Doctrine: God has a plan for His children. In this plan we have to have the freedom to choose for ourselves and make mistakes because this is how we learn. As we choose good and bad the consequences are what make our choices matter; and without the ability to impact ourselves or others in our choices, such choices would have no meaning. These consequences allow God to enact justice upon the wicked, because He can’t justly punish them if He does now allow them to actually do anything worth punishment. As well, when the innocent and righteous are persecuted and mistreated it sets an example for others and gives them the chance to step out of neutrality. The righteous also can’t be blessed unless they are allowed to exact those blessing through enduring faithfully through trials and persecution. And, most importantly, the Atonement has taken care of every injustice, problem, death, and so on. It has all been paid for, so it can all be restored by God whether in this life or the next.
Calamities strike. Innocent people die. Good people are persecuted for wanting to be good or for doing good. Someone becomes terribly ill. An innocent person suffers the unfair consequences of someone else’s actions. Someone dies too young. A wicked ruler comes into power. A corrupt person gets away with criminal acts. A parent abuses their child. A child gets bullied at school. A newborn child gets left in a dumpster to die. A country turns against a certain religious population. War comes and goes killing too many of the innocent, and too many of the brave.
I could go on and on and on. But I don’t need to. Every single god-fearing person, and even those who aren’t god-fearing but are generally good, have wondered “why bad things happen to good people.” And “good people” can mean a nation, a religion, a group of people, a family, a person, a child, or some other innocent being.
If you are especially religious and have a witness or belief in the goodness of God, often unfairness can shake your faith or cause you to experience a crisis of faith. You simply can’t understand how an omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving, all-merciful, and just God could stand by and watch as so much injustice and unfairness takes place. It simply is difficult to make sense of or take on faith.
So, this question is tough. But the answers to it are very simple.
Whether you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or another Christian religion, you likely believe that God has a plan for each of us, even if we don’t always understand it.
So, answer number one for, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is:
God has a plan for all of His children
So, what is this plan? Well, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that God’s plan is in place so that we can learn to become like Him. For us, the whole purpose of this life is about gaining godly attributes and becoming godly—not just going through righteous actions/commandments to get blessings, though that’s often how we all begin. Those commandments have a purpose—they teach us godliness.
But, the crux of this plan God has for us is agency, or free will. We don’t have to become like Him. But, His plan is set up in such a way that we can become like Him IF we choose to do so (Romans 8:14-18). If we don’t choose to become like Him, then He has provided kingdoms of glory equal to the amount of righteousness and goodness we are willing to live and accept (Doctrine and Covenants 88:17-24, 32-39; 1 Corinthians 15:40).
So, in order for us to figure out what amount of goodness (or godliness) we are willing to live and accept, we have to be presented with all of our options. We must gain experience in what our options are like. We must then choose our desired option and then learn and grow—through grace—to live like and become like the kind of person who can go where we want, and choose, to go. But, this means that we will make mistakes while we are figuring this all out.
So, answer number two to “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is:
We have to experience the full range of good and evil so that we can decide what level of good we want for eternity (2 Nephi 2:11). To do so, we have to be able to try things out for ourselves (Moses 7:32; Doctrine and Covenants 101:78; Alma 32:26-43; 2 Nephi 2:14-16). We have to be able to make mistakes so that we can learn. Others have to have the same chance, as well.
It is inevitable as we all bumble around this life trying to learn and refine ourselves that we will, without a doubt, hurt and injure others. It is the ability to hurt and be hurt that makes our choices matter. This life is NOT a simulator. What responsibility could we claim for our own actions if they had no effect? What accountability could God assign to us if our choices had no effect upon us or others? What judgment could be passed? None.
So, simply because God allows human suffering to take place as a consequence of agency doesn’t mean that He purposefully causes it to happen—which we sometimes accuse Him of. To allow the consequences of agency is a necessary—albeit, uncomfortable—part of being God; so that we can all learn, grow, and choose our eternal path without interference. And, there are very clear purposes in God’s plan to allowing the consequences of both good and bad choices to have their effect, even upon the innocent.
