A question that you most certainly will get at some point in your mission is this question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It’s a tough question to answer and really, no satisfactory answer if one is so inclined not to believe in God or is still in the bitterness of the experience. I wish I could say here is a quote that would magically answer the question but to be honest there isn’t a straight forward answer to it. Ultimately it is a personal question that we all must find ourselves and whether now, or years down the road when we gain better perspective, we will see the bigger picture and have a much better understanding of situations that we find ourselves in.
Having said that let me try to explain the overarching theme of “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” I’m not going to try to answer the question, but rather give insights from which to pull from to help us gain a better perspective of this issue. Usually these bad things that occur, occur for two reasons. First is agency. God had a decision to make. What kind of world did He want for us? Did He want a “toy world” where everyone just did what we were told and obeyed every commandment He ever gave? Or did He want a “real world” where individuals could do “real” good or “real” bad things in this world? He did not want, nor could He change the laws of agency to do right or wrong.
C.S. Lewis made a great quote about this idea
“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.
A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. . . . If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will—that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings—then we may take it is worth paying.
While this promotes the progression of humanity, it also carries with it certain “side effects” that may result in suffering and sorrow. Free will is linked to adversity: many times our suffering and sorrows in life come as a result of the use or misuse of agency.”
Now this doesn’t explain away all the bad things that happen but can explain much of it. Another aspect that helps us better understand why bad things happen to good people that doesn’t involve the agency of others; many times we face insufferable pain and trials in our lives because God is a God of perfect love. We usually define love as being kindness but that is just the lazy way of defining what pure love is.
Again C.S. Lewis goes on to explain…
“And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’. . .
Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. It is for people we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms. . . . If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.”
Just as a parent knows that in order for their children to ultimately be happy in the end, many times they will have to suffer through their trials, sufferings and misery to learn from those lessons; our Heavenly Father who practices perfect love, many times allows us to experience the same trials and suffering so that we can be polished as gold through the refiner’s fire. That fire is real and is painful as anyone who has gone through those experiences can attest to, but those same individuals, given time and perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ will also tell you the comfort and power of the Atonement and how it literally carried them through those painful ordeals.
I’ve also included some other talks and articles that touch on this topic that I was not fully able to address in this post.
Elder Quentin L. Cook
The Songs They Could Not Sing
Elder Neil L. Andersen
Trial of Your Faith
John Huntinghouse is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of LDS SMILE and served his mission in the Daejeon, South Korea mission.