why do bad things happen to good people?

Written by Nikole Hahn

Nikole Hahn is a recovering perfectionist blogging at "Life Upside Down" at www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com. She is also the publisher of The Relevant Christian Magazine (@TRCMagazine). She is a member of Word Weavers International, a book reviewer, writer, and coffee addict.

May 11, 2012

it rains on the righteous and the unrighteous

The rain splashes against the window like tears. The past creeps in like flickering shadows and I am thinking of it again. I no longer ask why bad things happen. In retrospect, I can see how God turned what others meant for evil to good and my sin into something else. If things had happened the way I wanted them to, I wouldn’t have grown and become who I am today. I would not have been a Christian.

There’s no simple, crowd-pleasing answer to why bad things happen. Just ask Randy Alcorn who wrote, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. He said…

“Human freedom is a good that justifies the reality of a temporary evil; to argue that God should not permit evil or suffering is to argue against not only human choice, but love. In other words, a world without the choice to hate would be a world without the choice to love.”

It’s 494 pages, and I’m still trudging through it to gain a better understanding of why bad things happen. Ask Job about sorrow. Job could tell you all about sorrow, anger, forgiveness, and grief. He kept his faith through some quite troubling situations. There’s a passage in the Bible where the apostles asked Jesus why the man on the street was blind. Was it his sin or his parent’s sin that caused the blindness? Jesus said it was for God’s glory. The blind man was made to see again. Many of us are still blind, groping in the darkness, oftentimes clinging to the shadows like it’s a security blanket.

It’s like we’re afraid to let it go and move forward into the light where things will be better. Darkness is something we know and for those of us who have endured a traumatic situation, letting go is terrifying especially if you’re still in it. A harmful situation is only comforting because it’s something familiar. Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend, in Boundaries, explained it that way too. It’s the way I felt in my situation. If I kept hitting my head against the door, maybe it will open on its own. Maybe if I loved the anger away I could gain acceptance?

Bad things happen. Rain comes on the righteous and the unrighteous, the atheist and the believer. We can’t appreciate candle light without the darkness. Many people will talk about the sin that came into the world, and that’s true, but to someone who suffered it’s a cliché. What they really need to know is, does God love them? Is He still out there?

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10 NIV

When a stranger asked me, “If God is good, why did that happen to my brother?” I remembered what I learned from Alcorn, but I knew this stranger wouldn’t welcome that information. He wanted someone to blame. Always in grief we seek someone else to blame. It’s easier to accuse God, than to face ourselves in the proverbial mirror, or to see the situation for what it truly is—something that will further God’s kingdom and grow us as Christians like the blind man in the New Testament. He not only had his sight given, but he probably gained some empathy, too. On top of which, Jesus gave Him the sight and everyone knew it. Forgiveness comes, but healing takes the longest.

Each rain drop that hits the window slides down the glass. They say rain is dreary. Rain waters the earth and when the sun comes out we can appreciate the crispness of a new day, how the light falls over the green fields, blinding us until we adjust to see the light because our eyes have gotten used to the gray.

What’s your answer to why bad things happen?


  1. mandythompson

    This is my greatest question. Thank you for handling it so delicately, Nikole.

  2. David Rupert

    “It’s easier to accuse God than it is to look in the mirror” is a powerful statement. Although God doesnt punish me (often) for my misdeeds, I often set the wheels in motion for a big pile up at the end. Driving too fast, without a map or enough gas. Recipe for disaster.

  3. Sharon Hoover

    I love the quote from Randy Alcorn! Your response to this question is wonderfully crafted. When asked this question, I also highlight the matters of choice. Much of the pain and “bad things” we suffer come from poor choices that we or others around us make. We live in a broken world…waiting for the Lord’s gracious return!

    • Nikole Hahn

       Thank you. Amen! It’s a great book.

