Q&A: Suffering Evil Despite Doing Good

Q: Sometimes I get mad at God or wonder if He is even there when bad things happen to me or those I love even though I have done good things. How can God allow bad things to happen when I have done the good and right thing?

A: A lot of people find themselves asking this question at some point in their lives. Either they or someone they love experience terrible evil despite having done good. How could God allow such things to happen?

Christians in modern-day Turkey experienced this same difficulty in the first century. They sought to follow Jesus in their environment; they had sought to do good even to those who stood against them; they then began to suffer even greater difficulty because they had done good things. They seemed to despair; the Apostle Peter wrote to them to encourage them. They would experience trials, but God is faithful and reserved for them a glorious inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-9). It is a blessed thing to suffer for doing good, for that is exactly what Jesus experienced (1 Peter 2:18-25). As Christians, we should expect trials and suffering, and should seek to faithfully endure (1 Peter 4:12-19).

How could Peter respond in this way? Is he not taking the question seriously?

The question, as stated, does not really have an answer. No one really knows why bad things happen to people who have done well. We can argue that none of us are really good, and so none of us really deserves to have good things to happen to us, and we should just be thankful that we do not always get what we deserve (cf. Romans 3:1-23, 6:23). We can “know” that people sin because they are free moral agents, and sin has consequences, not only for those who practice them, but also for other unfortunate people who happened to be involved or at the wrong place at the wrong time (Romans 3:23). God reserves the right to intervene at times, but is under no compulsion to intervene so that people do not experience the consequences of sin; likewise, God does not intervene so that sinners do not experience the “consequences” of people engaging in free moral actions of blessing and benefit to others that are not deserved. Yet do these “answers” really satisfy? No, not really.

We do get wisdom from the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 8:14:

There is a vanity which is done upon the earth, that there are righteous men unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.

The Preacher says that such questions are “vanity,” or futile. There can be no practical argument against this response; why, after all, do we want to know why such things happen? We want to know because we vainly imagine that if we know we can somehow change the result or manipulate the situation to our betterment. We cannot really know; even if reasons were granted in various circumstances, would it change the situation? Not at all.

Evil exists in the creation; people both suffer it and perpetuate it. The reasons behind this reality are not explained in Scripture; for that matter, no other endeavor of human exploration or understanding has found any better answer.

Should this mean that we lose faith in God? We first do well to think about our expectations. After all, if there is no God, from where would you or I or anyone else get any expectation that “good” or “bad” should happen to anyone? What is “good” or “bad”? If there is no God, is not everything simply based on the laws of physics? An action has an equal and opposite reaction; there would be no meaning behind it at all, and whatever happens just takes place. There would be no ground to expect any “good” or “bad.” Some people can take solace in this answer; most humans find it intolerable, and for good reason. We are “meaning-full” creatures; we seek meaning in everything, and that is because we are made in the image of God who created all things for His good purpose (Genesis 1:1-2:3).

It is not as if we are the first people to grapple with these difficult questions. They lie at the heart of Job’s contention with God. What did Job have to learn? The ways of the creation are too great for his understanding; it is for him to trust in God and His goodness and covenant loyalty toward His people (Job 42:1-6). And thus we return to Peter’s recommendations to the Christians in modern-day Turkey. Yes, bad things will sometimes happen to us, not only despite doing good, but sometimes precisely because we have done good. As Christians it is not for us to question why such things are so; we need to trust in God that in Jesus He is overcoming evil, sin, and death, and that through suffering evil without responding in kind we also can overcome and gain the resurrection, in which righteousness dwells, and no more pain and suffering (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1-22:6)!

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Q&A: Suffering Evil Despite Doing Good