I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. Why would a perfectly innocent little child be born into a house where she is put down, beaten, or worse? Not only don’t I know, but this particular problem has brought me to tell people that this is a difficult and painful world. I don’t like saying that.
Okay, it’s true. But I still don’t like saying that. I want to believe that this is a good world. I believe people are good. And I believe God is good. So it seems very contradictory to say both God is good and the world is bad. It makes no sense.
And I’m tired of being caught in this particular place.
Yet it comes up so often in my work that it seems like I ought to have a better answer.
That’s what I was thinking recently when this idea hit me.
When I look at my own life, the bad that happened in it makes perfect sense to me now because I learned so much. What I learned, I wouldn’t trade for the world. I’m awfully sorry I was such a slow learner, but ’tis what it ’tis; no sense beating myself up over it.
Besides, it’s really a good thing that it took me so long because that way I can tell clients, “What are you complaining about? Look how long it took me to learn what I learned.” I can be a wonderful example to them of being slow to “get it” and yet, here I am, having finally made sense of my life and my place in it.
And this brings me back to the many years of tears when I would beg God to fix things. I didn’t appreciate, for a long, long time, why He didn’t swoop in with that famous mercy of His and rescue me. I knew of course, that He could do what He wants, but I didn’t like it.
Yet, today, only today, the germ of an idea is forming as to the huge gains I had by His passivity in this case.
See, sometimes, it is better for us to develop a little muscle than have God do the heavy lifting for us. We can cry and beg and plead for God to take care of things. Or we can get into action and make some scary changes in our lives.
And I think that’s what Life is all about.
I think that if we are really here to do our bit towards making the world a little bit better place then sometimes tears are not the best answer. Sometimes it’s all about doing what we can ourselves.
And that includes the perfectly innocent children who are harmed. Maybe even they, when they grow up and take stock of their lives, can harness their wisdom and experience to do something very good and positive in the world. Maybe without their personal pain, they would not have the inner knowledge — an insider’s view — of just exactly what needs to be fixed and how.
Think Malala Yousafzai. Think Anne Frank. Children.
Another example of this is the oft-heard statement that to be a therapist you have to be a little crazy. The truth is that therapists often have struggled with family issues that were both hurtful and enlightening. They use their own pain to try to help others solve their problems.
Doctors and other medical personnel often struggle with the heartache of physical ailments in family members and that spurs them on to become healers.
And we’ve heard stories of children growing up in poverty who use that history as a powerful motivation to succeed financially.
Maybe that is the mechanism through which the “Bad Things” that “Happen to Good People” are not in the end bad — because they serve as motivators to make that correction in the world.
True, the Good Person is hurt. But here is a question: Does that person have to suffer?
What I mean is: Does the person experiencing the situation have to label for himself that experience as “suffering”? Can he maybe see it as “something I don’t understand but will try to make the best of”?
To bring this home, let’s look at the horror we are discovering daily as we tune into the news. There is no way that what is going on can be called “good.” It is “bad,” clearly.
But can good come out of it?
It already has. The family members of murder victims have set an incredible example of faith and dignity for all of us. Their leadership and unbreakable trust in God in the face of their worst nightmares have inspired the rest of us to get through our personal tragedies and challenges while connecting us to one another even more.
This surely is a good.
And the second question: Would these families consider themselves to be “suffering”? Perhaps they are. Surely, they are grieving, but that is different. Grieving is a positive feeling in that it holds the lost one close to you emotionally. As we heal from grief, the one we loved seems more distant.
I’m not sure that grieving is suffering. Suffering is feeling the pain without any compensation. There is no closeness to a loved one, no improvement in the world, either.
Furthermore, research shows that even when the worst things happen that should make us suffer, we can opt not to suffer. Viktor Frankl, who famously took his experiences during the holocaust to the world, epitomizes the person who mentally escapes to a better place so as to avoid the suffering imposed upon him.
So it turns out that the Bad Things that Happen may have a good end and even a person going through them might be able to avoid suffering if he has faith in God and strength of mind.
May we, too, utilize our Bad Things to create good in our world and in our personal lives.