Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

(1 of 9 in a series on “Why do bad things happen to good people?”)

Another topic addressed in the book of Hebrews is the philosophical conundrum, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  The Hebrew believers were facing severe persecution for their faith.  It would be natural for them to wonder why this is happening; why adversity seemed to be the reward for following Christ.  Maybe it would be better to shrink back from such a dangerous faith to the comforts of the Judaism they had known in the past.

By God’s goodness, grace, and revelation we have answers in Scripture to the big issues of life including this one.  But first, let’s start with what the answer is not.  There is a certain brand of theology that, rather than answering the question outright, takes us a step farther back by suggesting that there are no “good” people.  In essence, they are dodging the question by lumping all of us together as “bad” folks.  The implication is that since all of us, believer and unbeliever alike, are poor wretched sinners, we are essentially getting what we deserve.  Whether on purpose or unintended, they are really setting the question aside as irrelevant when inquiring minds want to know, “Does God have answers for this exact question:  Why do bad things happen to good people?”

So let’s start by recognizing that this is a legitimate question to ask and to support that idea let’s challenge the notion that there are no “good” people. For those outside of Christ, their capacity for good is a result of their creation in God’s image and as such they have an ability to so some good things.  For example, when unbelievers work at being unselfish in their marriage or contribute money to a worthy charity, they are in fact doing good.  But we often get so caught up in our “depravity” theology that we insist they have some ulterior motive or some sinister plot behind the scenes.  While something unseemly is always a possibility, we should not, out of hand, dismiss someone’s good works as less than altruistic.

Now for the believer the argument that we are “good” people is even stronger since we not only have a capacity for good, but actually possess a propensity for doing good.  It is our default mode by virtue of the provisions of the new covenant.  We have a new disposition toward righteousness.  So in the spirit of our original question, we are “good” people – we have the mind of Christ (I Cor 2:16), the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9), and the righteousness of Christ (II Cor 5:21) – and it is perfectly appropriate to ask, “Why do bad things happen to us?”

The Hebrew believers, and all who fall under the provisions of the new covenant, are “good” people, and thus we are back to our question of how bad things fit into the plan of a God-honoring life.  We will look at the answers from the Bible next time.

Letting the River Flow in Ministry

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.  For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (II Cor 3:5-6).  As ministers of the new covenant, we recognize the flowing river inside each believer and we serve in ways that encourage its flow to come to the surface in our friends and family.

Let me give you an example of how this works in ministry.  Several years ago, Rhonda and I were asked to lead an adult Sunday School class at our church for young married couples who were just starting their families.  We were at the other end of the young family years as the first of our five children was just entering college.  We started our teaching assignment with some trepidation.  Would these couples be interested in what we had to say about biblical principles for marriage and family?  How would we drum up interest in these topics?  In short, would leading the way be like pulling teeth?

We had a choice to make.  We could lead the class with an old covenant approach to living the Christian life.  That is, this path ahead is a difficult one and you are not going to like it, but it is just what you have to do.  So buck up and give it your best.  In other words, “eat your vegetables”, they are good for you.

Or we could take a new covenant approach.  Under this system, we present the Christian life as an overflowing feast, not a lukewarm plate of vegetables.  We “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24) by watering the fruit of the Spirit that is already present in every believer by the provisions of the new covenant.  Our teaching is under the overarching message of the New Testament; your old nature died with Christ, sin is no longer your master, you were raised with Christ, and infused with resurrection power to live the supernatural Christian life; to live into who you already are in Christ.

We took the new covenant approach and invited our new friends to join us in experiencing the river’s flow as a community.  In short, our message was, “You can do this”, and we found indeed that these couples were primed for us to join them in the flow that God was already leading them in.  Instead of needing to coax the class forward, we discovered that a desire to learn was already present in our fellow believers.  We just needed to join them and provide some leadership and mentoring in the direction they already wanted to go.  It became a collaborative effort as we encouraged each other in what new covenant living looked like in a family setting.

The whole enterprise was one of our most enjoyable ministry efforts.  Why?  Because we were experiencing the promise of Jesus in John 7 – the flow of the Holy Spirit – in a community of like-minded believers.  It was a great lesson in new covenant ministry, and we were energized by God’s presence and leading for us all!