In the Book of Mormon, in Alma 14, two men named Alma and Amulek are being force to watch women and children thrown into a fiery pit and burned to death for believing on their words and preaching about Christ. Amulek wants to do something about it; to call down the powers of heaven to save the women and children. But, Alma replies to him: “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them at the last day.”
Some other righteous men, the sons of King Mosiah, a few chapters further on are being persecuted and treated terribly for their preaching of Christ. In Alma 17:11 God says to them, “…ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.”
Later on in the same book, we again see righteous people being killed in a time of war. One of the righteous generals, Chief Captain Moroni chastises the government for not sending more aid or support, in effect putting the blame for innocent deaths upon them. And, in his scathing letter to the Chief Judge he reiterates an important doctrine: “For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God.”
Back toward the beginning of the Book of Mormon, the first author, Nephi, who is righteous and faithful, has been bound and tied up by his brothers who are threatening to kill him. He says regarding his unjust treatment, “And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel did take me and bind me with cords, and they did treat me with much harshness; nevertheless, the Lord did suffer it that he might show forth his power, unto the fulfilling of his word which he had spoken concerning the wicked.”
In Helaman 14:29 we learn that both miracles come as well as bad happenings “to the intent that whosever will believe might be saved, and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment might come upon them; and also if they are condemned they bring upon themselves their own condemnation. And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosever doeth inquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.”
So, answer number three to, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is:
So God’s judgment on the wicked is just. He can’t take away the consequences of their choices. The consequences must remain so that He can exact a righteous judgment against them and bring them to justice.
Answer number four to, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is:
So that the example of the righteous will catch other people’s attention and bring them to Christ. Seeing the righteous persecuted aggravates the sense of justice and truth in others and helps them to step out of neutrality and choose a side. It causes them to act on behalf of the righteous or to join in with the wicked…thus, in effect, separating the wheat from the tares. (Which, I might point out that God says will happen in the last days, so we are likely to see a lot of bad things happening in order that people will get off their rear ends and choose God or Satan…God doesn’t like the lukewarm who are afraid to declare themselves… Rev. 3:16)
Answer number five to, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is:
Because the righteous are never permanently killed, ruined, hurt, maimed, etc. God receiveth them unto himself and just as the wicked are condemned for their deaths, the righteous are saved because of their willingness to stand for Christ, or goodness, even when their lives are threatened or taken.
Finally, it is because of the mistakes we (and others) make in the learning process, and the natural opposition of life that comes because of our learning environment, that the Atonement of Christ was needed. To inherit glory of any kind we have to be cleansed from our learning struggles, sins, and weaknesses, and made physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally whole for the kingdom we choose to accept. So, Christ paid for our sins, suffered for our infirmities and weaknesses, and overcame death (Alma 7:11-13) so that we could be restored to the amount of glory we choose to receive (Doctrine and Covenants 76:70, 78; 88:17-24, 32-39).
So, answer number six to “Why do bad things a happen to good people?” is:
The Atonement of Christ has taken care of every single bit of badness that has or that will ever take place. It’s all been paid for. Everything will be made right, at some point. It’s not a question of IF it will be made right, it’s only a question of WHEN. The Atonement guarantees that death has no sting. It also guarantees that no injustice or problem or issue whether emotional, spiritual, mental, emotional, or physical will last past this mortal life.
So, it’s not fun to see good people of any kind or group suffer. And, if we see it happening, it should awake us to a sense of justice. We should feel upset. We should be sad or sorrowful. But, those reactions are there to lead us to righteous action (not hateful action). Those feelings should lead us to seek out Christ and to become like Him. They should lead us to: “…deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored to you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again” (Alma 41:14).
In the end, everything that happens to us, as a consequence of our own choices or that happens to us because of the choices of others, is to lead us individually to choose a side, a path, a way to God. He wants us to become like Him, but He will lead us up as high as we are willing to go. Life and it’s blessings and injustices all serve to give us experience and the power to choose for ourselves what we want. Then, we are to go after it.