COVER SUBJECT | WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?
Bad Things Happen to Good People—Why?
Since Jehovah Goda is the Creator of all things and is almighty, many people may be inclined to hold him responsible for everything that takes place in the world, including all that is bad. However, consider what the Bible says about the true God:
“Jehovah is righteous in all his ways.”—Psalm 145:17.
“All his [God’s] ways are justice. A God of faithfulness who is never unjust; righteous and upright is he.”—Deuteronomy 32:4.
“Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful.”—James 5:11.
God does not cause bad things to happen. Does he, though, incite others to commit vile deeds? Not at all. “When under trial,” state the Scriptures, “let no one say: ‘I am being tried by God.’” Why? Because “with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone.” (James 1:13) God does not try, or test, anyone by inciting him to behave badly. God neither causes bad things to happen nor incites others to do what is bad. Who or what, then, is to blame when bad things happen?
BEING IN THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME
Identifying one reason why humans suffer, the Bible states: “Time and unexpected events overtake them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) When unanticipated events or accidents happen, whether someone is affected or not depends to a large extent on where he is at the time they occur. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ spoke of a calamity involving 18 people who were killed when a tower fell on them. (Luke 13:1-5) They did not become victims because of the way they had lived their lives; they were simply under the tower when it happened to fall. More recently, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010; the Haitian government says that over 300,000 lives were lost. All those lives were claimed without regard for who the individuals were. Illnesses too can strike anyone at any time.
Why does God not keep good people out of harm’s way?
Some might ask: ‘Could not God prevent such deadly calamities from happening? Could he not shield the good people from the calamity?’ For God to intervene in such ways, it would mean that he knows about bad things before they happen. While God certainly has the ability to foreknow the future, the question we need to consider is this: Does God choose to exercise to a limitless extent his power to foreknow such things?—Isaiah 42:9.
The Scriptures say: “God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) Jehovah does what he deems necessary to do—not everything he is capable of doing. That applies also to what he decides to foresee. For example, after wickedness became prevalent in the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God told the patriarch Abraham: “I will go down to see whether they are acting according to the outcry that has reached me. And if not, I can get to know it.” (Genesis 18:20, 21) For a time, Jehovah chose not to know the extent of the wickedness in those cities. Similarly, then, Jehovah can choose not to foreknow everything. (Genesis 22:12) In no way is this an indication of imperfection or weakness on his part. Since “perfect is his activity,” God balances his ability to foreknow the future with his purpose; he never forces humans to follow a certain course.b (Deuteronomy 32:4) What, then, may we conclude? Simply this: God’s exercise of foreknowledge is selective and discretionary.
ARE HUMANS RESPONSIBLE?
Part of the blame for wickedness lies with humans. Notice how the Bible describes a process that can lead to harmful acts. “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin; in turn sin, when it has been carried out, brings forth death.” (James 1:14, 15) When individuals act on improper desires or give in to wrong cravings, they are bound to suffer bad consequences. (Romans 7:21-23) As history shows, humans have committed horrendous acts and caused immense suffering. Moreover, wicked men can influence others to become corrupt, thus perpetuating badness.—Proverbs 1:10-16.
Humans have committed horrendous acts and caused immense suffering
Should God intervene and prevent people from doing bad things? Consider how man is made. The Scriptures say that God created man in God’s own image, that is, in God’s likeness. Thus, humans have the ability to reflect God’s qualities. (Genesis 1:26) Humans have been given the gift of free will and can choose to love God and stick to him by doing what is right in his eyes. (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20) If God coerced people into following a certain course, would he not be nullifying the gift of free will? Why, humans would be reduced to nothing more than machines, doing exactly what they were programmed to do! The same would be true if fate, or Kismet, dictated what we do and everything that happens to us. How glad we can be that God dignifies us by allowing us to choose our own course! This does not mean, though, that the harm caused by human error and bad choices will forever plague mankind.
IS KARMA A CAUSE OF SUFFERING?
If you were to ask someone from a Hindu or Buddhist background the question posed on the cover of this magazine, you would likely hear this answer: “Bad things happen to good people because of the law of Karma. They are reaping the fruitage of what they did in their previous lives.”c
Regarding the teaching of Karma, it is helpful to note what the Bible says about death. In the garden of Eden, where humankind originated, the Creator said to the first man, Adam: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16, 17) If Adam had not sinned by disobeying God, he would have lived forever. Death came about as a penalty for disobedience to God’s command. Then, when children were born, “death spread to all men.” (Romans 5:12) Thus, it can be said that “the wages sin pays is death.” (Romans 6:23) The Bible also explains: “The one who has died has been acquitted from his sin.” (Romans 6:7) In other words, people do not keep paying for their sins after death.
Millions of people today explain that the problem of human suffering involves Karma. A believer usually accepts his own suffering as well as that of others without getting too disturbed by it. But the fact remains that this concept holds out no hope of stopping bad things from happening. It is believed that the only relief offered to an individual is liberation from the cycles of rebirth through socially acceptable behavior and special knowledge. These ideas, of course, are far different from what the Bible says.d
THE PRIMARY CAUSE!
The primary cause of wickedness, though, is not man. Satan the Devil, originally a faithful angel of God, “did not stand fast in the truth” and brought sin into the world. (John 8:44) He instigated a rebellion in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:1-5) Jesus Christ called him “the wicked one” and “the ruler of the world.” (Matthew 6:13; John 14:30) Mankind in general follow Satan by heeding his urgings to ignore the good ways of Jehovah. (1 John 2:15, 16) “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one,” says 1 John 5:19. There are other spirit creatures who have turned wicked and have joined Satan. The Bible indicates that Satan and his demons are “misleading the entire inhabited earth,” causing “woe for the earth.” (Revelation 12:9, 12) Thus, the principal blame for wickedness has to be placed on Satan the Devil.
Clearly, God is not responsible for bad things that happen to people; nor does he make them suffer. On the contrary, he has promised to eliminate badness, as the following article will show.
a Jehovah is the name of God as revealed in the Bible.
b To learn why God has let wickedness continue, see chapter 11 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
c To learn about the origin of what is called the law of Karma, see pages 8-12 of the brochure What Happens to Us When We Die? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
d As to what the Bible teaches about the condition of the dead and the hope for those who have died, see chapters 6 and 7 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach?