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Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

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Question:

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is this world so unfair? Please don't tell me "We can't understand G‑d's ways." I am sick of hearing that. I want an explanation.

Answer:

Are you sure you want an explanation? Do you really want to know why the innocent suffer? I think not. You are far better off with the question than with an answer.

You are bothered by the fact that people suffer undeservedly. As you should be. Any person with an ounce of moral sensitivity is outraged by the injustices of our world. Abraham, the first Jew, asked G‑d, "Should the Judge of the whole world not act fairly?" Moses asked, "Why have You treated this people badly?" And today we still ask, "Why G‑d, why?"

But what if we found the answer? What if someone came along and gave us a satisfying explanation? What if the mystery were finally solved? What if we asked why, and actually got an answer?

If this ultimate question were answered, then we would be able to make peace with the suffering of innocents. And that is unthinkable. Worse than innocent people suffering is others watching their suffering unmoved. And that's exactly what would happen if we were to understand why innocents suffer. We would no longer be bothered by their cry, we would no longer feel their pain, because we would understand why it is happening.

Imagine you are in a hospital and you hear a woman screaming with pain. Outside her room, her family is standing around chatting, all smiling and happy. You scream at them, "What's wrong with you? Can't you hear how much pain she is in?" They answer, "This is the delivery ward. She is having a baby. Of course we are happy."

When you have an explanation, pain doesn't seem so bad anymore. We can tolerate suffering when we know why it is happening.

And so, if we could make sense of innocent people suffering, if we could rationalise tragedy, then we could live with it. We would be able to hear the cry of sweet children in pain and not be horrified. We would tolerate seeing broken hearts and shattered lives, for we would be able to neatly explain them away. Our question would be answered, and we could move on.

But as long as the pain of innocents remains a burning question, we are bothered by its existence. And as long as we can't explain pain, we must alleviate it. If innocent people suffering does not fit into our worldview, we must eradicate it. Rather than justifying their pain, we need to get rid of it.

So keep asking the question, why do bad things happen to good people. But stop looking for answers. Start formulating a response. Take your righteous anger and turn it into a force for doing good. Redirect your frustration with injustice and unfairness and channel it into a drive to fight injustice and unfairness. Let your outrage propel you into action. When you see innocent people suffering, help them. Combat the pain in the world with goodness. Alleviate suffering wherever you can.

We don't want answers, we don't want explanations, and we don't want closure. We want an end to suffering. And we dare not leave it up to G‑d to alleviate suffering. He is waiting for us to do it. That's what we are here for.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Sharla Iowa September 14, 2017

I think this is one of the most helpful discussions of this question I've run across. It's not a question we can, or should, answer. That makes it an assignment: when you see bad things happening to people, do something to help if you can. Reply

Jen Colorado September 10, 2017

I have spent my life trying to figure out justice and karma. I realize that we all have free will. The human mind is complex. The fact that some people have a propensity towards generosity and kindness yet others pain and evil could be simply arbitrary. I want to believe in justice but once again, the justice I seek is only relative to the situation I know. There is more beyond that I can never know. Like the rabbi posted, I am very moved by suffering and I want to be a force of light in this world. Maybe that is the goal- for each of us to get to that place where we see another suffering and it touches us to the core. We are moved to be a light in the world. Reply

Chris Ct August 2, 2017

My whole life changed. In one day because I chose to become an addict. But, does that make me a bad person. Sure seems that way. I'm suffering bad. I want to die. Reply

Steven August 22, 2017
in response to Chris:

Chris, a strange choice of words i.e. that you chose to become an addict. Addiction to anything is often due to a person having an addictive tendency to a certain substance or lifestyle. It certainly does not make you a bad person. If you wish to give a more fulsome explanation of your situation I possibly can help you. Reply

Human August 22, 2017
in response to Chris:

You did not choose to become an addict. But you can choose to get help and make your life worth living. Reply

Zalman Nelson Manhasset August 27, 2017
in response to Chris:

