The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Why do bad things happen to good people?

The brilliant Dr. Peter Kreeft offers some provocative answers:

First, who’s to say we are good people? The question should be not “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but “Why do good things happen to bad people?” If the fairy godmother tells Cinderella that she can wear her magic gown until midnight, the question should be not “Why not after midnight?” but “Why did I get to wear it at all?” The question is not why the glass of water is half empty but why it is half full, for all goodness is gift. The best people are the ones who are most reluctant to call themselves good people. Sinners think they are saints, but saints know they are Sinners. The best man who ever lived once said, “No one is good but God alone. ”


Second, who’s to say suffering is all bad? Life without it would produce spoiled brats and tyrants, not joyful saints. Rabbi Abraham Heschel says simply, “The man who has not suffered, what can he possibly know, anyway?” Suffering can work for the greater good of wisdom. It is not true that all things are good, but it is true that “all things work together for good to those who love God.”

Third, who’s to say we have to know all God’s reasons? Who ever promised us all the answers? Animals can’t understand much about us; why should we be able to understand everything about God? The obvious point of the Book of Job, the world’s greatest exploration of the problem of evil, is that we just don’t know what God is up to. What a hard lesson to learn: Lesson One, that we are ignorant, that we are infants! No wonder Socrates was declared by the Delphic oracle to be the wisest man in the world. He interpreted that declaration to mean that he alone knew that he did not have wisdom, and that was true wisdom for man.

There’s much more, well worth pondering. Check it out.

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Ted Griffith

posted October 11, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Matthew 5:45
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
It rains on both the just and the unjust. That is why good thing happen to both bad and good people. Also why bad things happen to both bad and good people. It is just the way it is.

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posted October 11, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Awful things have happened to the truly innocent – so I have a hard time with this one. Sorry.
Suffering may not be all bad, but I have a hard time watching the mother who lost her 3 year old to a ravaging cancer, a child who suffered tremendously and NOT asking why do such things happen to the innocent? I think that’s the point of Job, which makes clear that Job is a good guy, not an OK guy to whom wonderful things happened, and then the fairy godmother took them back.
It rains on the just and the unjust. But we don’t have to deny that the innocent suffer…

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Steve P

posted October 11, 2010 at 5:46 pm

As true as these insights may be (and I haven’t read the whole thing yet), it’s not the most pastorally sensitive presentation.
But I wholeheartedly get the sense of gratitude that we all ought to have for when good things DO happen.
Part of our faith is our conviction that even what we think of as the greatest goods are still so much straw compared to the Greatest Good, sharing in the life of the Trinity.
I’m wrestling with this question myself because of some friends whose daughter is very sick (prayers appreciated!), and knowing that ultimately, God loves her even more than her parents.
We can’t have it figured out this side of heaven.

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Bob the Ape

posted October 11, 2010 at 6:06 pm

It’s not “the most pastorally sensitive presentation” because it’s not directed at anyone who is seriously suffering right now; it’s directed at those who are not, so they can reflect upon it and be better prepared for if and when they do encounter serious suffering.

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Michael (NZ)

posted October 11, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Dear Don,
You sound bitter. A bit more prayer, study of Scripture (NT) or pastoral counselling might be in order here – at least that’s what helped me. Divinity is behind everything and as such there is a reason for everything. Even what until a few years ago was perceived as chaos is subject to certain laws and thus not chaotic at all. Easy to understand – especially with some of the examples of “bad things” mentioned in these posts? No. But the finite (Mankind) can never understand or comprehend the infinite (God). Thus do not abandon God, you might reap what you sow. The alternative to God…not an alternative I would aspire to. Pax Christi.

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posted October 11, 2010 at 7:44 pm

What goes around comes around. That’s wrong but no more wrong than Peter Kreeft’s hogwash.
Bad things happen because it’s a real universe not one of the pretend universes described in a lot of churches. All kinds of random events are happening as are events people plan, for better and worse.
It is important to realize that bad things happen to good people so as to not blame the people to whom those things happen (unless it happened because they did something stupid). It’s also important to realize things do not happen because of demons, devils, witches or god(s). Often there are understandable reasons they happen, which can help prevent them from happening again. Sometimes it’s just too complicated for us to understand; the result of what might as well be considered randomness. When that happens we need to realize the universe (or “God” or whatever) doesn’t have it in for us.

