Q. Why do bad things happen to good people?

A. The simple answer is, of course, we don't know. But through the ages men have wrestled with this question. An entire book of the Bible, Job, was written to illustrate some of the conclusions some people came to even in very early times. The answers haven't really changed.

First, God does not do evil to anyone. He may allow it to happen for His own reasons. Then he brings good out of the situation. But the seeds of the troubles are already present; He simply allows evil consequences to affect the individual.

Evil in our lives results from three sources. We live in a moral universe where actions have consequences. Therefore, we are subject to the consequences of three kinds of actions. Consequences are the natural results of actions built into the system, and must not be confused with imposed punishment. First, we are subject to the consequences arising from our own choices. Secondly, we are often hurt by the consequences of the choices of others. Thirdly, because we live in an imperfect world, on a unquiet planet, we are also subject to the impersonals whims of nature. I must reiterate that the consequences resulting from any of these three sources, however, are not to be confused with punishment. In any case, no one is in a position to criticize anyone else. And we must remember, too, that the same consequence may have different causes. For example, an out of wedlock pregnancy might result from unprotected sex by choice, or it could be the result of rape. In either case, the woman involved needs support, not lectures.

The first source of bad things is our own wrong choices. Unpaid bulls come due. Overeating can result in obesity. Unprotected sexual activity can result in pregnancy. Careless sexual activity or drug use can result in AIDS. Driving while drunk can result in an accident with its attendant injury and death. Indulgence in alcohol can result in liver damage; indulgence in tobacco can result in lung damage and cancer of various types. However, though our own choices may be good, bad choices may still happen.

But sometimes evil results from the wrong choices of others as they affect our lives. The newspapers are filled with accounts of innocent children dying because the car they were riding in was struck by one driven by a person driving drunk. A terrible irony intrudes here, in that the drunken driver often emerges unscathed from these collisions.

The third source of evil are the impersonal natural forces. Storms, fires, floods, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, typhoons, landslides, avalanches, and the stray falls of meteors take no account of the character of the persons affected. The good man's house is as likely to be destroyed as the bad man's house is apt to be preserved. These things happen to everyone.

If bad happens, therefore, it often merely happens because it is happening to everyone else as well. Sometimes the choices of others harm those who are innocent. And sometimes our own choices bring on trouble. However, regardless of the source of trouble, our response to one in trouble should be loving support and assistance, and God will bring good out of even the worst of circumstances.

For further reading: The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis

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MaryAlice B. Kelly
E-mail: kelly1@kconline.com