Hi Chris. Glad you spoke up. Sounds like you're suffering, struggling, and unhappy with your current state. But you also realize that choice was involved, which means you know you also have the power to begin making different, better choices here and now, each day, each moment and hour, that will lead you to a different future. You'll also do well to explore and work on the underlying issues in your life that led to the addictive behavior. It's the addictive behavior that's the issue, not the underlying need it was being used to address. Reply

Steven London June 15, 2017

If we are to believe that God is omniscient then the future is preordained. Free will,one of our greatest gifts, becomes meaningless when however we behave it will make no difference in God's Grand Plan. We can imagine a God as Creator and then that Creation having to take responsibility for it's actions and reactions to circumstances,of good and evil,natural or manmade.The suffering of good people has nothing to do with God.We can only do as much as we can to alleviate their pain and hope that our scientific knowledge will ,in time,give us the ablility to banish or cure that suffering. Reply

AngelOne Seattle May 7, 2017

This is by far the best explanation I've ever encountered. Thank you Rabbi Reply

Abelardo dela Cruz Philippines March 6, 2017

It makes a lot of sense to me, I agree with the rabbi. Living is coping with every situation regardless of the circumstance we are into. G-d designed us to withstand adversities. We must appropriate our potentialities. Reply

Anonymous Colorado Springs February 14, 2017

False analogy People know that someone disappears from the scene, but not why, yet, do they call the missing person, or otherwise try to contact them? No. They forget about people who are suffering. Your argument presumes a world in which people are mostly compassionate, which doesn't match the actual world even a little bit. Reply

Anonymous Ontario California February 13, 2017

Bad things often tend to happen to me way too often sadly but that's the way life rolls you know I believe in karma. The coin flips and so does karma eventually I came too understand that sometimes you just have to hold all that in and just wait your turn. Reply

Kislan 33153 January 29, 2017

To Anonymous who wrote Suffering. Your brought it up very nicely. Concise but nailed. You are right! The bad, the evil, the sociopath lives life very happily, never differs consequence, never Hashem brings anything bad to their lives. and just when we think that the honest got a relief, something hammers his existence. Forgive me my sincerity, but it sounds as an acid mockery from Hashem. Even those who did not respect the 10 commandments fully live well to the top. Not even financially they suffer, in fact get richer and richer in times of acid/vary bad crisis to all. Do not give anything to Israel, mother Tsedakah neither helping victims of terror. Lie in their business against others, endless sin. And mock others when they ask how they are doing (strangers) thinking that everybody envies their cash and "supreme" existence. And Hashem with no Tsedakah, Maassim Tovim and Teshuvah helps them, protect them. It is mockery. And before you judge me or others, come and use my shoes for 1 hour only to check. Reply

Tezinla Asia September 21, 2016

I am also in this state that I faces bad treatment when I try to be a good person to my best ability and capability. But I started noticing that it is their personal character that harms others like that. How should I treat them back in a more kinder acts or how should I be than what I always do "just try to be a good person". I always pray for the goodness of others. Reply

Human August 22, 2017
in response to Tezinla:

It’s true: some people have no conscience. Good, kind people are easier to exploit. Like predators in the animal world, psychopaths look for vulnerabilities when choosing their prey. With this understanding, it becomes obvious that more kindness is of no benefit. You cannot change a person who is not wired for empathy or remorse. We need good people, so don't stop your efforts, but protect yourself from harm by excluding toxic people from your life whenever possible. Reply

Don't judge me Guyana August 14, 2016

This was not helpful, I'm just tired of seeing bad people get what they want and I have to suffer. These people are just getting things handed to them and I have to work for it, I just can't anymore. Reply

Anonymous July 28, 2016

Be careful who you talk about it to It's because of the ignorance in the world that permeates our culture and their refusal to accept what's right. You have to fight for it because they want to deny your individuality. Reply

Sarah July 5, 2016

A good argument but only highlights That a better question would be to then ask why won't God remove suffering?

I'd argue in the history making that knowledge does not decisively lead to change of behaviour. Knowing why a baby is crying, such as for milk, does not change that any normal person addresses the need. Equally so knowing smoking may cause cancer does not stop people taking risks.

