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Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

  • Debbie Holloway
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  • 2013 Jul 24
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In his upcoming film Unstoppable, Christian actor and producer Kirk Cameron addresses the age-old problem of evil.

EDIT: Read Crosswalk's interview with Kirk Cameron here!

“Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” Cameron asks in the film’s trailer. “If God is good, why is there so much suffering? Why all the pain? Why does he allow evil in this world when he could stop it?”

According to Cameron, this “most personal project” details his journey of questions, struggles, and ultimately, his discovery that “life is stronger than death, good is stronger than evil, and faith is stronger than doubt.”

Cameron has not been alone in his quest for answers to this seemingly impossible question. For time out of mind, Christians and unbelievers alike have struggled intensely with reconciling the evil and suffering of this world with a supposedly good and all-powerful God who hates evil. It’s also widely considered a question pastors and leaders hate to be asked, according to a survey conducted by Mark Mittelberg.

Christian author and apologist Lee Strobel admits,

"We don't have a complete answer. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says on this side of heaven we sort of see things dimly (paraphrase). We don't understand everything. We are not God… In John 16:33 Jesus said, 'In the world you are going to have tribulation.' You are going to have trouble. You are going to have pain. You are going to have suffering. Why? Because we live in a sin scarred cosmos."

Reformed leader John Piper takes a more specific stance on the problem of suffering and evil, arguing that all forces in this world, good and evil, are under God’s direct command and work within his greater purposes for teaching and self-glorification:

“The point of every deadly calamity is this: Repent. Let our hearts be broken that God means so little to us. Grieve that he is a whipping boy to be blamed for pain, but not praised for pleasure. Lament that he makes headlines only when man mocks his power, but no headlines for ten thousand days of wrath withheld. Let us rend our hearts that we love life more than we love Jesus Christ. Let us cast ourselves on the mercy of our Maker. He offers it through the death and resurrection of his Son.”

Many prominent Christian leaders and authors disagree with this view. Biblical scholar and author Peter Enns writes,

“How does Piper or anyone know, really, that all deaths are “willed” by God? Nothing in the Bible can compellingly be interpreted this way, and the whole matter seems to be more a matter of mystery than theological certitude.... Sovereignty, even in a Calvinist sense, does not imply that God is necessarily 'taking life everyday.'”

Pastor and author Greg Boyd focuses on free will in his discussion of the problem of evil:

“If God wants a world in which agents are capable of genuine love, it must be a world in which agents possess the free will to choose love or its opposite, for a coerced “love” isn’t a genuine love. And God can’t – not simply won’t – intervene to revoke this free agent’s ability to choose evil, not because God lacks the power to do so, but because if he were to do so, it would simply reveal that God hadn’t really given this agent the free will to choose love or its opposite. In other words, for God to give free will to an agent means the agent has the capacity to choose love or its opposite, which means that free will must be, by definition, irrevocable… The responsibility for [evil and suffering] falls completely on the choices of agents other than God, both human and angelic.”

Many authors have tackled this subject on Crosswalk.com and Christianity.com, including Chuck Colson’s  “The Question of Evil: God's Answer.” Crosswalk.com’s Jim Daly uses the Aurora and Sandy Hook shootings as starting points for his discussion of sin’s role in the problem of evil. He writes,

“We have to curb our instinct to say that it was bad public policy that allowed this or that to happen, or that entertainment/culture/the right/the left was to blame. Instead, let’s be honest and recognize the evil that can dwell in the human heart.”

On Christianity.com, Kay Arthur reminds viewers:

“There are two kingdoms: there’s a kingdom of darkness, there’s a kingdom of light; there’s a kingdom of Satan, there’s a kingdom of God. And there’s going to be a conflict until God sets up his kingdom on earth with the second coming of Jesus Christ…but Jesus says, ‘Be of good cheer. For I have overcome the world.’ ” 

The trailer for Cameron’s Unstoppable has been garnering much attention, both for its provocative questions and for the temporary ban Facebook placed on the trailer, which they claim was a mistake due to their automated spam filter system and the title’s similarity to a known spam website.

For further reading on the problem of evil, check out these books on the subject:

Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor for Crosswalk.com

Publication date: July 24, 2013