearly stated in Luke 13:1-5, and therefore the goodness we receive is ALWAYS a matter of mercy and not of merit is another large part of the answer.
- Finally, when we ask such a question we are often looking at our lives or the life of another as somehow deserving of good rather than evil, that somehow if justice were really served we’d know nothing but good all the days of our lives. In reality, if all we received in this life was purely based upon our own personal goodness, then JUSTICE would demand tower’s like the one in Siloam to fall on all of us regularly! As was suggested by R.C. Sproul in his book on holiness, it is NOT justice that we want, it is mercy. Also, it is not the abundance of mercy we receive every day by NOT being judged that astounds us, what astounds us is the occasional occurrence of real justice, which is what brings us to as such silly questions as this one.
Ultimately, God will always deliver those who actively trust in Him, for their ability to trust Him comes from His revealing His will to them personally. If one does not get delivered, then one of two things may safely be assumed as true.
- One – they did not believe what He revealed to them.
- Two – God did not speak to them about their deliverance, but of their required sacrifice.
People’s failure to “hear” and acknowledge one or the other, hardly builds a case for the notion that God was simply silent.
“In most solemn truth I tell you that whereas, when you were young, you used to put on your belt and walk whichever way you chose, when you have grown old you will stretch out your arms and some one else will grid you and carry you where you have no wish to go.” This He said to indicate the kind of death by which that disciple would bring glory to God; and after speaking thus He said to him, “Follow me.” ~ John 21:18-19
Peter heard His words and accepted his torturous death as a privilege to suffer according to the will of God and he did not allow his heart to indulge itself in such self-absorbed questions as this one.
So it is my conclusion that we should live our days rejoicing over the abundance of mercy we are daily drowning in and take with patience and loving, trust the times when justice has its moment.