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Jack Howeth

posted October 11, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Dr. Kreeft has deftly answered the wrong question with the wrong answer. The question is [If God is all good and all loving, then] Why do bad things happen to good people. By redefining the question to “Why do good things happen at all?” begs reply that if God was all good and all loving he would never run out of good things to begin with. In fact, he would perhaps have never created a defective world with evil to begin with.
To his second point, that man must be tempered by suffering, to the greater good begs another question: If tempering is the tool then why do bad people not suffer more, thereby being more tempered.
His third and final point is we should not expect to know the ways of God. This begs the question: Why did Dr. Kreeft write the article to begin with.
No, Dr. Kreeft, there is still much missing about this age old question and few if any successful attempts at an answer.

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posted October 12, 2010 at 9:40 am

Yes. You are right. The children who are born with horrible diseases who die a week later with excruciating pain definately have to go through this suffering so they can experience some joy. Are you serious?
God acts exactly the way he would if he didn’t exist.
If he can beat the devil – what is he waiting for?
The point is- -your answers are simplistic and dodge the whole question just to soothe the people dumb enough to fall for this nonsense.

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posted October 12, 2010 at 9:44 am

Also – you say it is impossible to know god’s reasons.
If you don’t know what god wants and why god does what he does how can you claim ANY AUTHORITY AT ALL.
Who is to say when you tell people what they should do and not do you actually know what you are talking about when you admit having no clue about the most basic of questions – why does god allow suffering?
When it comes to telling people what to do and how to live their lives you know EXACTLY what god wants. When it comes to answering basic questions about why god seems like he doesn’t care about anything suddenly its a MYSTER beyond human though.
Or just a bunch of old men trying to control the world through fear and superstition.

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posted October 12, 2010 at 9:45 am

Jack, I would like to take a stab at your questions?
if God was all good and all loving he would never run out of good things to begin with. In fact, he would perhaps have never created a defective world with evil to begin with.
Jack God didn’t create a “defective world”, he created a world where we all have free will, consquently, some use their free will for evil (sin), which IS the cause of suffering. Even though all people who suffer are not great sinners, “suffering consumes evil”, when united to the cross of Christ by “good people”, as in those in grace. I suggest reading JPII’s Memory and Identiy, which explains this concept beautifully.
#2 If tempering is the tool then why do bad people not suffer more, thereby being more tempered.
The story isn’t over yet Jack. Perhaps the “good people” are suffering for the “bad people”, to bring the “bad people” to repentence, salvation. After all, the end game of suffering is salvation. Rest assured all will be tempered, either here or in purgatory.
#3. His third and final point is we should not expect to know the ways of God. This begs the question: Why did Dr. Kreeft write the article to begin with.
No, Dr. Kreeft, there is still much missing about this age old question and few if any successful attempts at an answer
Just a guess as to why Kreeft wrote this, but if the comments to it are any indication, it apprears who clueless and closed many are to not only the connection of sin and suffering, but the necessaity of making reparations for those sins (via suffering united to Christ).
As for the “much missing” part, I would agree, “much missing in our culture”, but certainly not “missing.” That would be the crucifix/cross; the one we Christains are called to “pick up and follow.”
Again, it all comes down to the “politically incorrect” cross. Dr. Peter Kreeft is one of the best Catholic Apologist’s alive today, a ture gift. It sickens me to see how easily, like Christ and His cross, he is disgarded.

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posted October 12, 2010 at 11:25 am

PURGATORY ?? SCRIPTURE teaches that justification is a declarative act of GOD , not a process. JESUS promised immediate salvation to believers >> JOHN 5 :24. On the basis of faith alone, sinners pass from death into eternal life.Sanctification is a result , not a pre-requesite and PURGATORY is never mentioned in SCRIPTURE. Justification always speaks of a past-tense event that occurs at the moment of faith. >> Romans 5 : 1 , 9 // ROMANS 8 : 1. Justification is an accomplished fact, not an unfinished product. The RCC apparently has set herself above HOLY SCRIPTURE in rank of authority.I’ts time to evangelize the RCC !

