Why do bad things happen? Suffering and the righteous

Why do bad things happen? Some people seem to think it’s God’s job to make everyone happy all the time. Some people even point to the suffering in the world as justification for not believing in God at all. No one seems to mind if “bad” people suffer; they have it coming to them. But good people? Righteous people?God allows them to suffer, too. Why? Why?

There is an answer that no one likes much: “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, quoting Psalm 14:3 and Psalm 53:3, NKJV), “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin is not something some of us do on occasion; it is something we all are all the time. God has a plan of redemption. In fact, Romans 3:23 is a parenthetical expression within a sentence about a new kind of righteousness, which  comes not from being good enough according to a list of rules, but through faith in Jesus Christ.

Speaking of Jesus, the Bible insists that he never sinned, but he suffered greatly–and not only on the cross. Why did God allow his suffering? That’s how the new kind of righteousness became available. The same can’t be said for anyone else, so why do Christians suffer? In the Old Testament, why do bad things happen to the heroes of the faith?


Joseph Sold by His Brothers

Well, how did any of them become heroes of the faith except by growing into it from what they suffered? Psalm 105 describes God’s faithfulness to his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but that promise entailed centuries of bondage in Egypt. Before Jacob ever went to Egypt, the psalmist notes,

17 He [God] sent a man before them—
Joseph—who was sold as a slave.
18 They hurt his feet with fetters,
He was laid in irons.
19 Until the time that his word came to pass,
The word of the LORD tested him.

Who can point to any time when Joseph sinned? He was certainly oblivious to the hatred his brothers had for him and how dangerous they could be, but the psalm says that God sent Joseph to Egypt ahead of his brothers. It gives no credit to them at all.

Joseph Recognized by His Brothers

By the time they next saw Joseph, his ability to remain righteous even in his suffering had won him enough maturity and humility that he could tell them, “But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5), and “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:19-20).

So why do bad things happen ? First because we all deserve it more than we’re willing to admit. Second, it’s for our good and the good of others as well. By suffering patiently and with endurance, we can grow up into maturity and live much more successful and useful lives than we ever could otherwise.

When bad things happen, we can give into the temptation to wallow in them, become embittered, shrivel up, and essentially die a little long before our bodies do. Or we can rise above suffering and embrace the righteous new life that we receive only through patient endurance.

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