Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, author of a well-known book, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, was sought out for commentary in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. He wrote bout that time in he book, Conquering Fear, devoting a chapter to the fallout. He found that the attacks left people across the U.S. with a deep sense of vulnerability. Kushner explains terrorism and its power: “Terrorist math is simple. Kill one person, frighten a thousand. Kill a few thousand people, terrify an entire population…The power of a terrorist act, the secret of its effectiveness, lies in its randomness.” But he also wrote of conquering the power of terrorism: “We will have to hold on to our faith that God has given us a world where evil is possible but evil will ultimately consume itself.”

Mr. Kushner’s statement that “our faith that God has given us” is key to understanding why bad things happen to good people as well as understanding how to conquer fear. HOW HAS GOD GIVEN US FAITH; AND WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THAT FAITH? While faith is personal, this does not mean that each person can determine the kind of faith that he desires. Man has no authority or freedom from God to develop his ‘own unique, personal’ faith without regard to what the word of God declares about faith.

Faith, while “like precious” (2 Peter 1:1); is also said to be “common" (Titus 1:4). This means that it is shared by all who are in Christ (cf. Acts 2:44; 4:32). Yet, faith is individual in that each person must come to his own knowledge of truth (1 Timothy 2:4), before he can be saved. In this sense, repentance is “common" as each must turn from his own sins (2 Peter 3:8). Even sin is “common” in that sin is a transgression of God’s will; and every accountable person has done so (Romans 3:23).

Salvation is also “common” and “like precious,” but personal (Jude 1:3). Furthermore, salvation is only as God has decreed. Peter acknowledged this saying, “…in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:35). Peter further acknowledged that God purifies Jew and Gentile in a “common” way, “purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). It was God’s purpose from eternity for all the saved to be united in one body, through a “common” faith, thus having a common salvation (Ephesians 2:16).

Salvation is based upon love…God’s love for us and our love for Him. His love for us is stated in John 3:16. God’s love is also seen in giving us guidance and purpose for living through the teachings that came by inspiration of His Spirit. Jesus’ teachings on love were by commandment from God and according to the word that His Father gave Him (John 12:49-50). Thus, what man knows of love, he has learned from God.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends…” (John 15:13). Man would never have known the concept of love had God not shown man how to love. This did not come from creation, but from His revelation to man. But neither would we know how to love God in return had God not taught us. Jesus told the apostles in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” In John 14:15, 21, He taught these words: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

But we also learn how to love one another from what God has taught us. In 1 John 3:16 we read, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Having learned how to express love back to God and to our fellow man, we overcome fear.

Because man has failed to express love AS GOD ORDAINED, bad things happen to good people. This is the spiritual lesson to be learned from the tragedy of 9/11 and any other tragedy. Life is not random, but according to God’s eternal purpose. The lesson we need to learn is, “…Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God(Ephesians 5:2).