“I lift mine eyes to the hills; from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, maker of Heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1–2)
One of the oldest theological questions that humankind has been debating for eons is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” In a related question, we often ask, “How can a just and loving god allow pain, suffering, tragedy, and horrible things to occur?” Both questions make assumptions. The first question assumes that we can differentiate between good and bad; the second question assumes that God is responsible for the pain and suffering of the world. I propose that both assumptions are incorrect.
Our Bible verse gives some insight into the quandary: “… from where does my help come?” The author doesn’t ask, “From where does my suffering come?” “From where do my challenges come?” The question is: How will my help arrive?
The truth is that life in bodies during our brief journey on Earth can be fraught with danger, pain, and tragedy … or not. Some lives are easy and free from trials. What happens to us is independent of God, but God is there to strengthen and comfort us through those challenges. Knowing this we can ask, “God, see what is happening to me; please help me.”
This is one of the most important spiritual lessons to learn: to let go. Part of letting go is releasing the idea that we can manage our own affairs without help. Another part of letting go is to rise above victimization. God doesn’t do things to us. The government is not the reason we are where we are today. No one has put us in this situation. To believe that is to fall prey to the ego and its insidious insistence that we are victims being controlled.
It is only by our permission that we allow someone to control us. It is by choice that we allow our old paradigms of thought, habits, and perspectives to determine our path. No one is moving our feet but us. We choose who will guide us – Christ or Man. Our body can be enslaved, but who we truly are cannot be held captive without our acquiescence.
When bad things happen to us, the God of Love is actively making things work together for our good, as we learned in Romans 8:28. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
What is more, ‘bad’ and ‘good’ are entirely subjective. What might be bad for me is good for you. We consider the death of a loved one to be bad. We miss them and grieve; there is a hole left in our hearts and lives. We consider all of this ‘bad’, and it is. But what of the loved one’s soul? In some cases, they had been suffering from disease, in pain, longing for relief. Is it bad for them to release the body and reunite with God in pure Spirit?
I for one, believe that Spirit guides us into a body. But prior to entering our body we have existed with God. The Bible supports this idea. In Jeremiah 1:5 we read: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you….” Although this was spoken to the prophet Jeremiah, the same applies to every Child of God. We spent time with God before we came into these bodies. We don’t know for how long, what we were like, what we knew, or how mature we were. The answers probably vary for each of us. But we each came into this life with a purpose, with talents, and with lessons to learn; we just don’t remember them. But God knows all of this and has blessed us before we were even born.
But Patrick, what if we are born and die at childbirth? We cannot know the mind or purpose of God, but if that was our brief journey, are there not still experiences and lessons we could learn even during that small sampling of life? I do not know what can be learned in that experience, but I believe that something of value to that soul is gained by the event, regardless of how tragic and futile it seems to me. The value of life is not determined by its duration on Earth. Perhaps the benefit was for the parents and friends who witnessed such an occurrence. Perhaps it is their lessons that are being addressed by this precious Child of God who had such a short stay on Earth. I simply do not know.
The same could be true with victims of natural disasters, car accidents, and other atrocities that our bodies are subject to on our life journey. We come into these bodies with a set of directions that are written upon our hearts. Jeremiah 31:33 tells us, “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts.” We don’t know what our directives say; it is our life’s journey to uncover those instructions. But to project what we believe might be our instructions onto someone else’s life is a waste of emotional energy. We have our own lessons; everyone has their lessons, and we cannot do their homework. Our limited perspectives make it difficult to accurately judge what is good and bad on Earth. It is easier to determine what is productive and non-productive, but still a problem because of our limited perceptions. Releasing the temptation to compare and contrast our life experience with someone else’s is yet another lesson in letting go.
So, when we ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people,” we are not certain that the thing that we call ‘bad’ is really bad or that the person we call ‘good’ is really even good. All we can offer are first impressions. We can do our best to surmise their character based upon their actions and words, but do we know their intentions? Do we know the substance of their hearts? That is much more difficult to discern from our earthly vantage point.
