Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why does God allow suffering in the world? If God loves us, why does he allow pain in our lives?
These are some of the most asked questions in the world. The human heart wonders where the love of God is when we experience hard times. The problem, however, is never with the love of God. The way to reconcile our painful experiences with God’s compassion for us is to alter our understanding of how God expresses his love.
When we do not understand the way God shows his love, we will not be able to correctly answer hard questions like, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” Below are truths that will help us answer these questions about God’s love and human suffering.
(Note: When I use the term “good people” in this article, I am referring to “good” relative towards other people. While the Bible makes clear that no one is truly good (Romans 3:10), the Bible also makes clear that human morality is real and varies based upon our choices (Luke 12:47-48). So while all people need Jesus, some people really do live better lives than others. All humanity is totally affected by sin, but not every human produces the same level of sin in every area of their life. So when I say “good people” I simply mean those people who live decent, moral lives by human standards. Why does God allow people like this to suffer sometimes while people who live worse lives do not suffer as much sometimes?)
Good Circumstances Are Not a Sign of God’s Pleasure
Before we truly study the Bible and gain a deeper understanding of God’s love, all humans have an oversimplified, narrow understanding of God’s affection. We have a surface mentality where we assume God acts like all of us.
When humans are mad at one another, they do harm to each other. When we are happy with one another, we do nice things to each other. God, however, does not base his actions towards us based on our behavior. Rather, God does what he does towards us because of his own character. In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Here we can see that it would be a mistake to assume that if things are going well circumstantially that God must be happy with our behavior and if our circumstances are poor God must be unhappy with our behavior. While God does good for people, he still refers to them as “evil.” Thus we can see that God’s gifts are not given because of our goodness and are still given to us even when we are acting badly.
Good things happen to bad people because God is good. While most humans spend their time thinking of how God must be wrong for treating good people badly, the reality is that we should be amazed at how good God treats bad people, which is all of us.
(The Bible says more about all this, which I cover in the article Punishment, Discipline, Consequences, and What’s the Difference Between Them All?)
Bad Circumstances Are Not a Sign of God’s Displeasure
While we should see that God’s kindness should not be mistaken as God’s approval of all human behavior, we should also take note that the Bible says “bad things” in life are not an automatic sign of God’s displeasure with us. One prime example of this occurs in John 9:1-3:
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
The disciples make the assumption that all humans make before they study the Bible. They assumed that this man’s hardship was punishment for sin. Jesus, however, corrects this lie and reveals that “bad things” can actually be meant for good.
The main way God produces good through bad things is by glorifying himself through the hardship. God glorifies himself through bad things in many ways. God actually brings more good through the “bad things” that happen than if he spared us of the bad things.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
In other words, God often brings his greatest blessings through our hardest life experiences.
God’s Presence Is the Sign of God’s Pleasure
So if our earthly circumstances are not the gauge on God’s goodness and love for us, how does God express his love and pleasure? God’s greatest sign of love and affection for his people is his presence.
Heaven and the new earth will not ultimately be paradise because we will have all the earthly things we want. Rather, the greatest joy of heaven will be our perfected relationship with God himself. Likewise, hell will not ultimately be the worse place ever because of the absence of earthly pleasures. It will be torturous because the presence of God will be completely absent there. Hell is separation from God. Heaven is the presence of God.
While one day on the other side of eternity our circumstances will reflect perfection, God shows his great love for us now even in the midst of “bad things” through giving us his presence all the time. So we should not assume God is pleased with our behavior just because we have what we want in life. And we should not assume God is mad if we are going through hard times. Rather, the test of God’s pleasure is his presence. His greatest gift to us is always himself. There is nothing more pleasurable to the human heart than the presence of God.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
Joy is not the absence of suffering, it is the presence of the Lord.
We Reap for Eternity What We Sow on Earth
Another important biblical truth to consider when answering “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” is that earth is our time of testing.
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:7-10)
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Hardships, suffering, and “bad things” are God’s opportunity given to us so that we can store up treasures for ourselves in heaven. When we live for earthly rewards, we lose our earthly opportunity to gain heavenly rewards in Christ.
There are two forms of judgment in the Bible. All Christians will pass the first form of judgement and enter into heaven by the grace of God (Revelations 20:15). However, all Christians will also be judged for how we served God while we were on earth (2 Corinthians 5:10).
So why do good people experience bad things on earth? Because our ultimate reward for our service to God on earth is not received on earth but in eternity with God.
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