General Question

osullivanbr's avatar

Why Do Bad Things Happen?

Asked by osullivanbr (3625points) May 27th, 2008

Since there is supposed to be an all powerful and loving God, why is there so much unspeakable pain and excrutiating suffering in the world?

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69 Answers

marinelife's avatar

I am not answering from the religious perspective. I think bad things happen the same reason good things happen, because things happen. Some are bad in our view and some are good.

Skyrail's avatar

Simply put it all stems down to the nature of humans and Adam and Eve (from my Christian perspective, please take it no further), free will and all that. There are numerous articles on the internet that many come to a similar point, I personally can never wiggle out of these discussions so I’m going to leave it now to someone else who would rather put more perspectives into it. I could try and get a long and fanciful description from my dad but eh. He’s enjoying reading his book :)

nikipedia's avatar

How would we know what goodness was without badness?

arnbev959's avatar

I gave up on the idea of “bad” and “good”. It’s all just stuff.

kevbo's avatar

Your question is a classic and is otherwise described as The Problem of Evil. There’s a good discussion of it on the Wikipedia page. In my mind, it reinforces the validity of an eastern and cyclical perspective with respect to religion (as opposed to linear and Judeo-Christian), but my perspective is not a capital “T” truth by any means.

TheHaight's avatar

did you really have to bring G-d into this?
To answer in a not religious way- nikipedia said it all. How would we even know what good is without pain?? Learning experiences is what makes us grow. I’ve gone through some crazy shit, and never regret any pain I’ve had to go through because I appreciate all the good in my life.

MisterBlueSky85's avatar

Some people think all evil is actually good in the way that we can’t see. I think it’s called the “Greater Good” thereom. The idea is that even in the worst things in the world—maybe a baby burning to death in a house fire—there is some good (maybe that baby would have been the next Hitler). As lowly mortals, we can’t understand the greater good, but must trust it to God.

A good quote: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”—Epicurus

PupnTaco's avatar

Because there isn’t an all-powerful and loving God?

osullivanbr's avatar

The problem I have with the “Greater Good” theory is it can’t really be used to explain major disasters and events like Auschwitz for example.

iamatypeofwalrus's avatar

Hate to play Devil’s advocate here, but if things on the impossibly small scale (quantam physics) don’t make “logical” sense, then why would you expect a supreme being to play by the same rules that we use?

Skyrail's avatar

I bought religion into this as I do have a biased view towards things like this due to my beliefs and my upbringing, I do admire those who can view topics like this from a completely neutral point of view and make complete sense to people like me :)

and @iamatypeofwalrus I like your way of thinking haha ;)

MisterBlueSky85's avatar

@osullivanbr: That’s a reasonable reaction. Someone might then shoot back with the typical “burden of proof” response. I’ll play it out because it can be confusing:

You: Auschwitz is bad. How could an all-powerful and loving God let that happen?
Them: There’s a greater good there. You just don’t see it.
You: How the hell can there be a greater good in Auschwitz? I contend that there is no greater good.
Them: It’s not my responsibility to prove that a greater good exists. It’s your responsibility to prove that a greater good does not exist. And until you prove that, we can make no progress in this argument.
You: Man, that sucks.
Them: Tell me about it. You think it’s fun hypothesizing the silver-lining to Auschwitz?

And how philosophy works sometimes.

MisterBlueSky85's avatar

@iamatypeofwalrus: I would respond to that by saying that things on the quantum scale don’t make sense NOW, but they probably will in time.

Also, God has to always play by certain rules no matter what because those rules are completely universal. God can never make 1 + 1 = 3, for instance. This doesn’t take any power away from God, he’s still supreme, but the rules of mathematics transcend everything—everything—so he can’t escape them. (I know you’re gonna argue that sometimes 1 + 1 != 3 in quantum physics; it was a simple example. :P )

iamatypeofwalrus's avatar

Or the quantam levels of electron shells where you can arrive at B from A instantly without having to travel in between A and B. Doesn’t “make sense”, no?

What I meant to say was really a reaction against the Epicurus example. I don’t doubt that a “supreme being” has to play by some rules, we may just not undestand them yet, if ever.

marinelife's avatar

If one postulates God as the creator of the universe they would be God’s rules, right?

iamatypeofwalrus's avatar

What if g-d is simply the creator of humans and not the universe?

