Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

The Question

A question that you most certainly will get at some point in your mission is this question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It’s a tough question to answer and really, no satisfactory answer if one is so inclined not to believe in God or is still in the bitterness of the experience. I wish I could say here is a quote that would magically answer the question but to be honest there isn’t a straight forward answer to it. Ultimately it is a personal question that we all must find ourselves and whether now, or years down the road when we gain better perspective, we will see the bigger picture and have a much better understanding of situations that we find ourselves in.

Overarching Theme

Having said that let me try to explain the overarching theme of “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” I’m not going to try to answer the question, but rather give insights from which to pull from to help us gain a better perspective of this issue.  Usually these bad things that occur, occur for two reasons. First is agency. God had a decision to make. What kind of world did He want for us? Did He want a “toy world” where everyone just did what we were told and obeyed every commandment He ever gave? Or did He want a “real world” where individuals could do “real” good or “real” bad things in this world? He did not want, nor could He change the laws of agency to do right or wrong.

C.S. Lewis made a great quote about this idea

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.

A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.

Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. . . . If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will—that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings—then we may take it is worth paying.

While this promotes the progression of humanity, it also carries with it certain “side effects” that may result in suffering and sorrow. Free will is linked to adversity: many times our suffering and sorrows in life come as a result of the use or misuse of agency.”

Now this doesn’t explain away all the bad things that happen but can explain much of it. Another aspect that helps us better understand why bad things happen to good people that doesn’t involve the agency of others; many times we face insufferable pain and trials in our lives because God is a God of perfect love. We usually define love as being kindness but that is just the lazy way of defining what pure love is.

Again C.S. Lewis goes on to explain…

“And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’. . .

Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. It is for people we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms. . . . If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.”

Just as a parent knows that in order for their children to ultimately be happy in the end, many times they will have to suffer through their trials, sufferings and misery to learn from those lessons; our Heavenly Father who practices perfect love, many times allows us to experience the same trials and suffering so that we can be polished as gold through the refiner’s fire. That fire is real and is painful as anyone who has gone through those experiences can attest to, but those same individuals, given time and perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ will also tell you the comfort and power of the Atonement and how it literally carried them through those painful ordeals.

I’ve also included some other talks and articles that touch on this topic that I was not fully able to address in this post.

Elder Quentin L. Cook
The Songs They Could Not Sing

Elder Neil L. Andersen
Trial of Your Faith

John Huntinghouse is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of LDS SMILE and served his mission in the Daejeon, South Korea mission.

5 thoughts on “Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

  • I’ve learned that actually nothing’s ever “bad”, since everything that happens to us..everything…is to bring us closer to God. We get to figure out what we’re meant to learn, and how it brings us closer to God with every thing that happens. But understanding He’s there, and figuring out exactly what our lessons are for, can actually make life enjoyable….Everything is about perspective…

  • Laurel commented “I’ve learned that actually nothing’s ever “bad”, since everything that happens to us..everything…is to bring us closer to God.”

    Please help me understand how being sexually abused brings me closer to God.

      • Terry, I am so very sorry for your terrible experience, no one should have to endure that. I find that adversity only brings us closer to God if we let it. You can do as Job’s friends told him to do, that is, “curse God and die,” or you can reach out to God to help you heal and forgive. Your experience was obviously one of allowing the agency of others to fulfill its course. God knows you are strong, he knows your worth, your long-suffering and – “Your Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son love you perfectly. They would not require you to experience a moment more of difficulty than is absolutely needed for your personal benefit or for that of those you love.” – Elder Richard G. Scott, (“Trust in the Lord” 1995)
        “Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.” – President Brigham Young
        “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5.)
        You may not understand why it had to happen or what good it did you, but the good news is, you don’t have to. Your job is to trust God and His plan for you. He loves you, Terry, SO MUCH! So much that He sent His son to atone and die for you. Jesus Christ, through the power of the infinite atonement, has felt *exactly* what it was like to be sexually abused. He did that so he could be there with you and say, “I know this is hard, I know it hurts, but I’ve been here before, and I promise that if you follow me, we can make it out of this together.”
        He loves you.
        I can’t say it enough to emphasize my point, but you are his child, and he would never abandon you or give you something you couldn’t handle.
        Trust in him, Terry. I promise if you do, everything will make sense later.
        If you don’t believe me – ask Him yourself. You don’t have to listen to a word I say, but listen to God. Ask Him if He loves you.
        I know he does.

        When I’m going through hard times I go to my favorite talks –
        *”An High Priest of Good Things to Come” – By Jeffrey R. Holland
        *”Trust in the Lord” – By Richard G. Scott (1995)
        “Applying the Atoning Blood of Christ” – By Neil A. Maxwell
        “The Love of God” – By Dieter F. Uchtdorf

        I hope through personal prayer and the inspired words of the prophets, you can find peace.
        My heart goes out to you and I wish you the best in life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *