Why do bad things happen to good people? Surely this is a question all of us ask from time to time. Some of Jesus' listeners asked Him the same question. (Luke 13: 1-9). They brought up the recent news about some Galileans who had been cruelly offered as human sacrifices by Pilate; and about the tower that had fallen in one of the cities in which 18 innocent bystanders had been killed; and they wanted to know if these people's tragic deaths were due to their sins.
Jesus had already dealt with this question when confronted with a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples wanted to know if it was his sin or his parent's sin that was responsible for his condition. Jesus consistently condemned the notion that human tragedy is punishment for sin.
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus established the principle that God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good; and sends rain of the just and the unjust. In other words God does not reward us according to our virtues because we do not have any virtues. Scripture makes it clear that "all of our goodness is as but filthy fags in the sight of God." So, it would seem that God does not reward us according to any virtues. Neither does He punish us according to our sins.
Let me hasten to add that I believe God does discipline His children because He loves us. But remember, God's discipline is always forward looking and is designed to bring us back and keep us in fellowship with Christ. Punishment, on the other hand, looks backward, and repays an offender in proportion to the law he has broken. All punishment of this nature that was due our sins was borne once for all by Jesus on the cross. If Jesus paid the punishment for our sins (past, present and future) on the cross, it would be redundant for God to punish us again for sins His Son suffered the cross in payment for.
So now, if God doesn't reward us for our virtues or punish us for our transgressions ? then it seems reasonable to infer that there are some things in this world that happen as a consequence of the physical laws which govern the universe and man's inhumanity to man. And sometimes they happen to those we consider to be "good" people. Church buses loaded with Christians get swept into the river. A young girl on her way to Bible study gets fatally shot. Christians die aboard a plane that explodes on their way home from a funeral. Some things in life we cannot control.
I might add in passing that I get a little disturbed when I hear people say of victims, he or she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. There is something inherent in this statement that subtly suggest the victims made a bad decision by being where they were at the time they were there. In my mind, they were at the right place at the right time but unfortunately, they encountered the dark side of life.
But I digress.
Jesus did not want His interrogators to get bogged down with this question about why bad things happen to good people. He wanted them to understand their responsibilities for making good things happen. He tried to get them to see that we are better off not concentrating so much on those areas over which we have no control. Rather, focus our concern with those things which we can control.
Some folks sit around and talk pitifully about what life has done to them. Jesus says to them and to all of us that on the Day of Judgment we will not be asked what life did to us but what did we do with life. We are constantly asking God to solve the world's problems and God is asking us to do the same thing.
We need the spirit that Winston Churchill embodied so memorably. As Great Britain was fighting for its life during World War II, before we got involved, he wrote a letter to President Roosevelt stating: send us the tools and we will finish the job (British Library of Information).
Sometimes I think this ought to be our approach to prayer. Rather than always praying for peace in the world, every now and then we need to pray that God would make us peacemakers. Rather than begging God for more, we need to pray that He shows us someone who needs our assistance. Rather than always praying that God heals someone, pray that God use us as instruments of His healing powers; give me the tools Lord and I'll do the job.
Why do bad things happen to good people? That's a tough one. But here's one that is even tougher. Are you reaching out in love to the good people or their families that bad things happened to?
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. http://www.clergyservices4u.org. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, will be available soon.