Skyrail's avatar

As in merely created with the universe? Then would he be god? I will leave this to continue as I must sleep.

Randy's avatar

To teach you lessons?

susanc's avatar

Well…. there was an early Gospel discovered at Nag Hammadi among many others which the early church left out of the early Christian Bible, titled “Thunder, Perfect Mind.”
It’s pretty mystical but it’s not a bit confusing. The vision of reality in it is
HUGE. The voice in it claims to have existed before God and to have created God.
It’s as if the fertile void has speech. Anyway, this entity’s existence would
support what Walrus is suggesting: that God did not make the universe, only the world
(and us).

osullivanbr's avatar

I missed that one. Any ideas how I could get a look at what that one says?

8lightminutesaway's avatar

pain reminds me I’m alive. I would much rather feel pain than nothing. Numbness is the worst thing that can happen to a person.

I don’t expect what God does to make sense. I don’t know enough to judge the sensibility of the actions of many people around me, let alone a supreme being. Yeah, you can say its bad for a guy to take hostages, but think of the movie John Q. Similarly, God let horrible things happen, and I won’t question it. Well, I’ll question it, because I believe we should question everything, but I’ll let him slide because I know that is one question I can’t answer.

The better question may be “Does God let things happen or make things happen?”

Disclaimer: I’m not really religous. I do not subscribe to any religion. I believe in a supreme force, but not really in Bible stories.

osullivanbr's avatar

8lightminutesaway does raise another good question that’s another very interesting take on the topic.

Does God let things happen, or make them happen?
Any thoughts?

osullivanbr's avatar

I could have kinda guessed you’re answer would have been that. :)

I’m not disagreeing with you in any way however, all the evidence does seem to point to that conclusion.

LunaFemme's avatar

If I remember correctly, the Deistic (sp) approach is that God set the world/universe in motion and once he did he also became bond to the laws of nature. Interestingly enough, the many of our Founding Fathers consider themsevles Deist.

shockvalue's avatar

jstringham21 beat me to it.

carrie's avatar

Bad things only happen because people let them happen. If we work together then we will have more good things happen to us then bad and more happiness. Thats just my take on it

osullivanbr's avatar

That’s not at all true that people let them happen. What about Earthquake, tsunami, famine etc. “Why do these things happen since God is supposed to be loving and all powerful” is the question…

carrie's avatar

I am on about life and love rather then natural disasters as natural are not an every day occuranse

Skyrail's avatar

As I heard it put once “If you wanted God to step in. When would he step out again?”

fabulous's avatar

why ask god to step In at all why not bring it upon yourself to make your own happiness and create good for yourself be strong and confident in your self

Skyrail's avatar

Having all the confidence in the world in yourself doesn’t stop natural disastors and other people’s follies :)

osullivanbr's avatar


I do agree that we should try and make our own happiness but…

skyrail is right. Being the most confident person in the world still doesn’t make you immune to suffering and pain.

We do seem to have gotten off the main topic though fellow flutherers.

fabulous's avatar

why just focus on god and natural disasters what about the social topic

Skyrail's avatar

I did mention the social topic as well “and other people’s follies” you can change yourself all you want but it won’t change the 6 billion other people that surround us in this small world we live in.

fabulous's avatar

I am not trying to change myself or anybody else I am just saying that we should try to focus on making our own happiness as we can not make everyone happy

Skyrail's avatar

Well what I’m saying it can be very very very hard if not impossible to make yourself completely happy, yes you can make yourself happy but there will always be downsides, bad things that happen, things that are inevitable and this is what the question was, why do they happen?

edmartin101's avatar

From a religious perspective, bad things happen b/c since the beginning Lucifer has been wondering about the world and he’s the creator of all bad things. God allows Lucifer to create his own mess, as in the case of Job where Lucifer told God that Job is his faithful servant b/c he has it all good for him and his family, but I bet once he gets his life messed up, he will curse you, meaning Job will curse God for his problems. Well as it turned out, Job did lose all his children, all his possessions and never once he cursed God for his problems. His wife did blame God for his problems though. Once God proved to Lucifer that Job was his faithful servant even in hard times, God put a stop on Lucifer and renewed Job’s life and gave him an even richer lifestyle.

Based on this example we can see that God let bad things happen and not make bad things. Every bad that happens has its purpose, we are just too limited in our thinking that we can’t comprehend all that is happening. Yeah, according to the Bible God is all loving so he can’t possibly make bad things to occur. There are just too many bad things happening that we wonder, WHY?