  4. Mckmon49

    I struggle with why bad things happen to the innocent.  Some situations we bring on ourselves, but what do you say to the innocent who have done nothing wrong…what do you say to the six-year-old who was beaten and starved to death by his parents?  Why are the innocent, the ones who can’t fight back, why doesn’t God protect them, why does He allow it to happen?

    • Nikole Hahn

       You should read, “If God is Good,” by Randy Alcorn. I think he does a great job of thoroughly explaining it. If all the bad things didn’t happen in my life (some brought on by me and some I didn’t ask for), I wouldn’t have learned or grown. I reviewed a book by Nonna Bannister (The Secret Holocaust Diaries) and her son said of her how compassionate and strong she was during her life. She was realist, but she also exhibited so much grace and love. Because of all that the Russians and the Germans had done to her family–completely wiped them out–when she was just a small child, she allowed God to redeem her pain thereby making her more like Christ everyday. He’ll redeem our pain. There is sin in the world, but if we look at how God uses those bad situations we can see what He did with them–the good that came out of it–in ourselves and how our attitudes influenced others. For instance, the death of a child in Phoenix because someone shot a gun in the air and the bullet traveled a great distance killing the child created a new law that the NRA supported to make that illegal and to prosecute people. Did you ever think about how those raped women never got justice in other generations, but yet because of the women who fought they managed to change the next generation by bringing to light how degrading the laws were and inefficient they were at protecting women. Sin is in the world. There’s no doubt about it. But this is not our home. Look at John Livingstone…because of what he did missionaries could bring the Word of God to tribes that had never heard of the Bible. Or Jim Elliot who allowed himself to be shot and those actions brought a tribe who had never heard of the bible to know God and his actions influenced a muslim man in Africa to be changed. There is comfort in His promises.

      • Nikole Hahn

         Jim Elliot…stabbed with a spear..>Sorry…lol. They had loaded guns and could have defended themselves, but Jim chose to die.

  5. pastordt

    I am right with you if you’re talking about the messes we get ourselves into because of willful sin on our part. I’m even there if you’re talking about a fallen creation and the ripple effects of sin in our world. But, with a couple of your other commenters, I am struggling with this as an acceptable or appropriate response to those who suffer gravely through no clear fault of their own, those who are innocent, or victims of abuse or brutality or violence. 

    I believe God can and does redeem all kinds of people and events. Nothing is ever wasted in God’s economy. BUT to tell the parents of a sick baby, born with half a heart, that it will be worth it all if we learn more about treating this condition in the future?? That is a hard thing to hear, to live with, to believe. Better perhaps to sit with them in silence, loving them and the child, trusting God to bring comfort and hope in the midst of all that pain, all that grief. 

    I don’t think we’re necessarily meant to understand it all – only to accept that God is sovereign and God is good.  In these kinds of situations,”Why?” becomes an agonizing question, one for which there is often no satisfactory answer. Somehow – for me, at least – holding the paradoxes, the mystery of it all, is of more comfort than any kind of quid pro quo kind of analysis. Keeping some sort of cosmic balance sheet feels reductionistic somehow, and offering any kind of explanation that says, “But all this good will come from this horror – just you wait and see…” well – that feels…awful. 

    Maybe we could just say, “I am so, so sorry for your pain, for your loss. And I know God weeps with you as you mourn.” These are hard, hard questions and I appreciate your wrestling with them in this space. I’m just not sure I agree with all of your conclusions. To say that God can and does bring good out of horror is powerful and true. To conclude from that that God causes the horror so that the good can come – well, I guess I just can’t quite go there. Thanks for your work here, Nikole, and for opening the door to this good discussion. 

    • Nikole Hahn

       I didn’t say God causes horror. I said God allows some bad things to happen, like Job. I’d recommend reading the book…it was difficult, but I agree with Randy Alcorn so far (and I’m almost done with it…finally). But what you said about being there and listening…that’s what I also said towards the end of the essay. They want to know if God is there and if He is listening as they go through their horror. Glad you stopped by and commented!


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why do bad things happen to good people?

by Nikole Hahn time to read: 3 min