Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?
The title of this lesson happens to be one of the most widely asked questions typed into Internet search engines such as Google or Yahoo. Perhaps you were directed to this web page by your inquiry to an Internet search? If you or someone you care about is going through a particular illness or trial, or you recently lost someone very special to you, I am very sorry that you are hurting at this moment. I hope you receive encouragement from your visit here.
Many centuries ago, there happened to be a true story about two men placed into prison by the king of Egypt. We don’t know exactly what either of these men did to receive this punishment, but we do know that each served Pharaoh in his palace. They were officials to the king, one being the chief cupbearer, and the other being the chief baker. We can only guess about the circumstance that led to their incarceration because the story only says that they “offended their master the king of Egypt.” Perhaps their only “offense” was a poorly prepared meal, and they received the wrath of a powerful ruler.
The story goes on to say that on the birthday of the king, the king gave a feast for his officials. The chief cupbearer was released from prison and was restored to his position in service to the king; at the same time, the chief baker’s life was taken. I can only imagine that a conversation within the king’s court went something like this:
“Did you hear about the chief cupbearer and the chief baker?” whispered the court jester to sergeant of the guard.
“Yes, I know,” answered the sergeant. “I was given the task to turn both of them over to the captain of the guard.”
“Such a bad thing for the chief baker; he was a good guy,” the jester responded with much sadness.
“Why do you say it was a bad thing?”
“Are you crazy?” asked the jester. “Don’t you know his life was ended?”
“Yes, I know, but I wonder who really received the better fate. Things are pretty difficult here.”
Throughout my years of hearing and thinking about this story, I always thought that the better off person had to be the chief cupbearer since he was restored to his position in service to the king. I felt that the chief baker must have done something really bad to be killed; but perhaps the chief baker was a good person. That would lead to the question: Why do bad things happen to good people?
I recently had lunch with an old friend who I grew up with. The two of us really hadn’t had a good talk since we were young boys; in our conversation, we discussed a few of our mutual friends and the bad things that have happened to some. My friend made the comment, “That was bad karma” about the particular situation concerning one of the friends. My mind quickly thought about the TV show My Name is Earl, where this guy named Earl is going around to repair all of the wrongs he had done in life in order to restore his “karma” to balance over to the good side. The word “karma” comes from the Hindu or Buddhist teaching that what one does in this life will determine where he will end in the next life. Is there such a thing as “karma?” Do you believe in the existence of good and evil? Perhaps it’s easy for us to accept the bad fate of someone whom we think deserves some sort of punishment for his or her bad deeds, but we struggle with why something “bad” would happen to someone that is a good person. I ask you: What makes you really know that what happened is completely bad?
You may be thinking now, “Robby, are you crazy? You certainly have no clue what I’m dealing with.” I say you are right in thinking this. I don’t know how you hurt or feel about your situation. I am very sorry that you are going through this pain, but I also encourage you to look at your situation a little differently.
There is a story I heard about an elderly gentleman who was considered very wise by his contemporaries in China many years ago, but very unusual because of the way he viewed particular situations. He was in charge of the finest stallions in all of China. He awakened one morning to discover that the number one stallion in all of China had disappeared. The people living around the ranch area were alarmed and came to this wise stallion manager:
“Oh elderly one, elderly one,” one of the local people called out. “We heard what happened last night!”
“What you hear?” asked the wise Chinese gentleman.
“We hear that number one stallion in all the land of China has disappeared. Is this true, could it be true?”
“It is true, it is fact,” he calmly answered. “Number one stallion has disappeared.”
“It is bad that this has happened.”
“Pardon me?” asked the elderly one.
“Too bad he’s gone, isn’t it just terrible?”
“Yes, he is gone. But how you know it bad thing that he is gone?”
“What??” answered the local resident.
“How you know it bad that he is gone?”
Unable to respond to the elderly gentleman’s response to the situation, the people went back to their homes. The very next day the elderly gentleman awakens to find that not only the number one stallion has returned, but two more beautiful wild horses of the same breed have followed the stallion home. Upon hearing about this, the local people come running over to see the new arrival:
“Oh elderly one,” say the people. “You are so wise!”
“Why you say that?” asked the elderly man.
“Well, just yesterday the number one stallion is missing, and you say ‘how do we know this is bad?’ And today the stallion returns with two additional beautiful horses following him. Is this true?”
“It is true, it is fact.”
“This is good news that this happened isn’t it o’ elderly one?”
“Pardon me?” asked the wise man.
“It is good that stallion is back with two additional horses!”
“Stallion is back with two more, but how you know it is good that he is back?”
“What?” said one of the people.
“How you know it is good that he is back?”
Unable to say any more, the people once again go home.
The very next day, the son of the wise horse manager, attempting to tame one of the two new wild horses falls off the horse and breaks his leg with a very bad break. The local people come over to show sympathy to the elderly man about the news of his son:
“Old man,” calls out one of the people.
“Yes?” the man answers.
“We hear what happened to number one son.”
“What you hear?”
“Your kid! Did he not break his leg trying to tame one of the new wild horses”? they answered with a little agitation.
“Ah, honorable only son, while attempting to break one of two wild horses, falls off horse and breaks his leg. It is true, it is fact.”
