Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Is That the Right Question?

“Harbor me in the eye of the storm
I’m holding on to love you swore.” 

-John Mark McMillan, Love You Swore

cropped-e83f5-31_31.jpg

The other day on Instagram I asked: “How come we never wonder why good things happen to good people? Or why good things happen to bad people?”

My thoughts were a version of that all-too-common question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” As if there was some chart in the sky where God is tallying checkmarks, balancing our actions with our consequences. This also begs the question–who decides what makes someone ‘bad’ or ‘good?’ 

Part of my reading for  Lent is a book of essays by Barbara Brown Taylor, “Home by Another Way.” I ‘just happened’ to be reading a selection with a variation of this exact same question. Taylor, who is an Episcopal priest, recounted a time when she sat in the hospital with a distraught mother during surgery for her 5-year-old daughter’s brain tumor.

The mother lamented that she hadn’t quit smoking and therefore God was trying to punish her. “That’s why my daughter has a tumor,” the mom said. Taylor shared a bit of her theology about the way God thinks about hard times and tragedies.

“Calamity strikes and we wonder what we did wrong. We scrutinize our behavior, our relationships, our diets, our beliefs. We hunt for some cause to explain the effect, in hopes that we can stop causing it.

“What this tells us is that we are less interested in truth than in consequences. What we crave above all is control over the chaos of our lives.”

Taylor cites Luke 13 where the Galileans are arguing with Jesus about who deserves what because of their sin. Jesus will have none of it; people who die (or have tragedy strike) don’t “deserve what they get,” He tells them.  

“(This) is a tempting equation that solves a lot of problems,” Taylor explains.  

1) It answers the riddle of why bad things happen to good people: they don’t. Bad things only happen to bad people.

2) It punishes the sinners right out in the open as a warning to everyone.

3) It gives us a God who obeys the laws of physics. For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. Any questions?”

“…but Jesus won’t go there. No, Jesus says, there is no connection between the suffering and the sin. Whew.”

(Taylor also adds Jesus’ comment, “But unless you repent, you are going to lose some blood, too. Oh.”) 

“There is no sense spending too much time trying to decipher this piece of good news,” she continues. “…it is not meant to aid reason but to disarm it…Jesus touches the panic (the Galileans) have inside of them… but (He) does not honor their illusion that they can protect themselves in this way, (but seems) to honor the vulnerability that their fright has opened up in them. It is not a bad thing for them to feel the full fragility of their lives.”

We would much rather fix things, understand circumstances, find a reason for the tragedy or hard time. The truth is, we are uncomfortable sitting with hard questions in our lives, especially as believers. We think very bad things shouldn’t happen to good people, but they do. Instead of surrendering because we have no control, we look for reasons or answers. Sometimes there is no answer. And we certainly don’t have control.

When things go well, it is all grace, and we should lift our hands to the Heavens and praise God for it. And when things are difficult, terrible, tragic, just because God is in the middle of our lives doesn’t mean it will magically go away. It just means that He is there in the middle of it.

My daughter Leah first introduced me to the music of John Mark MacMillan, whose song lyrics open this essay. (She also took the photo.)

Leah has had five miscarriages, the last one as recent as this past January. The loss has been mind-numbing, the pain too deep to ponder and sometimes God feels very far away. As her mom, it has been a heartbreaking journey. For my daughter, well, it’s been hard to face one loss after another, to say the least.
“Mom, one song has been my anthem during this time– Love You Swore. I keep repeating the lines, Harbor me in the eye of the storm, I’m holding on to the love you swore. I know Jesus is faithful and has my best interests in mind for my life. But it’s just hard and all I can do is hang on.”

Some beautiful, wonderful, surprising things have come to my daughter and her husband. But some very bad things have happened, too. If I used the good people/bad people, blessings/hardships equation, there might be some sense in all of it.

But sometimes life doesn’t make sense. Instead of looking for a reason or shifting the blame or finding an answer we need to sit with the pain and the grief and realize that Jesus is right there with us.

Taylor’s essay continues, “When panic sets in and we’re searching for answers. That torn place your fear has opened up inside of you is a holy place. Look around while you are there. Pay attention to what you feel. It may hurt you to stay there and it may hurt you to see, but it is not the kind of hurt that leads to death. It is the kind that leads to life.”

“Depending on what you want from God, this may not sound like good news to you. But for those of us who have discovered that we cannot make life safe nor God tame, it is Gospel enough.

“What we can do is turn our faces to the light. That way, whatever befalls us, we will fall the right way.”             –Barbara Brown Taylor ‘Life-Giving Fear’ in Home by Another Way

We can’t stop the storms in our lives but we can rejoice that our Savior sits with us in the midst of them. And we can also lift our hands to thank Him in the good things. He’s right there in storm and the calm seas, with all people. 

And that is very good news.

————

You can listen to “Love You Swore” by John Mark here

“Home by Another Way” by Barbara Brown Taylor is available here.

 

2 thoughts on “Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Is That the Right Question?

  1. These words from your post (and Barbara Brown Taylor’s book) caught my attention: “That torn place your fear has opened up inside of you is a holy place. Look around while you are there. Pay attention to what you feel.” What a surprising concept, that hurt, pain and fear can create a holy place within our spirits. And what surprising action she recommends, to look at it and consider what we feel, but also to “lift our hands to thank Him in the good things.” You are so right: even in the storms of life, there ARE good things to savor, beginning with his comforting presence. Easy to forget but so cathartic when we remember. Thank you for YOUR reminder, Jody!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.