If God created the Universe, he doesn’t have to abide by the laws of nature. Why not? b/c He’s God! It just wouldn’t make sense that a creator has to respect the natural laws we are limited by. As it mentions in the bible, God got onto a fisherman’s boat and fell asleep when a huge tornado threatened everyone on the boat, then the disciples awakened Jesus b/c they were afraid to die, then Jesus said to the tornado: Calm down, and it became quiet. It’s weird how this could have happened, but if Jesus is God then it makes sense since He is all powerful.

I also have my doubts like anybody else, but if you read the “book” carefully you’ll find somethings that make sense. Now, keep in mind we aren’t getting into “the proof of God’s existance”, we are just nailing the subject why bad things happen?

stephen's avatar

what make u know something is happy? i believe that is your “unspeakable pain and excrutiating suffering”

osullivanbr's avatar

Eh say what?

aaronou's avatar

If you are looking for a religious perspective, specifically Christian, on this issue, it would be helpful to review two of the major theories that may supplement one another. The first is the Free Will Defense, which gives a somewhat satisfying response for the problem of moral evil, or that evil which can be accounted for by human choices. The second philosophy, which does much to add to this Free Will Defense and even attempts to discuss natural evil, such as disasters and such, is called Irenaeus’ Theodicy. It does have parts of it that will differ from traditional Christianity, though it still has a number of thoughtful insights.

Hobbes's avatar

Things are not inherently good or bad. “Good” and “Bad” are internal labels that we apply to reality, just as “yellow” is a label we use for a certain wavelength of light. Good and bad things don’t happen – things happen, then we interpret them as such.

An earthquake is no more inherently good or bad than a sunrise, but we label it as such because it causes death and destruction. The death of a human, that is, the cessation of the chemical reactions that fuel its metabolism, is not inherently good or bad, but we label it as such if we care about that person.

chatnoir's avatar

Human selfishness and some events that the human being may perceive as ‘bad’ may serve some higher good, that our perspective, limited by time and space, as it is, may misinterpret.

gooch's avatar

Because people are basically evil

shrubbery's avatar

Ok guys, just thought you might like to know that my teacher printed out a copy of this question for everyone in our Religion and Philosophy class and used it as a teaching tool. We are studying The Problem of Evil right now so our task was to identify which theodicy or philosopher your answers represent. You’re famous!

osullivanbr's avatar

Damn it. I knew I should have researched my answers before typing. Rats anyway.

Hmm's avatar

This is pretty hard for some people but for something to exist their has to be the opposite. Cold cannot exist without Hot. Good cannot exist without Bad, Boys cannot exist without Girls and the list goes on. God gives us the choice to do whatever we want.

osullivanbr's avatar


God giving us the choice to do what we want does not explain why a child dies of starvation every 5 seconds in the world. Nobody is choosing to made the child die.

Hmm's avatar

Listen I don’t really feel like explaining this all. You should really read Conversations with God. It explains allot of lifes secrets. A man was complaining about his life and writing a letter to god explaining why his life was so bad. God responded. This became a book and made millions. Then a movie. It was a true story. It’s also linked to the book and movie The Secret. Take a look.

osullivanbr's avatar

@Hmm. I’ve studied Christianity and this question of theodicy. I’m already familiar with the Conversations with God book. Thanks for the point in that direction though. For others looking on, they are interesting, but still just words, that, for the most part mean nothing.

Doesn’t the nature of friendly conversation, and argument, not require both parties to participate. Saying, you don’t feel like explaining it kinda defeats the purpose of the site, don’t you think? If you have something on your mind always feel free to voice it on here. I certainly welcome your personal interpretations of theodicy.

Hmm's avatar

No I would certainly try to explain it all but you see my internet is really kind of slow these few days :P. When it gets better i’m going to explain as much as I can. I enjoy talking about this subject.

osullivanbr's avatar

I look forward to it.

Hmm's avatar

The reason bad things happen really is because they are chosen. Everything that is done and will ever happen to you is brought by you. Nobody wants bad things to happen but really there has to be an option because without it Good or Happiness cannot exist. The reason bad things happen to the same people over and over again is because they are expecting it. This is the law of attraction. Change you way of your thinking. Be happy. Believe that you wont be stuck in this situation until you die. You always, always have a choise to make things better.