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posted October 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I know just enough about myself to know I cannot settle for one of those simplifications which indignant people seize upon to make understandable a world too complex for their comprehension. Astrology, health food, flag waving, bible thumping, Zen, nudism, nihilism — all of these are grotesque simplifications which small dreary people adopt in the hope of thereby finding The Answer, because the very concept that maybe there is no answer, never has been, never will be, terrifies them. Travis McGee, in John D. MacDonald’s A Deadly Shade of Amber
Who knew Kreeft was a Travis McGee fan? :-)
For the record, I think the notion that God causes innocent children to suffer because of the freely chosen acts of random strangers is about the sickest thing I’ve heard in a long time. Unless it’s that God causes innocents to suffer as whipping boys for the bad people.
That those who choose poorly suffer the consequences of their choices (and hopefully learn from those consequences) is one thing. To assert that God deliberately causes innocents to suffer because other people do bad things is an evil, evil concept.
Bad things happen. For the most part, people actually do rise to the occassion and manage to deal with the major crises in their lives. It’s when the religious folks start chiming in with their notion that God wants them to suffer, actively causes their suffering, for the good of other people, that people get rightfully angry and rightfully reject religion.
Religious people are the ones who’ve twisted the suffering of the Cross to the point where the world understandably rejects it. Religious people are very good for constructing crosses for others and then telling them they must carry them or go to hell. That’s not even remotely close to the freely chosen cross Christ bore. It gets even more problematic when the religious folks construct crosses for others to bear, force those crosses upon them, and then profit from the suffering of those people who never freely chose those crosses — crosses that were not constructed by God in the first place.
So…basically…it is what it is and we’ll all find out the same way. We’re all gonna die and we’re all gonna know one way or another. Or we’re all gonna just stop existing and it won’t matter in the least. At some point you just have to accept that we don’t know a lot of stuff, and that we’re all going to die anyway, and that it’s really just better to stop wasting your time with this nonsense and get on with the business of living while you can.

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posted October 12, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Jim with all due respect, this is a Catholic blog, and purgatory is a Catholic Doctrine. It’s not possible to be Catholic without the belief in purgataory; it’s part of the faith.
Futhermore, it’s pointless to debate Scripture with non-Catholics being that we take Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the Cathechism, and all teachings of the Magesterium as a WHOLE (Dei Verbum), under the guidence of the Holy Spirit teaching authority of the CC as Jesus intended. BTW, the Scripture to which you refer is FROM the Catholic Church (minus the books that were too hard to abide by (eliminated), one of them being Maccabees which clearly speaks of praying for the dead).
Jim if you have an open mind, this should answer most of your concerns regarding purgatory, including the scriptual references.
I have no doubt that, as well as many Protestants who do not believe in purgatory, you have loved ones who are deceased. To falsely assume that all people of faith go straight to heaven is not only anti-scriptual, but a great disservice to the loved ones who suffer in purgatory with no one to pray for them (although, the Catholic Church prays for all the faithful departed in purgatory at every mass), the “church suffering.” Wouldn’t you be horrified to know that you failed to pray for the ones you loved most?
Jim I think if you took the time to really study the history and evidence for purgatgory, you would not only be grateful, but also come to realize what a great blessing/act of mercy it is, as nothing defiled can enter heaven. I don’t know about you, but I know of no one who “died perfect.”
Even Pope Benedict recently said (in a light hearted way of course), “If purgatory didn’t already exist, I would have to invent it.”
God Bless Jim; hope you educate yourself on purgatory. The souls can always use another soul to pray for them.

