Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

On the 21st of June I posted the blog, “Are All Religions Equal?” which described part of a conversation I had with a young woman on an airplane flight. In this blog we will take a look at another conversation we had on the problem of evil. This blog is not intended to be an exhaustive response to the problem of evil but will hopefully provide food for thought and generate a lively discussion.

Our conversation was warm and pleasant. It was intermingled with talk our favorite music artists, why surfing is better than any other sport on the planet – except cricket – and showing photos of loved ones on our phones. Every so often, however, Mary would return to the deeper questions.

“But I don’t understand why bad things happen to good people.” Mary said. “Surely if God loves us, he wouldn’t let that happen.”

“The problem of evil, it seems to me, is the only strong argument that the atheist has against Christian theism,” I said. “Though the problem of evil is indeed a difficult emotional hurdle, I do not think it is a strong intellectual argument against a loving God.”

“I think it’s very strong,” she said. “It’s not right that innocent people should suffer, especially when God is all powerful and good.”

“Allow me to state the problem of evil as strongly as I know how. If God is omnipotent (all-powerful) then he has the power to end all suffering. If God is omniscient (all-knowing) then he is aware of all the evil and suffering in the world. And if God is omnibenevolent (all-good) then he would want to end the evil and suffering in the world. But there is suffering in the world. Therefore, either God does not exist, or if he does he is not all-powerful, or all knowing, or all good.”

Mary’s eyes widened. She nodded with surprise that I was able to formulate her argument even more convincingly that she had. She looked at me quizzically, knowing that I did not find it to be a convincing argument. “So-o-o-o?” Mary asked.

“Do you think that omnipotence means the ability to do anything?”

“Well, yes.”

“What about the logically impossible? Does God’s omnipotence enable him to act in a way that is contrary with his nature? Can God be God and not be God at the same time?”

“I guess not,” she said.

“Exactly. Now, do you believe in free will?”

“Yes, I believe that.”

“Can you use your freedom to do evil?”

“Well, yes, but if God is omnipotent, surely he could cause us or wire us to choose what’s good.”

“I agree,” I said, “but could God cause or predetermine us to do something freely? Well, obviously not. It’s as contradictory as me causing you to freely drink your coffee. If I cause you, you’re not free. And if you freely choose to drink it, then I didn’t cause you.”

“That makes sense.”

“So perhaps God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, but he has a good reason to allow evil, like protecting our free will. Now, one may not like that premise, one might not even find it convincing, but so long as it is even possible, it shows that God and evil are not logically inconsistent.”

What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

  1. Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. (Luke 18:19)

  2. I’ve always struggled to come up with a simple response (such as yours) as to why a loving God allows evil in the world, and splitting the argument into its intellectual and emotional components is a brilliant move which I will be sure to use!

  3. Wow! I literally had this conversation with an atheist yesterday… I’m glad we had the same thought, it’s quite comforting!

  4. Yep. Perfect. I’ve had the same conversation numerous times, but my version takes longer to explain. I just start with the words “Free will explains that” and then go from there.

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