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Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

The Mystery of Suffering

You know you’ve asked this question before.  Many have.  And I am asking it now, but – well… I’d first like to start with a little thought on the wording of this question.  Do “bad things” exist?

To quote GK Chesterton as he paraphrased Saint Thomas Aquinas: “There are no bad things.  There are only bad uses of things.”  That is to say that God doesn’t create things that are bad or evil.  God looked upon all that He created and saw that it was good.  We human beings, however, often use the things that God has created quite poorly.  The very first human beings did this when they consumed something that wasn’t meant for their consumption.  And, yes, because of that freely chosen break from Divine Will, that Original Sin, we have suffered a separation from God and live in a fallen world.  There is evil in the world – but the evil isn’t a thing.  A mutated gene is a thing.  A tumor is a thing.  And, if these are things, and there are no evil or bad “things,” then are mutated genes or cancerous tumors “bad”?  Sacred Scripture tells us, “We know that God makes everything work for good for those who love God….”[1]

If we truly love God, then we trust God.  And if we trust God, then we are able to allow God to make things – even our great difficulties and sorrows – work out for our good.  We might not be able to see what that good is, especially in the midst of our tribulations.  We are, after all, limited, too small to see the big picture that is God’s Masterpiece.  But, loving God and trusting God, we believe in God’s promises.  We hope in what we cannot yet see.

That’s the first thought that I leave you to ponder.  In the pondering, think of how we can make our own natural sufferings worse.

Here are some theories on why suffering happens to good people, which I gathered from a Bible study website.[2]  It’s an evangelical Christian source, not Catholic – still, I think these thoughts keep in line with Catholic teaching or, at least, in line with Catholic understanding of theories on suffering.  They are theories that human beings have developed (sometimes through God’s inspiration) about why suffering exists:

Suffering, questions, alone


Retributive justice – suffering is God’s way of punishing the wicked.

This is an antiquated and, I would say, less than divinely inspired view.  The ancients recognized that this theory was problematic when suffering happened to good people.  The ancients knew that God was just – so how could a just God allow good and righteous people to suffer?  This is the main question in The Book of Job.  In that book, the ultimate conclusion is that “some things are beyond human comprehension. Job is to accept his suffering without questioning God’s wisdom or justice.”  Barry D Smith[3]

We can learn a lot from Job.  But… inquiring minds want to know!  And, so, God graciously reveals to human beings reasons why “bad things” happen to good people, as seen in these theories:

Eschatological Understanding – the suffering will be rewarded in Heaven.  This can be seen in the Sermon on the Mount.  God’s justice may not be seen in this world – but, it will be in the life of the world to come.

Suffering is Remedial – suffering is God’s loving discipline to keep the righteous holy.  We can all be improved.  A loving father rightly disciplines his children – we should understand how good it is, then, to be disciplined by God.  St. Paul writes in a letter to the Hebrews, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”  From Wisdom: “Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.”[4]  Saints Peter[5] and James[6], in their letters, speak of the faith of good people being tested – being purified – through trials.

Suffering is Expiatory – the righteous take upon the suffering incurred by the wicked for the sake of all.  In keeping with retributive justice, the good guys take the rap for the bad guys.  This we see in the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah, who could be seen as Israel itself, as God’s Chosen People, but whom we also see directly and personally as Christ.  For Catholics, expiatory suffering is something in which we can partake if we unite our sufferings with those of Christ, if we take up our crosses and truly follow him.  (A profound Mystery.)

Saint Paul’s Understanding (much like the remedial) – suffering keeps us humble and aware of our dependence on God.  I think that St. Paul had a tendency to become conceited.  And he knew it.  So, whenever he endured a hardship or suffered from some weakness, it reminded him that he is nothing without God.  It also showed others that God was making the wonderful things happen – not little Paul.  I think this is like when people see me smiling through my suffering and start to wonder how that’s possible… It’s possible because of God’s goodness.

I’m with St. Paul in that I understand that suffering can be a great teacher.  One of my friends, Donna Maria, has included as a great teacher in her life her 30 plus strokes.  That, you may think, is a very harsh teacher!  But… we might go through life untouched by suffering and, so, I daresay, untouched by love.  In Psalm 46 the voice of the Lord says, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Sometimes, it’s only when we are stilled that we become mindful of divinity and open to receiving divine love.  If the work of our hands is always successful, and the pleasure received through our bodies is never diminished, then we are in very real danger of becoming self-centered, self absorbed, and oblivious to God.  And God is our Source and reason for being!  A healthy Fear of the Lord is how wisdom begins – and that “Fear of the Lord” comes in being stilled, in one way or another.  It comes in the tremulous awe of knowing that God is God – and we are not.

