When Bad Things Happen to Good People

One of the oldest questions in the world is why do bad things happen to good people. The assumption is that a good person deserves good things from God.

We are reading Elihu’s response to Job this morning and he begins by challenging Job’s two main assertions: (1) I am a good (righteous) person (33:9); and (2) God is treating me like His enemy (33:10-11).

Elihu’s argument includes the following before arriving at his main point:

  1. God often speaks through other means (33:14). Sometimes, God is speaking to us but not in the way we expected or wanted. In other words, God speaks through our circumstances, even (especially) the difficult ones.
  2. God is always righteous (34:12-13) and beyond our questioning. Who is Job to put God on trial? Who are we as sinful people to seek to assign values of good or bad to the actions of God?
  3. God always knows all the facts (34:21) and has no need to hear the arguments Job has been longing to make before Him (34:23).
  4. God is not wrong to remain silent, if he chooses to remain silent. (34:29)
  5. None of us are completely righteous before God. We all sin in various ways. None of us completely masters sin. (34:31-33)

This last point is the rub with our original question: why do bad things happen to good people. Elihu’s wise answer is that there are no good people. All of us have turned aside from God and fallen short of the mark of His glory (Romans 3:10-23).

Had Elihu left his argument here, it might sound very similar to Job’s foolish friends and left him (and us) in quite a depressingly hopeless place, if we are going through difficult days. But all of this is intended to prepare Job for his main point: “(God) delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity.” (Job 36:15 ESV) He warns Job against shaking his fist at God (36:18), wanting to die (36:20), or turning to greater rebellion against God because of his affliction at the hands of God. He concludes by saying that God is the great teacher, if we will learn from Him.

There is a saying about God’s teaching of us through such difficulty: “The same sun that melts the ice, hardens the clay.” If we are going through difficulty, we must resist the urge to assert that we deserve better from the hand of God than what we receive. As sinners, any good thing that comes from God is entirely the result of His grace and mercy and not our deserving of it. Yet, even the bad that He allows, we know He allows for our good that we might learn from it and grow in holiness.

It should be noted that, in the course of making his case to Job, Elihu longs for man to have a mediator to restore man’s righteousness (33:23-30). This is the great lesson that God is teaching us — that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Even as those who have placed our faith in Christ our mediator (see Hebrews), we yet long for the second coming of our Savior that our salvation might be fully experienced.

May we let our pain point us to our Savior. If we learn to seek Jesus, then the painful lesson of the Master Teacher is well taught and well worth it.