Why do bad things happen to good people, and what can they do?
The righteous person faces many troubles, but the LORD comes to the rescue each time. — Psalm 34:19 NLT
The old, old question is “why do bad things happen to 'good' people?” And the answer is, that we live in a fallen world, much of which is under the influence of the devil, who is called in the Bible ”the prince of this world”.
- When He [the Advocate, the Holy Spirit ] comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment... we about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. — John 16:8-11 NIV
Earlier, Jesus had used this description of the devil to explain how his grip was to be broken:
- Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. — John 12:31 NIV
Who does the driving out? Everyone who knows this truth! Christians standing together in praise and prayer, who know their authority to say 'no' to the devil and his schemes.
When a storm blows in, everyone feels its force. If you are counted among what some call ‘the great and the good’ of society, living in the big house with tall chimneys and its outlook of mature trees, the storm might cause you more damage than the tenant living in the lodge at the end of the drive!
Troubles come to all of us — that’s part of life. But who can you go to, for help in them? That is the defining difference.
The Jews, and the Pharisees in particular, saw being righteous very much in terms of obedience. It is a narrow Old Testament mind set, and one that Jesus challenged, and continues to challenge today — the teaching in our churches can often be more about ‘doing’ right (or not doing wrong), than encouragement about ‘being’ right with God.
Paul, educated as a Pharisee, understood the trap of this religious thinking, but he had also experienced new life and freedom from it. He taught in his letters:
- As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one..." — Romans 3:10
- Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God...
But the good news is, Jesus has secured a very special privilege for those who believe in Him. And that is the key — a changed heart that has received Jesus as Saviour and honours Him as Lord.
As Paul continues in this teaching, showing the complementary strand:
...because “the righteous will live by faith.” — Galatians 3:11 NIV
If a travelling salesman at a county show was selling this, they would be shouting it out: it is an amazing benefit, direct from heaven, a unique and never-to-be-repeated offer which takers will never, ever regret — all at the modest cost of believing in Jesus and surrendering to Him our pride and independence.
Unlike many things sold by persuasion, it happens to be true!
Jesus the righteous Son of God, who was without sin, went to the shameful, horrific cross of execution on our behalf. The penalty He bore was not for His sin — there wasn't any. It was the heavy weight of our sin, past, present and future. By giving our lives to Jesus, our messy, not-righteous lives become bound up in Jesus' righteousness, and we are counted as forgiven, made right, and worthy to be received to have fellowship with God, the all-holy and Almighty One.
- He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. — Titus3:5 ESV
- For our sake He [God] made Him [Jesus] to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God. — 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
In Jesus we become something we could never attain to by ourselves, not through any amount of effort or religious devotion.
And that simple but deeply profound fact changes everything when danger threatens, or fears take over our thoughts, or we hit unforeseen circumstances. Behind every fact-of-life trouble there is a spiritual dimension: the devil is trying to steal something from us. So what happens when we call on God for help, coming to Him as those who know and love Jesus? Facing the thief is the person of Jesus, reminding him of the victory of the Cross, with us on earth saying our bit and agreeing with Him.
As The Passion Translation puts it, "Even when bad things happen to the good and godly ones, the Lord will save them and not let them be defeated by what they face."
Bad things happen to all of us. The difference is in who we have to talk to about it, and whether the bad things have power over us. "Righteous" is not a score of how right we have been; it is about how our relationship is, with the One who makes us right — and the fruit of that relationship is that find ourselves enabled to live right.
Good News — in a nutshell
To be right with God is a fundamental, quality decision we make, not something we try to attain. Jesus has made a way for any of us to fully acknowledge who He is and what He has done, a spiritual rebirth that presents us to God as if we had never done wrong — acquitted. And when we know God like that, we can call out for rescue, knowing that He hears us.
Lord Jesus, we are so grateful to You for showing us Your kingdom and being the way for us to enter into it.
Thank You so much for taking our sin — pride, independence, rebellion, unbelief, lack of love and more — and putting it on that stained and ugly cross. Thank You so much for going to that place of torture, shedding Your blood for us to be washed clean, and giving up Your life for us to have new life in You.
And thank You that when the troubler and spoiler of our lives picks on us, we know who to talk to. God our Father, deliver us from evil, because of Jesus. Not because we are righteous in ourselves, but because our lives are hidden in Your righteous Son who died for us.
We believe Your promise to come to the rescue. We put our trust in You, not any strength of our own. We have You. Amen.
- When trouble finds its way to you, who will you talk to first?
- When your friend or neighbour shares a difficulty, how will this teaching equip you to give them the encouragement they need?