Hmm's avatar

Once you apply this to your life you will live happy. I’m not that religious at all. It really is very simple. Instead of expecting bills in the mail expect checks! If they aren’t checks pretend they are. Repeat and repeat. Soon enough you’ll find more checks in your mail box if you truly believe in this. You might remember this from the movie The Secret if you’ve seen it. Anyways have you read all 3 of the Conversations with God books? Just curious.

Hobbes's avatar

@Hmm – WOW! Thanks for enlightening me! Now I know how to pay off my college fees! Instead of getting a job and working, I can just believe that my bills will pay themselves, and they will!

Oooh. Wait. Nope. That’s pseudo-magical self-help bullshit written to scrape money off of idiots. Darn. It actually turns out that universe doesn’t conform to your personal desires just because you “truly believe” it will.

Oh. And about that “bad things happen to people because they’re expecting it” tripe, tell that to the kids in Zimbabwe starving to death. I’m sure they’ll be very comforted to know that they’re suffering is necessary to give us something to contrast our privileged, safe, happy lives with.

osullivanbr's avatar

I was trying to think of a way to respond to that and put across my thoughts on how rediculous that theory is. Thank you Hobbes for doing it for me, and well put.

It’s nice that you can be happy with that theory hmm, and in a way I envy you for being able to live your life by that theory. However, in no way does it explain the suffering and injustices in the world.

Hobbes's avatar

Where-ever the twin demons of illogical and sloppy thinking lurk, I will be there! Up, up, and awaaay!

Melle's avatar

Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world, no longer perfect the way God created it and meant for it to be always. As a Christian, I believe in God, and God created only good things—as described in Genesis. God’s most prized creation was Man (in Adam and Eve). He created them out of love and out of a desire to be loved. All created beings in Heaven loved God but they were created that way. They, unlike mankind, weren’t created with free will. Man had a choice to love and obey God. Eve chose to believe Satan, in the guise of a serpent, and so did Adam. They exercised their free will, which cost them dearly. Thus began good and evil. Bad things now came into being because of man’s sin—rebellion against God’s commands. Adam and Eve were forced out of the Garden of Eden, banned from perfection, from good things. Bad things happen because of sin—mine, yours, or somebody elses. Man is sinful and his heart is wicked—the Bible says so, but you can look around and see that for yourself. God is love, is all good and never causes bad things to happen. He gets the credit for it, however. You might not believe in God but you’re sure quick to blame him for some tragic event. You know nothing about his character, which will tell you who he is, how he acts, and why he does what he does. God doesn’t cause bad. People are evil, mean, and sinful. They have no regard for laws, rights of others, or life itself, oftentimes. Bad things happen because we don’t live according to a standard. As a Christian, God sets our standard and we want to live by that. We’re not always successful but we do try. In our world today, there is no standard to live by. Anything goes. There’s always somebody to champion your cause, regardless of what it is. Somebody thinks the mass murderer was just misunderstood, angry, lonely, bullied. Maybe he was. Are those reasons to go on a killing rampage? Bad things happen because people are selfish, self-centered, and consumed with themselves—what somebody didn’t give me, what somebody did to me, what somebody didn’t do for me. There is an agenda behind bad because too often the bad is manmade. God, however, can use the bad he didn’t cause for somebody’s good if he’s allowed to. He will use devastation from hurricanes, terrorist attacks, etc. to bring about good for somebody, lots of somebodies. As Christians, even we don’t understand all that, but we do know the heart of God is only good and he will use bad in our lives if we allow him to. Remember the song “What The World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love”? Well, that says a lot about why bad things happen when it involves bad being inflicted by a person. Love never intentionally does bad things. If you loved me you wouldn’t intentionally hurt me. I’m sure this is by far not the best answer to the question but it’s, nevertheless, a valid answer. We could go into the whole discussion of “bad” and “good” being subjective, but we won’t. Bad things happen because we’re sinful people and sinful people can and do do bad things. Until the old world ends and those of us who are saved are living in heaven, bad things will be a part of life. We have to trust God to protect us from bad things/people. We need to do what we can to make our world a better place—where we are with whatever we have. We can’t stop it all but we could perhaps make a dent in it. (And it’s nice to have the assurance that if we’re caught up in the bad and don’t make it thru, that we’ll go immediately to heaven and never have to worry about it again!)

