Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
by Del Hungerford
Imagine for a moment that you’re in the city dump. Piles and piles of trash are heaped on top of more trash. You can smell it from miles away (at least you can where I live). For months, the trash man brings his load from the city and piles trash on top of trash. Things are rotten, having been in the process of decay for months or years…. rotten food, baby diapers, cat litter, etc. When that load gets too disgusting, they bury it and add another layer. I think you get the picture. Some of you probably can “feel” what it smells like. It’s not a pretty sight or smell. The more it decays, the stronger it smells.
We have a word that people don’t seem to like because of the religious connotation that it has: sin. When looking it up in regular dictionaries (Webster’s, MacMillan Dictionary, etc) we get a very negative definition. In these dictionaries, sin is affiliated with breaking some religious or moral law or the act of doing something reprehensible. However, the Biblical meaning of sin is much different. It comes from the Hebrew word “chata” meaning “to miss the mark or miss the goal of right and duty.” The difference between the two definitions is quite amazing. Most of us would prefer the Biblical definition because it isn’t so harsh. So, that’s the definition we’ll use. From here on, “sin” refers to a behavior, attitude, comment, action, etc. that “misses the mark.” It didn’t hit a bulls-eye and strayed in another direction.
What does this have anything to do with the city dump? From the beginning of time, we’ve been in a state of decay, just like a dump. “Missing the mark” causes decay in attitudes, values, virtues, actions, and how we interact with one another. Sin piled on top of sin, from generation to generation, gets to the point that we can hardly stand the state of decay. Hate leads to bitterness and rejection. Arguing and constant disagreements lead to wars, which always produces death. Lust leads to unhealthy sexual desires and behaviors, and the list goes on. Unless we stop the decay, it only intensifies. We are literally walking out the consequences of hundreds of years of choices. This is how we “breed” abusers; abusers train other abusers.
What have we leashed upon ourselves? The answer is simple… we’ve sinned. Sin creates decay. Decay continues to get smellier and smellier as the ages go by. In addition, sin (remember… missing the mark) affects the natural world around us. Not only did decay in humanity and animals begin, but so did the decay of earth itself. We see evidence of human sin by what we’ve released into the atmosphere (various toxins) that create strange events throughout nature. Many aren’t “acts of God” but are acts of human choices.
We live in a place (earth) where people are selfish, kill, hate one another, destroy each other, abuse each other, etc. We are passing along that sin to one another, unless we stop it by repenting. (Horrors! another “churchy” word.) The Greek word for repent, “metanoeo,” means to “change one’s mind (for the better) and go in another direction.” Therefore, to repent from sin literally means to change from a wrong direction to a better direction and keep going that way. There’s nothing “religious” about that. We can simply call it “learning to be good people.”
Back to the dump… Sin (a form of decay) reproduces after its own kind. Sin produces more sin. It gets smellier and smellier as it gets more piled up. The way around this is through love, peace, kindness, joy, sharing, etc. We give in to the cares of our world and let those cares rule us.
So… Why do bad things happen? When you live in a place that functions in decay, it will produce after its own kind. The way to stop it is to regret our wrongs (repent) and change direction. We must also be willing to show modesty (humbleness). Because humans tend to be selfish, it’s easy to let what goes on around us, rule us. Our actions, attitudes, words, body language and pride negatively affect those around us.
We can all think of examples in our lives where a decision that we made hurt someone. We must all understand that we live in a world that cares for itself. In looking at an abusive marriage; if you’re in one, you’re suffering persecution (harassment, maltreatment, bullying, etc) at the hands of your abuser. What he/she is doing is wrong. We all respond differently to abuse. Some lash out; I went into my “cave.” Neither is good. Our reaction to most things comes directly from what’s in our heart. What’s the “state” of the heart? That can be determined by how we treat people and react to life.
Do you ever wonder why bad things happen to good people? For a visual picture, imagine a target. You’ve just shot the arrow. You were trying for a bulls-eye but the arrow was way off! It missed and hit a tree, cutting it open so the sap starts to pour out. You messed up and now that poor tree gets to suffer because of your mistake. A good person would be gentle when pulling the arrow out. Someone who didn’t care might laugh it off and may even do more damage to the tree while yanking out the arrow. Is that the trees fault? It just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I will use myself as an example. The year 2009, was a particularly hard year. There was lots of death and destruction all around me. Two people that I worked with were killed; one by an abusive husband and the other by suicide. In addition, within in a year of the first death, the new ex-wife of my ex-husband died of unknown causes. Oddly enough, something major (and not good, either) happened around every holiday for the entire year.
That particular “timeline” of my life was not pleasant. I will say this; I made some mistakes. However, very few of these events were caused by anything I’d done. Sometimes I reacted better than other times. The key for me was that when I “screwed up,” I owned my mistakes and moved forward. In one case, the turnaround was immediate. I had become the scapegoat and knew it. Had I chosen to be angry and bitter, the outcome would have been much different.
The point here is that life will very often stink, much like the city dump. Some of the stuff that happened in 2009 was as a result of my own making. Other things were caused by people I lived and/or worked with, and people do stupid stuff. How I reacted to each of the circumstances often determined the results. I do believe that these “tests in life” helped me grow up a little more. It was MY choice in how I responded to each and every circumstance that came my way. The same was true in my marriage. I failed miserably some times and others, I succeeded. We all do the same. The key here is to LEARN from the mistakes. Lack of humbleness is a killer for learning anything.
This next statement may take some by surprise but don’t be offended by it. The Christian community has spent so much time trying to point out the faults of others that they’ve forgotten to check their own faults. This has led to major distrust within religious communities. Operating in hypocrisy, or holding a double standard, is why there’s no trust. When we demonstrate love, peace, kindness, and faithfulness to one another, that trust could be rebuilt. Just like a stench pile, the smell doesn’t go away immediately. Trust takes time to rebuild.
If and when we learn to treat each other with respect, we can begin to overcome the bad around us. It’s not a total lost cause. It starts with one or two of us and grows. The more people that do it, the more the darkness surrounding us will be lit up! When you turn a light on in a room, the darkness goes away. Life’s “darkness” is demonstrated through hate, murder, strife, bullying, selfishness, and all other forms of abusive behavior.
So, in the spirit of recycling, rather than taking all that awful stuff to the city dump, recycle the bad situations, relationships, motives, and behaviors. When we take a bad situation and go another direction, it’s like taking our trash to the recycling center so they can re-use it. By doing this, we’ve not piled our life into our vehicle and hauled it off to the landfill to rot forever but have found a method of repurposing it. Even if we feel that life is worth nothing but trash, imagine “dumpster divers” rifling through the heap of trash and carefully pulling out what we thought was worth nothing. It’s amazing what people have made out of nothing.
If there’s a moral to this story, it would be:
- Yes, bad things happen to good people because we live in a selfish society
- We can continue to “grow” by learning from life’s hardships.
- Our lives are worth something to someone.
- Our life’s experiences can help those around us.
Questions to ask concerning how domestic violence issues fit within this picture:
- How can we stop verbal and emotional abuse?
- How does this fit into verbal and/or emotional abuse in marriage?
- How can we learn to react and respond to verbal and emotional abuse?
- Is verbal and emotional abuse a form of bullying or harassment?
- What are the signs of verbal and emotional abuse?
- After reading this article, think of examples of verbal and emotional abuse.
- How does verbal and/or emotion abuse affect those around us?