Aron does make good points but for me crucially the fact that good and/or innocent people suffer, and that people suffer in unwarranted ways is proof that either God is not great or is non existent. I choose to believe the latter as an atheist

Either way I agree all we can do is keep on trying. Reply

Anonymous Playing with our son June 25, 2016

Just confused The pain is the easy part as far as I'm concerned. For me it's the unknown in everything. My world is my family is the most important. Unfortunately my best friend who is also the mother of my two children was battling some demons. Things spiraled out of control a couple times and she went off the deep end. And she got into trouble for it. Don't get me wrong I am no angel. I have had my downs also. This time though I believe fear or shame or guilt propelled her to make false allegations to try and harm me. And idc about that. I was more worried about her. Idk what happened or when or for how long. But something she did made her become another person. Who was capable of doing horrible things. I tried talking to her. We went to therapy. Anything. I was gonna do anything necessary. I'm still standing by her side. Cuz no matter what she's the mother of our 2 angels. I just want to see her happy again. Even if it's without me. There is just so many things that are unanswered. What do I do? Reply

Robert Anderson Queens March 7, 2016

An update, not theoretical, but cathartic I hope. Today I found out a merchant I had known was murdered in his store. When I first met him we engaged in conversation. This is always a wonderful thing, to know you can communicate with a stranger in a constructive way. It is one of he most beautiful things I cherish anyways. I spoke with him for some time and each time we continued in the same direction with our banter until I moved further away from his store and did not purchase items from there anymore. As reported in the media he was trying to break up a fight in his store between two vagrants...he was trying to be a peacemaker. His senses told him to protect those involved and to alleviate the anger involved and an unfortunate circumstance unfolded. He can no longer be reached for his opinions and we cannot say how his mindset was last retained but for the persons life he saved I hope this question arises. I hope for all it arrises. I hope it is changed to "let's help good people avoid suffering needlessly." God bless him. Reply

Allie New Zealand March 6, 2016

Thank you
I needed a different form of explanation to help deal with my pain and others pain that affects me and my journey walking with God. Reply

Anonymous February 17, 2016

I believe, like you, that we are to love God and love others, therefore I must seek out those who are suffering in this world and do what I can to ease it. Having said that, there remains the larger question. The why question. I believe in the fall of humanity in sin as described in Genesis. Originally, God did not create a world where sickness, death, disease, heartache, and pain existed. The great separation between God and man, when evil entered into all that God created, all of his creation began to in some form die. Humans, nature, animals, everything and at that point God's heart began the plan of HIs great redemption. Meanwhile, bad things happening to people, whether they are good or bad, is just a part of being human. Where is God? Right with you in your suffering. He offers healing and help and peace and hope. Why did my husband get cancer? Why not? He is human like everyone else. God did not give him cancer. Good fathers don't give bad things to their children. Reply

Anonymous January 15, 2016

Suffering The problem is, it never stops. It goes on and on and on. The good are punished, taken advantage of, abused, cheated, etc. It never stops. Just when things seem to level out and are going good for awhile (or you think they are). Then you get sucker punched again. The bad guys prosper, praise God, and continue on their way without any consequences. The good people suffer and never seem to get any relief. The bad have a good time and and torture the good in the name of God. If this was a sales pitch for a new product evil would win hands down. Reply

Ken June 23, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Well said. For me I can understand that pain can be useful and can even help situations become more memorable.

But It is the senseless acts to the innocent and children that I just can not fathom in any sense of the word. What is to be learned from this? What is the point? That's the problem I'm having.

And while I appreciate the rabbis overall message I still do not agree that by us having a better understanding of such a thing that it would necessarily make us less sensitive or all of this sudden change our instincts to help another in need. Reply

sarah British Columbia, Canada October 30, 2015

Take your righteous anger and that driven force to do good. That's one way of dissolving bad forces at work. Feeding yourself with the true light that comes with the whole package. Peace, Love, understanding, joy, etc.. Strive for the package instead of carrying the baggage. Overcoming all things. Reply

Anonymous October 27, 2015

I am non-religious, but I ran upon this website. This is an absolutely beautiful and mind changing answer. Thank you very much! Reply

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