Why do bad things happen to good people? This question has plagued believers and non-believers since the creation of the human race. The Old and New Testament and Judeo-Christian traditions offer insights without directly answering the question. Job is one such example.
The Book of Job refers to Job as “blameless and upright man, who feared God and avoided evil” (Job 1:1). The first chapter expounds on the blessings Job received in his life; wealth, property, wife, children and farm animals abounding. Then, curiously enough toward the end of this chapter, the author explains that Satan asked God for permission to challenge Job’s holiness because he believes Job will forsake God when tested by trials. The Lord permits it and Job loses everything.
As Job loses his wife, property, livestock and becomes afflicted with a terrible disease, his “friends” come out of the woodwork to explain why all these bad things are happening to him and his family. Job’s “friends” insist that these sufferings are punishment for Job’s personal sin and a God calling him to repentance.
I love this line from one of Job’s friends, who is the first one to speak; “If someone attempts a word with you, will you mind? For how can anyone refrain from speaking?”(Job 4:2). Can you relate? Surely, you have experienced the all-knowing friend, colleague or worse yet, family member, who begins a conversation with, “No offense, but….”
This friend of Job’s goes on to state: “As I see it, those who plow for mischief and sow trouble, reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his wrath they are consume.” (Job 4:8-9). Ouch, that’s a harsh one.
Job endures his friends’ explanations and banter, responding to them out of his own desperation and a defense of his righteous life. He complains that somehow God has got it wrong. He even requests that he might “speak with the Almighty; I wish to reason with God.” (Job 14:3). Bold, don’t you think? Finally, Job presents his case and his grief is palpable as he complains; “When I looked for good, then evil came; when I expected light, then came the darkness. My soul ebbs away from me; days of affliction have overtaken me.” (Job 30:26-27).
When God finally responds, it takes three chapters to record His words to Job. Basically, if I may be so presumptuous as to summarize God, the Lord reminds Job that He is God and Job is not. He also corrected Job’s friends for their accusations against his servant. Finally, Job responds to the Lord: “I know you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be hindered. I had heard of you, but now, my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).
I remember the first time I asked God why bad things happen to good people. I was a freshman in college and I was part of musical prayer ministry. One night, after one of our concerts, a family approached us and asked if we could go back to their home to pray with their little girl, who was severely disabled from birth. When we arrived at their home, their 8-year-old daughter was sleeping in a hospital bed, unable to move or speak on her own. I was struck by her beautiful eyes which communicated so much love. As we prayed over her, I felt intense heat flow through my body and into my hands as they lay on her head. I was certain that a miracle was taking place. I was so excited returning back to the dorm that night that I could hardly sleep. About a week later, the parents contacted us to share that their daughter had died and they thanked us for reaching out to them in prayer.
I was devastated by the news and could not understand why she wasn’t healed. I grappled with the why question all semester until my one night my Dad offered an answer that gave me peace. He told me that, if in fact we believe that our lives are made for eternity with God, where there is “no pain or sorrow and every tear is wiped away” (Revelations 21:4), then it stands to reason that natural death becomes the ultimate healing and our gateway to heaven.
Years later, I would grapple with these same questions as I faced the reality of my daughter’s life-threatening illness. The answer I got in college did shape my thinking. My own “why” was satisfied with viewing life with an eternal perspective.
But the comments of well-intentioned people have always been a thorn in my side. The fundamentalists’ answer to our suffering was that our daughter was sick because we were Catholics, who could not possibly be born again. Then there were the Christians who ran away from our suffering and said that it would all be fine because we were such faithful Christians. And then there was the priest who thought he was being compassionate when he asked us if we were “just postponing the inevitable” by keeping Johanna alive while she was in a coma on life support. They all reminded me of Job’s well-intentioned friends; solving our problems with their solutions.
I have learned that God wastes nothing. Somehow good things do come out of bad things. But when we waste all our time asking “why”, we stop asking the question, “how can I help”? I think the “how?” question serves a greater purpose than the why question. When I am surrounded by people asking how, I have, like Job, witnessed God with my own eyes.
Now — why these ignorant and annoying people have to be in my life condemning and distracting me from my eternal purpose? That is the question God will have to answer for me one day.
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.