Why do bad things happen to good people?

by
February 22, 2010
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We have all known people who have had bad things happen to them, or perhaps even wondered why terrible things happen to us–sudden deaths, incurable diseases, and natural disasters that destroy homes and prized possessions.  These types of events cause us to question from time to time, “why do bad things happen to good people?”  I don’t have a perfect answer for you, but what I do know is that trials and tribulation cause us to grow in ways that we might not comprehend or realize.  I can personally say that the most character-shaping times of my life have been the times that I have had to struggle the most.  Granted, I didn’t see this until the tribulation had passed, but I wouldn’t trade those hard times for anything now.  I am thankful for them.

In the most recent General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Elder L. Whitney Clayton, in his talk “That Your Burdens May Be Light”, shared 3 points that have helped me to understand why bad things happen to good people.

“In a general sense, our burdens come from three sources. Some burdens are the natural product of the conditions of the world in which we live. Illness, physical disability, hurricanes, and earthquakes come from time to time through no fault of our own. We can prepare for these risks and sometimes we can predict them, but in the natural pattern of life we will all confront some of these challenges.

Other burdens are imposed on us by the misconduct of others. Abuse and addictions can make home anything but a heaven on earth for innocent family members. Sin, incorrect traditions, repression, and crime scatter burdened victims along the pathways of life. Even less-serious misdeeds such as gossip and unkindness can cause others genuine suffering.

Our own mistakes and shortcomings produce many of our problems and can place heavy burdens on our own shoulders. The most onerous burden we impose upon ourselves is the burden of sin. We have all known the remorse and pain which inevitably follow our failure to keep the commandments.

No matter the burdens we face in life as a consequence of natural conditions, the misconduct of others, or our own mistakes and shortcomings, we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father, who sent us to earth as part of His eternal plan for our growth and progress. Our unique individual experiences can help us prepare to return to Him. The adversity and afflictions that are ours, however difficult to bear, last, from heaven’s perspective, for “but a small moment; and then, if [we] endure it well, God shall exalt [us] on high” (D&C 121:7-8). We must do everything we can to bear our burdens “well” for however long our “small moment” carrying them lasts.”

This helped me to understand why bad things happen to us sometimes.  I hope that when something happens to you, you will remember what Elder Clayton said and realize that maybe this hard time is actually for your benefit; also, it is not an indication of God’s lack of love, remember that Christ suffered more than anyone else, and He is God’s most beloved Son.

Related Articles and Links:

Our Life On Earth
Agency in the Eternities
What Do Mormons Believe? – Choices
Mormon.org – Freedom to Choose
Mormon.org – God’s Plan of Happiness
Why Do Bad Things Happen?

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7 Responses to “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

  1. abby

    Just out of curiosity…what tribulations have you been through that you are now thankful for?

  2. abby, I don’t typically share my hardest experiences publicly because 1) they are very personal and usually involve relationships with other people and 2) they don’t hold a candle to what many people suffer through. I would hate to be caught griping about my little suburban American problems in the presence of a Rwandan genocide survivor, for example.

    I did write about one earlier on this site. At first I believed I was the victim (the second kind of suffering, above), but I soon found that I was largely to blame (3rd kind). It wasn’t the worst o’ tribulations, but it was a thorn in my side.

  3. larry

    my question: Why do good things happen to bad people?

  4. Jan

    Larry, that is a great question. I think that James E. Faust gave a really good explanation in this talk. I encourage anyone to read it for some good eternal perspective.

  5. Ben

    Abby,

    I would like to echo Thaddeus’ comments with regard to personal struggles and that what I have had to deal with doesn’t compare with some things others have to deal with. Most of my struggles have been internal, often brought on by myself, but still very real and difficult to face. For the majority of the time these were tribulations that only I knew about.

    However, there are some things that I feel that I can share. First, learning the Russian language as a church missionary when I was 19. Hands down this was the hardest thing that I had ever experienced in my life up to that point. I still remember crying on the third day of my classes when the teacher expected that I answer him in Russian and I didn’t even know the Russian alphabet. I was utterly devastated, frustrated, and felt hopeless and alone. The next part came when I got to Russian and didn’t understand hardly a word, let alone a sentence for about 3 months. Talk about a humbling experience, but you know what I got through it and I learned Russian and actually speak it quite well now. That experience taught me an immense amount about patience, relying on the Lord, and extremely hard work, often for something that I had no desire to do.

    The second thing that I would like to share is what I am currently experiencing as a medical student. It is like learning Russian, but rather than feeling inadequate for 6 months, I have felt that way for the last 3 years. Just today I was asked, “Did you even read about pediatric surgery, because it sure doesn’t sound like you did.” Even though I spent 5 hours studying yesterday on top of having a full day of activities. Talk about a hard thing to swallow and just say, “I am sorry, but I don’t know the correct answer.” Looking back on how I have changed, I know that it has made me a better person. For instance, since I often get put down, I try very hard to not put others down. I try hard to build solid friendships with my colleagues, rather than stab them in the back like others sometimes do to impress the residents or supervising physicians. I have become much slower to fight back when I am criticized, at least I think so. Anyway, Abby, I have struggles, sometimes very trying ones where I have “walk in the dark” so to speak and rely on God that it is for my good. In the end, when I look back, I see the good that came out of it and the bad seems to drift away. In this way, I am thankful for my trials, they are a crucial part of who I am and I don’t think I could have grown without them. Thanks for your question.

  6. Bus Gillespie

    Its interesting how quickly people want to blame God for anything bad that happens but then take all the credit when things work out.
    As for why bad people have good things happen? Its all a matter of perspective. What we deem as good things may not be so in God’s larger plan. Lets say getting wealthy…from our perspective that’s a good thing, but it probably has little standing in the Lord’s eyes and in helping the person become more like Jesus

  7. Chris

    The question ‘why do good/bad things happen to bad/good people’ has some underlying flawed thinking. It partially stems from mistaking correlation with causation. Often times, we’ll directly link two variables where one causes the other, when in fact the only logical conclusion we can come to is mere correlation. For example, some people say that Mormonism causes depression because of the high use of prescription drugs in Utah. But let’s remember correlation does not imply causation. There could be many other factors that explain this phenomenon. Utahns may be more educated about prescription drugs. Also maybe Utahns are more likely to medicate their problems with legitimate drugs rather than illegal ones or even alcohol.

    Secondly, the human brain is excellent at recognizing patterns. In unpredictable situations we have a tendency to create coping behaviors to help us feel like we are in control. Many baseball batters have superstitious rituals that they think will help them at the plate. However, it’s rare for fielders to engage in superstitious activity because the percentage of catching a ball is 60-70% greater than hitting a ball. Batting is a much more unpredictable situation. If a batter recognizes that he has had two hits after circling the plate, he may continue that behavior. However, we also have a tendency to remember the hits and ignore the misses. So when the batter doesn’t get a hit, he attributes the misfortune to something else and not to his good luck ritual.

    So this is why partly why people struggle with the idea that bad things happen to good people. People will recognize a few patterns where good things happen after they are being good. Occasionally, bad things will happen and they may just ignore it. But if bad things continue to happen, they’ll wonder why are bad things continuing to happen if I’m generally a good person?

    There might be a correlation between you praying and you finding your keys, but there is also correlation between you searching and the finding of your keys.

    In my experience, my emotional life has been a lot more positive when I’ve completely let go of any causality that my actions have in life (except when I know that what I’m doing will have direct consequences). Crap happens. That’s just part of life. It happens to everybody. I am grateful for all thing good things that happen in my life. And I try to remember that I’m not entitled to a life without all the bad stuff.