Spirit knows the truth. Christ knows the lessons we each face, and the spiritual progress we have made prior to birth. But we cannot assume we all start at zero. Just from my observations, it seems some people are more adept at maneuvering through life’s challenges and less apt to fall prey to the influence of the ego. Some are caught up in worldly temptations and some are not. While some of us are working hard to disseminate love, peace, and joy throughout Creation, and are intent upon helping, giving, and serving, still others of us are committed to spreading fear, division, and discontent, and are determined to take as much as we can.
Yes, much of that is determined by the nature and nurture theories, and some of it we come into this life carrying with us. Although we all are ‘blessed’ or ‘consecrated’ by God before we are born, that doesn’t mean that our spiritual maturity is equal upon entering the womb. Our mentalities and attitudes are not all the same. Some of us may know more at a subconscious level than others upon entering our body because of our spiritual maturity prior to birth.
It is true that if we knew better, we’d do better. But that doesn’t serve as an excuse for poor behavior or choices in our lifetime. If we didn’t come into this world with as much ‘face time with God’ as another soul, then we’d better pay closer attention to our time in this body. We are still given the opportunities to ‘love each other’, ‘treat each other as we want to be treated’, and to follow all the other spiritual teachings that we have been given. If we had more spiritual maturity before entering to the body, we are still obliged to transform, learn the even finer aspects of Christ’s confidential calls to our heart, stop judging and start forgiving more, and completely uncover our own personalized life instructions.
The pain, suffering, and challenges we encounter come from the world, and the people on this world are far from perfect. Through practice we can learn to let our negative and unproductive thoughts and reactions appear and then lovingly release them without judgment. The same for the circumstances of this world – the strife, division, bigotry, and chaos of the world is there, but we don’t have to allow it to control our thoughts and emotions.
Our prayer time helps to maintain our own self-respect and sense of goodness without feeling that the situations of our lives come from the condemnation and judgment of God. Yes, the bad, negative, and unproductive things that have happened to us deserve our anger, but God does not. Even more, Christ teaches us to be angry at injustice and feel compassion toward those who suffer and are downtrodden. So, instead of opposing God and being angry at God when we see something ‘bad’ in the world, we can feel that our indignation and repulsion is God’s anger working through us and directed toward the unfairness. When we cry out over the atrocities of life we are still on God’s side, and He is still on ours.
Life is unpredictable; bad things happen, so we may as well take advantage of them. When things are running along smoothly, we can become complacent, lose focus, and can cease being diligent in our thoughts and prayer-life. In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 Paul writes: "We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead." When something that we consider ‘bad’ happens, we again become alert; pain, dis-ease, and other unwanted occurrences get our attention and bring our awareness back to where it should be – off ourselves and our capabilities, and back on to God and love.
All actions, thoughts, and choices are held accountable in Spirit, either in this life or after we have dropped the body. Justice is always served; balance is always found. Although it may not be as we desire in this lifetime, the greedy, hateful, and propagators of darkness will find their just ends. I am not one who believes in the Biblical concept of hell, but I do believe the soul is immortal and the evil intentions of a young soul will no doubt result in some sort of after-school detention center for appropriate remediation.
As I conclude, I will state the obvious: Life is not fair. Some people have it hard; others have it easy. Good and bad things happen to and through good and bad people. We come into this world with a unique set of instructions, with different plans, unequal spiritual maturity, and a diverse assortment of lessons to learn. It is absolute futility to compare our path with someone else’s or project our desires and expectations onto someone else. It is an utter waste of energy to wish things weren’t the way they are. When we can look at the world and not see good or bad, but simply see various levels of God-consciousness, the world no longer has power over us, and we can get on with what Life is truly about, and that is to love.
By expanding the love of God in our hearts we can raise our awareness to the next level and overcome the world’s fiercest attacks. Bad things cannot be made into good things, no matter how we try, but my prayer is that our calm observance of the bad things around us and in us will help us to focus on what is important in life. I pray that our awareness of the painful events and ornery people that we experience will strengthen our trust in God, dare us to reach out to others for help, increase our compassion, and prepare us to help others who are struggling. I pray that the power and peace of Christ indwells your spirit today and forevermore.