Why do bad things happen to “good” people?

One of my favorite quotes by R.C. Sproul Jr. says this,

“Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once and He volunteered.”

This question is one that frustrates the minds of many — why do bad things happen to good people? We have all faced trials and sufferings of different kinds. Losing loved ones, facing sickness, financial struggles, natural disasters and more have disrupted the lives of people across our world from the beginning of time. I’m sure there have been times when you too have begged the question, “Why?”

You’re not alone in that wondering. In my lifetime, I’ve faced several challenges that have caused me to question and doubt the goodness of God. At only 5 years old, I watched my dad battle against cancer raging through his body and eventually succumb to the disease. We lost my grandfather and a family friend during my middle school years. My grandmothers have all faced serious health challenges that threatened their lives. My uncle died suddenly in the night. And just recently we got an unwanted breast cancer diagnosis for my mom.

Some might say that I have the right to ask those “why” questions, and while it’s definitely our natural inclination to do so, I’ve learned those aren’t the questions that we should be asking.

In my 22 years of life, I’ve thought a lot about suffering on this side of heaven, what its purpose is and why we endure it. Though I don’t pretend to know all of the answers, I do know the hope I have in Christ that’s guided me through life’s toughest battles.

I don’t believe we will always know all the answers, however, I do think there are truths we can cling to when we face trials of various kinds.

No one is good.

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  (Rom. 3:10–12).

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph. 2:1–3).

God is the standard of goodness and we have all gravely missed the mark. Due to our sin, we are separated from Christ, damned and wretched.

These verses are hard to swallow, but when we come to terms with our complete lack of goodness we can see more clearly His absolute goodness. When we understand we are not good and unable to become good in our own strength, we are left searching for some type of hope. That hope is only found through Christ.

There is purpose in suffering.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).

The Lord has made it clear in Scripture that when (not if) we meet trials and sufferings He is working within us.

God uses suffering to open our eyes to where our treasure truly lies. If we treasure the health and wealth of this world, trials and tribulations will shake us to our core. If our treasure is in Christ, His promises and His eternal kingdom, even life’s roughest storms will not move us.

Suffering allows us to know God more. Had it not been for the dark days my family walked through in losing my dad to cancer, I am not sure I would know the Lord today. He used those times in my life to show me my incredible need for Him. Through long nights of tears and questioning, I learned of His kindness, His faithfulness, His character and His goodness.

Suffering refines us, leading us towards righteousness. Refining won’t always feel good at the moment, but what it is making is beautiful and worth it.

We have a reason to rejoice. 

One of my dad’s favorite passages was 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 

In the years after we lost my dad, I would read over these verses and furrow my brow  — rejoice? The will of God is for me to rejoice when I feel that I lost my dad too soon? And these are the words my dad clung to facing death?

His soul found rest in these verses because he knew he had hope in Christ, outside of this world, that could not be touched or altered by sufferings in this lifetime. There is always a reason to rejoice in that.

This hope is not found in healed diseases, financial peace or calmed storms. This hope comes from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As I said earlier — no one is good. In our sinfulness, we were separated from Christ. We have no hope. But God sent His Son into this world for us. He stepped down out of heaven, walked around on the dust of the earth, never sinning and living a perfectly holy life. Yet He was led to the cross. Upon Him, our sins were placed. The Father looked away and Jesus breathed His last.

Three days later, the true breath of life filled His lungs and He walked out of the grave — defeating death and sin.

He is where our hope lies. Jesus made a way, despite our lack of goodness, for us to know Him and walk in relationship with Him. When we know Him as our Savior and He becomes the Lord of our life, we are promised far more than a perfectly healthy body and ease of days — we are promised eternity with Him.

That is why even when we face suffering of many kinds, we can and should rejoice. Praise God, this world and these bodies are not our home.

So why do bad things happen to good people? Well, as R.C Sproul Jr. said, that only happened once — and He volunteered.

Christ volunteered to stand in our place, as the only one in all of humanity that was good, to receive a bad, but just, punishment for our sins. And now He calls us to Himself — to repent, follow Him and make disciples of all nations.

So even in the face of sufferings in this life — losing my dad, other loved ones and now facing my mom’s cancer diagnosis — I will hope in Christ, rejoice in His promises, and cling to His faithfulness.

Emily Jones is this week’s guest contributor for The Rope. Emily works as a digital media specialist at one of TAB Media’s partners, Dogwood Media Solutions. She is from Headland, Alabama, and moved to Montgomery after graduating from Troy University and marrying Brannon in December 2019. To read more from Emily, visit her personal blog, Remembering + Rejoicing


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