Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
At the base of the San Salvador volcano in El Salvador sits the town of San Ramón. On the morning of September 19, 1982, it was hit by three huge waves of mud. Fed by torrential rains, the first wave was nearly two stories high and carried boulders and tree trunks. Carving out a canyon 160 feet deep and 250 feet wide, it rolled down the side of the volcano, picking up momentum and size as it went. Reaching the bottom, it slammed into the adobe homes in its path.
Ana’s home collapsed under the unrelenting wave in one terrifying instant. Her daughters grasped at Ana and cried, “Pray for us!” Then the mud engulfed them . . .
By chance, though, a roofing tile lodged itself in front of Ana’s face, leaving her some breathing space. “I just kept calling and calling for help,” she says. About four hours later, neighbors heard her cries and began to extricate her. She was found buried in mud up to her armpits, with the bodies of her daughters pressed up against her in the suffocating mud.
THE people of San Ramón were humble and friendly. Among the dead were a number of dedicated Christians, including a newlywed couple, Miguel and Cecilia, and a family of five whose bodies were found locked in an embrace.
Calamity, though, makes no distinction between good and bad people, a fact many find hard to reconcile with belief in a loving God. ‘What kind of God,’ they ask, ‘would allow such a needless waste of life to occur? Or for that matter, how could an all-powerful Deity watch the elderly go unsheltered, hardworking families lose their life savings, young men and women in the prime of their lives being struck down by fatal illnesses—and do nothing?’
Harold S. Kushner, a Jewish rabbi, asked such questions when he learned that his son would die of a rare disease. The baffling injustice of this puzzled Kushner. “I had been a good person,” he recalls. “I had tried to do what was right in the sight of God. . . . I believed that I was following God’s ways and doing His work. How could this be happening to my family?” Out of his search for answers came his popular book When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
Kushner is just one of many theologians who have tried to answer the question of why God permits evil. In effect, man has placed God on trial. What verdict have Kushner and other theologians reached? Is their verdict a just one?