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posted October 12, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I think Dr. Kreeft makes some valid points. For one, looking at what we have, rather what hasn’t been given to us.
I don’t believe bad things happen as a result of the sins of those around us, or suffering for the benefit of others. Bad things happen, call them existential, call chance, ultimately we don’t know. God works in mysterious ways, and if you are not a believer, things just happen. But there is something religious, non-religious, spiritual, and non-spiritual people can agree on; when “good” things happen to us, they are great.
I think one of the points Dr. Kreeft was trying to make was that we must learn to focus and gauge our perspective on the “good” in life, rather than the bad. Not saying to be unrealistic, and to move on in life blinded by a curtain of positivity, but to examine one’s situation and to focus on the what we have, not what we wish we could. After reading the previous comments, (they were very insightful and I’m thankful that we can all participate in this discussion)I noticed a common trend to point out the grave circumstances that family’s or individual can face when articulating an example. The loss of a child to an early fatal disease, the car accident the took away a mother’s family, and of course Job. All these are tremendous losses, filled with heart ache and grief. Having lost a multiple friends and family early in life, I have been akin to this type of grief (the sole-survivor syndrome). When things like this happen to us, or to those close to us, we want to victimize ourselves. Because we can’t blame ourselves for the accidents of life, we blame that which we don’t understand–God, The medical treatment, the other driver–all of which unless we could see into the future we couldn’t effect. It is then when we can make a choice. A decision to move on and keep forever the great memories we had and to carry them forward in reach of a fulfilling life, or become embittered with the pain only to cause more suffering for yourself and those around you.
In the article, Kreeft gave an example regarding Cinderella, I like this because I believe the story of Cinderella is a great parallel, once Cinderella left at the stroke of midnight, she lost the one “good” moment in her life. Kreeft brought up a good point when she could of asked, Why does it end at midnight? She could of protested to the fairy godmother demanding answers, questioning her motives, becoming entranced with why she was given so much happiness only for it to be taken away. Did she? No, she went back the villa, continuing her life as a mistreated and abused step child. But soon enough, she was given another chance. Not just for a “good” night, but for a life filled with “good”.
I don’t say that to invoke questions of, “before good, comes suffering” or “one must suffer, before another can be happy.” But simply to say that she enjoyed the good while it lasted, and when it ended, she kept on living the best she could until she had the opportunity for more. She did suffer, but more so she sacrificed. In hope that one day her life would be better.
Sacrifice is powerful thing, one that cannot only bring upon good things, but more so gives us perspective on what we have, and how important it is. I lived in Michigan my whole life, Detroit has always been my backyard. To people who are not from there, it is seen as crime ridden, burnt down, ruins of a city. In lot of ways it is, but when I go home from school during the summer or holidays, I see people that love this city. As do I. Why? Because for all its bad, you really learn to cherish the good. I have a large close family, with cousins, uncles, and aunts that would drop their lives in a second to help and be there for one another. Our neighbor a couple blocks down always remarked to me when I was younger about how she wants to fix up this old abandoned house, and give it to somebody that needs it. At first, I would say “why?” Waste all that time and money for it to be undersold, and probably be in the same place 30 years down the road. That changed when this young mother and her two kids moved in there this summer. To see the happiness that was on her face, when she didn’t have to live in her car, and to see the joy and unadulterated “Goodness” my old neighbor felt when she had spent 3 years of her free time just for this one moment. That is Good.
Like the Golden Rule, or the Great Commandment ” Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Good and Bad are apart of life, we can either choose to embrace one and reject the other, and along the way we may just be able to help others do the same thing. When things are bad, we always envision ourselves having a happy ending like Cinderella. But no matter how things are, we can always be someone’s fairy godmother.

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posted October 12, 2010 at 2:52 pm

let me try to chip away some :
the soul consciously goes into eternity in the condition that will never change. no remediation goes on // no place where you can go and people can sort of pray you out of that place into heaven. no limbo / no purgatory. revelation is clear : ” the way you die is the way you stay “. rev 22 : 11 . rev 14 : 13
the death of the wicked is a trAgedy because it is eternal. scripture says GOD has no pleasure in the death of the wicked / prov. 11 : 7
death of the righteous ? >> eternal life , eternal rest, eternal glory !! simply paradise !! the thief on the cross >> paradise !! the apostle PAUL > ‘ CAUGHT UP IN PARADISE !!

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted October 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm

This link lays out the history of purgatory, which actually pre-dates Christianity.
Deacon Greg

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Mr. Incredible, in the Name of Jesus, the ONLY Name by Which we must be saved!

posted November 1, 2010 at 4:23 am

This is not the question. God, through Christ, didn’t promise that adversity would not come. He promised that we have authority over adversity.
The question is why those who say they are born again give authority to the “bad” things over their lives.
People, like Eve, in the Garden, give license to adversity, more power to adversity than they give to God throught Christ. They accept it. If they rejected it through Christ, adversity would not rule over them. THEY would rule over adversity — that is, DESPITE adversity.
So, the question is HOW we DEAL with adversity. God, through Christ, has the answer.

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posted January 8, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I agree 100% with this post! Who is to say we are “good”! We are all sinners fallen short of the glory of God!
I also agree, all suffering is not bad. We are to rejoice in our trials. It is in these trials that we take on the character of Christ. Romans 5:3 tells us, we can glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame.
Also, so true! God is God & we are not! It is true, we don’t need to have all the answers. It is when the questions come & we cannot see what tomorrow brings that we are called to rise in faith & hope in Christ. Jesus tells us, how blessed are those who have believed & have NOT seen!
It is the those trials of fire, during questions of why that faith arises…if we let it! No matter what the circumstance, how things look temporarily…God is Good! God is Love! And God works all things together for the good of those who love Him!

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