If there is a God — why does God allow terrible things to happen to those who are good?

This is a question that has befuddled people for centuries upon centuries. The Old Testament, in particular the Wisdom Books, try to tackle it. For example, Ecclesiastes addresses the question of why bad things happen to good people with: “Everything is the same for everybody: the same lot for the just and the wicked, for the good, for the clean and the unclean, for the one who offers sacrifice and the one who does not. As it is for the good, so it is for the sinner; as it is for the one who takes an oath, so it is for the one who fears an oath. Among all the things that are done under the sun, this is the worst, that there is one lot for all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:2-3).

The concept of divine retribution was well ingrained in the society that Jesus lived in. Meaning that when bad things happened to someone, it was understood as a sign that God was angry with that person or cursing him/her because of sin. Jesus denigrates that notion throughout the Gospels. Each time he heals someone who is sick or paralyzed, the concept of divine retribution becomes weaker and the idea that God shows love for all people, those that sin just as much as those who are devout, takes hold.

We still hold some of these ideas today. We often mistakenly say things like “God, what did I ever do to deserve this?” We need to remind ourselves that God doesn’t punish us for our sins, instead God forgives us, and in Jesus’ suffering and death, God redeems us from eternal damnation and wills all people to be saved.

We all want a God who saves us, but God doesn’t save us. What we believe as Catholics is that God suffers with us because God became one of us, even enduring death. God also chooses to redeem our suffering. God can make all things whole again, even when things seem hopeless, even when people needlessly die or suffer or some tragedy befalls them. God, despite evil being in the world, can make it all OK again. Suffering and death never have the last word.

Certainly that’s hard to see when we are in the midst of suffering. But even the tiniest signs of faith are important to cling to during tough times. During your personal reconciliation process, consider even the small things that are great in your life, savor gratitude, and know that God is there rejoicing with you over those times and sorrowful with you over the bad times as well.

Reading the Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament (start with Job, the Psalms, Wisdom, Sirach) and the healing stories of Jesus in the Gospels provides us with some insight into this age-old question. And check out When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner.

from Mike Hayes and the Busted Halo Question Box

Photo: Destroyed home seen after Hurrican Sandy hits New York Coast (CNS photo/Lucas Jackson, Reuters)