XrayGirl's avatar

humans love evil

Hobbes's avatar

Melle – a few things. I’d rather not get into a religious debate, but there appears to be at least one rather large flaw in your reasoning.

What about natural disasters? I assume that you agree Hurricane Katrina was a bad thing. It certainly wasn’t caused by human actions. What about genetic diseases? Babies are still born who live short, painful lives and then die due to, say, Harlequin-type Icthyosis. Such diseases are not the fault of human “sin”, and yet they are bad.

You mentioned this at one point, though I could not discern a connection between said mention and the rest of your argument. Furthermore, I must ask: if God created all things, then he must have created Hurricanes and Halequin Icthyosis as well. Thus, either not all the things God is said to have created were good, or God did not create all parts of the world. And I must say, the “every cloud has a silver lining/God works in mysterious ways” argument rings hollow when faced with, say, the pain of a mother whose baby miscarried.

osullivanbr's avatar

I take exception to another point that you brought up in your answer.

You said that “God, however, can use the bad he didn’t cause for somebody’s good if he’s allowed to. He will use devastation from hurricanes, terrorist attacks, etc. to bring about good for somebody, lots of somebodies”

First off, if you believe that God did indeed create everything, I have to agree with Hobbes reasoning that God must have also created these things you are referencing as well.

The main flaw in this as I see it however is that if God is willing to use these devastating and deadly means to bring about something good for somebody (or somebodies) is in itself evil in it’s nature. How can the death and destruction of so many people be considered anything but. I repeat my earlier argument regarding a child dying of starvation every five seconds in the world. Who is winning or having something good brought to them from this? Furthermore, how can a God that is loving even contemplate or condone such a horrible reality. If the God that you are referring to would indeed see this as a means to bring about some happiness to some group of people, I’m sorry, but that is a God that I simply could not, and will not respect.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

this is a great discussion, and my only comment would be, if God created the universe, then who created God? And if God has always existed, then why don’t we eliminate one whole step and say the universe has always existed?

As for bad things, good things, etc. Someone up there had it right on the money when they said things happen, it is humans that define them as either bad or good.

djmuzk's avatar

“All things work together for good to them that love God”, Romans 8:28

Facade's avatar

Because Adam and Eve sinned.

manoffaith3112's avatar

All bad things don’t have a supreme purpose.

Every bad thing that happens came about because of Satan and the curse of sin. God has nothing to do with the many tragedys people face. In fact mankind was not really made to have to go through what mankind has to go through.

Satan is right now the owner of things on the earth. When Jesus was tempted of the devil he showed Jesus all the pleasure and glory of the earth. Then he offered it to Jesus if he’d just bow down and worship the devil. How could Satan offer it if he wasn’t in control of it?

Satan is so evil to put awful things on people. Then people sometimes blame God for what Satan has done to them.

God does offer comfort for people through the Holy Spirit. But God loves people, and doesn’t cause disease or awful circumstances.

manoffaith3112's avatar

One more thing is that God does care. He even cares when just a sparrow falls. How much more does He care for you, and the grieveing that tragedy causes. The ultimate source for love and goodness in a Holy and Just God.

The origin of tragedy came about because of Satan, and his awful ways. If it hadn’t been for this fallen angel perhaps mankind would never have been sinful. He is the one who tempted Eve and then Adam.

manoffaith3112's avatar

I’ve also have got to testify to the goodness of God when in the middle of not so fun things happening to terrible things happening.

To make a long story short several times I’ve been travelling in a car or have a car that will not start. The battery is dead or mechanical things keep it from starting. But through a simple prayer the vehicles would start.

God put my marriage back together. Tried counselling from several professionals. But that wouldn’t take away the anger, and disappointment we’d caused each other. There are children involved, and it looked pretty hopeless for a whole year.
During that time I cried out for mercy from a living God, and he gave us back our marriage, and He helped take away the awful feelings we had toward each other.

I’ve personally seen dramatic healings, and rescues during my time on this earth as a Christian. Don’t know if any one believes it or not, but it doesn’t change it. God has rescued me more then one time, and I know He’d do the same for any one who came to Him.

AnnieOakley's avatar

From my perspective, we are all here (incarnate) to learn things. Sometimes it takes bad things happening to grow and learn and create change. We, as people, experience both sides of the coin – good and bad. We also make choices – good and bad. It’s all part of the journey.

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