The problem of bad things and good people

A major cognitive stumbling block for those who are unconvinced about God is the problem of bad things and good people. In particular, they find it extremely difficult to accept that God allows unfair and tragic things to happen to others – eg a child who dies of cancer, a fatal car crash. I want to distinguish these kinds of tragedies from those that occur as a result of inhumanity – holocausts, war, torture, as the notion of evil of this ilk adds even further to the complexity of this issue. I have been asked – why does God allow these things to happen to good people? Or to anyone for that matter. These questions elicit a mumbling response from many of us as Christians as we recite learned responses that sound somewhat unconvincing as the words are spoken. It’s to do with the fall. God works all things for the good. Or perhaps more honestly, “I don’t understand either”. While I haven’t blogged on it for a while, I am still making my way through books and mp3s on open theism. I think that the problem of bad things happening to us is related to our disconnectedness from God and the existence intended for us as a result of “the fall”, and I do believe that God is able to bring about good things in the midst of tragedy. But does that mean that God chooses for bad things to happen? I have been listening to an mp3 by Piper, a man who vehemently opposes open theism. He argues strongly that while terrible for us, events such as a tragic car crash are fully intended by God. John Sanders (in The Openness of God) sums up this perspective thus:

“From God’s perspective there is no gratuitous or pointmess evil; each individual “evil” – say, liver cancer or the death of your child – is actually for a good purpose when it is considered as part of God’s overall plan. If a tragic event happens to you, you should not necessarily consider it a “good” for you individually, but it is certainly good for the universe as a whole.”

So where does praying for God to intervene in a situation fit into this understanding? If God does intervene (in a way that seems favorable to us) does it mean

1. God changed His mind about something He was going to bring about and thus overridden His own plan (therefore God is “changeable” – an open theism proposition)

2. God always planned for the event and outcome. Our supplication is part of that plan.

3. God did not plan the bad thing (open theism would pose that God did not know it was going to happen), and intervenes as a result of our supplication.

I don’t think I can fully accept that God rules a universe where he watches over everything and muses to himself, “My oh my, look what’s going on down there. I had no idea that was going to happen.” Somehow, that is no more reassuring than God who intentionally brings about something horrible. This is more than a single post issue. I don’t know the answer, and probably never will.   For now, I will keep on reading.


4 thoughts on “The problem of bad things and good people

  1. You have touched on the one question I hear so frequently and, for the most part, few people ever answer it to the satisfaction of the one who queried.

    I have yet to hear a pastor or evangelist properly and truthfully answer the question: the usual response being, “We don’t know why these things happen, but it’s always for our good.” At least that’s the best response, if it can be called such, I’ve ever heard from man.

    God, however, answers the question with great wisdom. I posted an article on this very subject that you might find enlightening and better fit you for answering the question when you hear it again: “From Adversities to Blessings.” Critical scriptures are included. 🙂

    God’s answer certainly made a difference in how I view and respond to the adversities in my life; which included, among many other things, the deaths of two of my daughters just a year and a half apart: definitely the most trying episodes I’ve had to endure in my 62 years.

    Much love in Christ,
    Truth Seekers and Speakers

  2. Hi BonnieQ, thanks for your comment. I dropped by your site and it seems you have certainly had good reason to wrestle with this issue throughout your life, and that you have found peace in the midst of your experiences.

  3. i’m sorry i didn’t write sooner. you’re right on par with some things i personally am wrestling with and as usual, your writing is phenominal on the subject.

    your three options revolve around a very basic assumption: God can do nothing that we consider evil. yet perception skews the definition of true evil. while it’s certainly not kosher or biblical, it is an alternative viewpoint that, if you view this issue through it, you might find something that does help you.

    say God was perfectly capable of doing evil for the better good. such as the lying spirits He sent in the OT. punishing the latter generations for the mistakes of the former ones. punishing a nation because of it’s leader — chosen by the same God doing the punishing. it would explain a lot, and at the same time leave us with another quandary: how can we believe in a supreme being that isn’t all-benevolent? fascinating to think about in the hypothetical.

    the author you quoted has done what many have done before: shifted the moral decision away from God, citing that because God is good, whatever He does must be good, and therefore percieved evils might be better for us than our “good” things. It still leaves one moral question to ponder though. If a specific evil can be good to 5,999,999,999 people, and evil to one, is that action evil or good? And, assuming that one person sees that specific evil as evil makes it evil, can God still let it happen?

    i think you touched on a very good issue to ponder, and i eagerly await more commentary on the issue!


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