“Too bad he break leg?”
“Pardon me?” answered the wise man.
“Too bad your kid broke his leg, agree?” answered one with much frustration.
“Ah, son break leg, but how you know it is bad he break leg?”
“Well, heck old man; we don’t know nothin’!” they yelled. “We don’t know nothin’!”
The people who lived near by walked away agitated. Each time they tried to give the old wise man any sympathy, he responded with the question of how do they know what happened is bad? They just decided to give up and go home. The very next day a Chinese warlord, and his army, came through their part of China taking every able bodied young man into their service to fight for them in their war. The wise man’s son, not being able bodied, wasn’t taken to go to battle. He was left to stay at home with his family.
The point to this story is to point out that what may seem as bad to us, may have a deeper reason for a good to come. Unfortunately, we don’t always get to see the good that results, but we will one day. I think back to when I was a child, I heard the term Good Friday. I asked why the day was called Good Friday, and I was told that a man was killed on a particular Friday, and we celebrated His death. I’m thinking, “How can anything good come out of a death of anyone?” Perhaps I needed to look at situations a little differently?
Back to the story about the chief cupbearer and the chief baker: How can it possibly be good that the chief baker’s life is ended much earlier than it should have been? I say, by looking at situations a little differently, like the old Chinese man. Perhaps, while in prison, the chief baker met someone who could change the direction of his life. The story tells us that he did meet a man named Joseph. You may ask, “Robby, what’s the big deal about changing one’s life if it’s only for a day or two?” My answer is, on that first Good Friday I mentioned, a thief condemned to die by the punishment of being nailed to a cross made of wood met such a person who did change the outcome of his eternal life in just the matter of a minute. What seemed as very bad for this thief was actually very good that he was there to meet such a person.
Perhaps you are here to meet such a person. Perhaps this “bad thing” that happened to the good person was the only thing that brought you to this website? You see, “things don’t just happen.” If you type that phrase in Amazon.com you’ll see that I published a book with that same title after I began to look at the results of situations a little differently. A few years ago I was placed in a very difficult situation in my life, and I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me, a pretty good person. Then I met the same Man that the thief met the day he was to die, and my life was changed too. I finally understood why the day is called Good Friday. I would like to introduce this Man to you. He can change your life too, and if you don’t really know Him, that WILL BE the answer to the question you may have just typed into the Internet search question. You’re here for a purpose!
Just over two thousand years ago, a Man named Jesus was nailed to a cross on a day we now call Good Friday. It seems to the world that a man being killed for a crime he didn’t commit would be a bad thing, and perhaps that day should be called Bad Friday. But we call this day Good Friday because this Man’s purpose and mission in His life here was to die on a cross for you and me. You see, there is good and evil in this world. There is a good, loving God who loves you so much, He brought you here to hear from Him: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). Just like there is good in this world, there is evil as well. The evil keeps us separated from the rest that Jesus provides. Do you need rest from what you are going through now?
You may think that you are a good person and not evil, but if you do just one thing in your life that God views as evil (a sin) then you fall into the same category as if you did many sins: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). We all fall into that category, so don’t think you’re alone here. The thief on the cross was in that same category, but in a moment of asking Jesus to remember him, he became a child of God, and God no longer viewed him as evil. There is a difference between being a child of God and choosing to live a life separated from your heavenly Father. In the privacy of your heart, ask Jesus to remember you and to include you as a part of His family.
I assure you there is no “karma” of scales balancing out our good deeds verses our bad deeds, even though there is much truth in the phrase, “You reap what you sow.” The Bible says, “Don't be misled. Remember that you can't ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow! Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So don't get tired of doing what is good. Don't get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time” (Galatians 6:7-9 NLT). The “appropriate time” where we reap a harvest of blessing will be in an “everlasting life.” The everlasting life that Paul, the writer, was speaking of is the eternal life in heaven, and the only way to get there is through a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus tells us, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Now you may think, “Robby, I’ve heard that religious stuff before, it’s just not for me.” I say I understand, because at one time I thought the same thing. Then one day I needed that “rest for my soul.” I was weary from carrying a heavy burden that weighed me down and consumed my very being. In my privacy one day, very much like your private moment now, my spirit within me felt a call to truly desire that rest if it was real. Without anyone knowing it, I asked Jesus to help me. There were no bright lights, no music in my ears, but a peace did suddenly come upon me. I didn’t share this with anyone, but I continued to seek His guidance. My favorite Bible verse today is James 4:8. The Bible says, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” This is so true. I challenge you in your private way to try this and allow God’s spirit to give you a new peace.
I hope that today, no matter what bad thing just happened, that you look at the situation differently, like the wise Chinese man. As bad as it seems on the surface, God is still in control, and He promises that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). You’re being called for His purpose now; the call is for you. Answer the call and see how He can work the bad thing for good. It takes courage to take this step and give up control to the One who can help you through the bad times. He will give you the strength to endure the difficult times, not necessarily take them away. “Courage is the mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.” – Mark Twain
Be Courageous and ask Jesus, the true Master, to help you conquer your fears and to have a new understanding of why bad things happen to good people.