Anyway, this week’s reflection is meant to be a question – not an answer.  Suffering, I’ve been reminded by two friends this week, is, after all, a Mystery.  Your thoughts and questions will make this inexhaustible quest fuller!

© 2018 Christina Chase

Photo credit:, 1 Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash, 2 Dmitry Ratushney

[1] Romans 8:28


[3] Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.

[4] Wisdom 3:5

[5] 1 Peter 1:6-7

[6] James 1:2-3

Christina Chase View All

Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.

12 thoughts on “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Leave a comment

  1. In a few weeks’ time – about mid-June, Sister Johanna has a series of posts about hope. Suffering inviting hope, stretching our capacity to receive God and his grace and goodness. Watch Agnellus Mirror !

    Keep up the good work,


    It does seem harsh to claim that malaria is good! My brother is one of thousands of dedicated researchers working to eliminate it, as previous researchers confined smallpox to the lab, and have almost wiped out polio. We are not made to be fatalistic about such scourges.


    • Yes, your observation adds to the questions of the post– Thank you! Although I find the word “scourge” interesting… I’ll be thinking on that… Maybe a virus isn’t bad in and of itself – but when it infects someone and causes great suffering, well…. We do live in a fallen world that is less than perfect wholeness. God grants us serenity to accept the things we cannot change ( so that we may not make suffering worse) courage to change the things that we can (so as to receive and give compassionate help– food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, vaccines to the vulnerable, etc.) – and wisdom to know the difference. May God bless your brother in his work!

      And I’m looking forward to those posts from Sister Johanna!


    • If this reflection helped you in any little way, then I am most deeply grateful for the inspirations that led to the writing and sharing of it. Love and blessings of peace to you, my dear and beautiful Jacqui! (Talk about your interesting typos – when I said your name, my dictation system wrote “job.” Don’t read too much into that – but, it’s kind of funny!)


  2. My favourite response is this passage from near the end of Lord of the Rings:
    ‘And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.’


    • Beautiful. Thank you for reflecting with me! A sublime addition to the quest. (And great proof that one should read the book and not just watch the movie! 🙂 )
      I imagine that a worthy battle that yields victory would have swords of joy….
      For, knowing the origin and the outcome, is there anything more profoundly beautiful than Christ on the Cross?
      Pax Christi

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Christina,

    I cannot argue with anything you’ve written here. However, I would perhaps add something. Underlying this question is another: why does God allow evil? I agree that evil is not a “thing” and God did not create it, but clearly some suffering is born out of evil (perhaps all of it, in ways that we do not understand).

    It is easiest to see this presence of evil in the great suffering of people under Stalin’s reign or during the Holocaust. When we see people purposely torturing other people, destroying their minds, putting them through agonizing deaths, it becomes especially difficult to understand why God does not intervene and stop this. It is hard for us to imagine a “big picture” that could possibly justify God permitting this to happen.

    I do not have the answer – but I believe that it is related to love. Love can only be love if it is freely chosen. To freely choose, there must be more than one option. If we could only choose good, there would be no choice. So if we were created to share in His love, we needed to be capable of choosing evil.

    Some of the greatest evils have given birth to some of the greatest acts of love, e.g. St. Maximilian Kolbe. This does not, of course, justify the evil but it is a strong sign that, even when people choose evil, God can use it to sanctify – sometimes even the perpetrator of the evil, e.g. Alessandro Serenelli, the murderer of St. Maria Goretti.

    Thank you for writing on this topic – I have written on it as well. I think it is a key issue – so many people reject the notion of God on this issue alone. Others lose the faith they had because they can no longer believe that God is loving. We write, we pray, we love – this is our calling.


    • Amen to all of that! Thank you for reflecting with me on this difficult subject, Mary. You know… Some of the things that you said about choice, evil, love, and even rejecting the notion of God because of the subject of suffering are in my book! The best answer that I believe was ever given to the question of evil doesn’t contain any written written words at all – it’s the Crucifix.

      Would you mind putting a link to one or two of the things that you have written on the subject of evil? I’m always looking for inspiration. Our calling, after all, is to both speak and to listen, to teach and to learn, as we are made to both give love and to receive love. Thank you!

      Pax Christi


  4. Christina,
    You’ll probably regret having asked. I have provided links to 3 consecutive articles I posted on my blog last year. One kind of builds on the other and they are all inordinately lengthy. Don’t feel that you must read them all if they are too tedious.

    I continue to hope and pray that your writing is going well. Please pray for me as well.


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