January 19, 2009

If God is Good, Why Do Bad Things Happen?

Filed under: Our Work,Religion — Adam Heine @ 8:41 PM

(From a conversation on Valence).

This world pretty much sucks. There’s death, disease, selfishness, hatred, greed, murder, genocide, racism, war, oppression, slavery, prostitution, addiction, brokenness, loss, and even worse things everywhere you look and in millions of places you don’t even see. It’s no wonder so many people choose not to believe in a God who would let these things happen.

I still believe in this God, but how do I reconcile this? If God is love, why does he let all this stuff continue?

I’m not considering this question theoretically either. This is a question I get asked, in one form or another, by my kids. They want to know why they’re with us instead of with their real parents. They want to know why their real parents didn’t want them or hated them or mistreated them. They want to know why their life has been full of pain and suffering while other people seem blessed from the start.

I don’t always know what to say to them, because I haven’t figured it all out myself. I don’t know the answer. Below is just an answer. It’s my answer so far, and it’s not perfect. In another 10 years I hope I’ll have a better one.

First, God gave us free will. Without it, we wouldn’t be human. But free will means that I can go buy a gun and shoot whoever I want, and God agrees not to change the natural consequences that those bullets will kill people. It means that a lot of this mess is our fault and the fault of others, and God won’t change it because to do so would mean removing part of what makes us human.

Second, this life is temporary. To us, death and suffering are terrible, horrible things, but we are eternal beings. The things that happen to us in this life are just a drop in the bucket of our real lives. They matter, but not as much as we think.

Third, God is interested more in our character than anything else. He wants us to learn and grow (another thing that makes us human). Say I’m watching Isaac play on the monkey bars and I see him fall. I could catch him, but I don’t. Why? Because I want him to learn to be careful. From one point of view, it seems cruel. From a long term point of view (which God’s most certainly is), it is necessary. If I catch my son every time, he’ll never learn to take care of himself.

I tell our kids that, regardless of what happened to them and whether or not God allowed it, God brought them here to a safe, loving place. And he used those events in their lives to shape who they are now, and who they will become. Many of our kids have said they want to do what we do when they grow up – they want to take in kids who have nowhere to go. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate how suffering can lead to something good.

But what about those kids who never find a safe, loving place? I don’t know. I keep coming back to free will, but I don’t like it. On the other hand, if God stepped in and saved them all – if he did everything for us – why would we ever take responsibility ourselves? If God took care of all the orphans, I would never have felt a need to do what we do. And if I never did it, I would never have grown as much as I have.

It’s not a perfect answer, but maybe some of my thoughts here can help some of you who are dealing with bad things. I hope so.


  1. It may not be “the perfect” answer, but it is pretty close. Your example of God shaping your kids lives by bringing them to where they are and that they then want to do as you are doing clearly demonstrates a legacy, an excellent one by the way, that you have established.

    We are proud of what you and Cindy are doing as we have watched you again these last few days.

    Comment by The Heine Patriarch — January 20, 2009 @ 2:16 AM

  2. I thinkk your answer is well stated.  I start, when I am faced with this question (and I have been in my personal life many times, as most people have) that we are sinners and totally depraved, therefore do not make good choices often.  We then must face the consequences.  Then at other times it has nothing to do with us personally, but rather is the result of another’s choice.  God is Love and nothing he does or allows to happen to us is for any other reason than love.  Keep on with those kids, that will make all the difference.

    Comment by Jean — January 20, 2009 @ 3:37 PM

  3. I ran across this randomly on a google search. The best way it’s been explained to me is that it’s not because of God…it’s the lack of God. i love your part about free will. I love that I serve a God that cherishes my CHOICE to love and obey Him over Him making me like a robot.

    Back to the “lack of God.” There was a story I heard once to explain this of some kids in a classroom. One kid was trying to explain just this to his athiest teacher. The child started by explaining that there is not measurement for cold…it’s the lack of heat. Likewise there is no measurement for darkness…it is the lack of light. Similary, evil is the lack of God. Evil does not happen because of God, it happens because the lost of this world have a lack of Him. And, of course this goes back to free will.

    Random sister in Christ,

    Comment by Debi — February 17, 2009 @ 10:51 AM

  4. Thanks, Debi. That’s a really cool way of looking at it.

    That’s the way I’ve come to think of Hell too. It’s not a terrible place that God created just to punish people; it’s just a place where God is not present at all, for those who by their own choices want nothing to do with Him.

    Comment by Adam Heine — February 17, 2009 @ 3:17 PM

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