I am a hospice chaplain and a question frequently asked is “why do bad things happen to good people?” It is one of the fundamental questions of faith. When tragedy, illness, or difficult circumstances strikes, the question “why me?” is inevitable. The world stage presents many situations for us to ponder the “why question.” Tsunamis killing hundreds of thousands unsuspecting innocent folk, brutal genocide killing off generations, constant wars being fought and the innocent being caught in the crossfire inevitably lead to the why question. Evil clearly has a firm foothold in the world and bad things happen to good people. Why? Another way to address the question is to ask where is God in the unfolding of tragedy, illness, and evil?
As a person of faith I turn to my scriptures and find clues to answer the question. The Judeo Christian tradition reminds us that humans we were given free will and must accept responsibility for some of life’s missteps! The psalmist reminds us that the “rain falls on the just and unjust!” and no one is exempt from the showers of life! Further the 23rd psalm affirms that God watches over us as a shepherd watches over his sheep and promises to walk with us through the good times and bad!
The book of Job in the Hebrew scriptures addresses this question. Job was a righteous man who worshiped God when calamity struck and he lost his family, his farm, and his health! The book chronicles Jobs attempts to answer the “why?” question and make sense out of his suffering. He engages in conversations with three friends exploring the possible reasons why. The book ends with Job making peace with the question as he experienced the presence of God alongside his suffering!
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book in 1981 entitled “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” and chronicles his own attempt to understand innocent suffering after the death of his 14 year old handicapped son. He offered a moving and articulate approach to the “why” question. Kushner says “I wrote the book out of my own need… and for all those people who wanted to go on believing, but whose anger at God made it hard for them to hold on to their faith.”
Ultimately I believe that this question “why do bad things happen to good people is one we each must answer for ourselves. We must find a way to make sense of the world and God in the face of tragedy, suffering and evil. We must talk, read, pray, and explore the depths of our faith and relationship with God to come to some understanding or resolution to the problem of innocent suffering!