Why do bad things happen to good people?

I listened to the episode called  This I Used To Believe from This American Life, and the following question came up in act two:

Why do bad things happen to good people?

My cultural background is such that this question hasn’t come up much for me, but it can still be helpful to explore it….

The world does not conform to our shoulds. I may label people and events good and bad, and have a story that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people, but the world is not going to conform to my stories, and that is probably a very good thing. (It would be crazy otherwise, partly since we all have different shoulds and our shoulds change over time.)

Our ideas of good and bad are just that, ideas. Opinions. Stories created by mortal creatures of flesh and blood that see “good” as that which (appears) to support the life of me + us, and “bad” as that which does not support, or harm, the life of me + us. It is a very limited perspective. Hardly something to expect life to align itself with.

For each part of that initial statement – why do bad things happen to good people – the truth is that we don’t know. Our view is very limited, and formed through innumerable filters from physics, biology, culture and personal experience. We don’t truly know what is good or bad, or any whys.

There is the story of the Chinese farmer and his horse with its repeated reversals of what appears as fortunate and unfortunate. It all shifts with circumstances and viewpoints.

Grief, sadness, anger and so on are all another expression of love. I love someone, and that love takes those forms when I tell myself something bad happened to that person. It can be helpful to notice.

It is an invitation for recognizing our shared humanity, that we are all in the same boat. And for compassion and action as an opportunity to serve ourselves and others.

(From a practice view, it is an opportunity to notice and inquire into beliefs, to allow and be with experience as is and with kindness, to open our heart to ourselves and others, and to live from all of that.)

And finally something that is only helpful if it is recognized directly, it is all lila, the play of God. There are no separate selves to be hurt anywhere. (This is not very helpful if it remains just a story.)

Initial outline….

  • why do bad things happen to good people?  (From TAL episode 378)
    • have not have that question much myself, since doesn’t fit with the worldview I was brought up in, but still useful to explore
      • the world doesn’t conform to our shoulds (probably a very good thing)
      • our ideas of good, bad etc. are all just opinions, ideas created by mortal creatures of flesh and blood that see “good” as that which supports the life of me + us, and “bad” as that which does not support, or harm, the life of me + us (very limited perspective)
      • don’t know. The truth is, we don’t know (any of it, there is a big don’t know for every part of that initial sentence)
      • Chinese farmer+horse story, repeated reversals of what appears good/bad (shifts with circumstances, viewpoint)
      • grief/sadness/anger etc. is another form of love (can help to notice)
      • invitation for compassion/action on our behalf, an opportunity to serve (ourselves/others)
      • invitation for recognizing shared humanity, all in same boat, kindness for all of us
      • and finally, only helpful if/when recognized, lila, play of God (not very helpful if just a story)

2 thoughts to “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

  1. In good and evil you mention the void that awakes. If you define void as 0, and we agree that 0=0 or nothing, would it not be true that 0=1-1. Contained in the value 0 would be all the positive values with equal and opposite negative values. 1-1 is a concept, but what if from the void all that could come from that was concepts.

    Where zero is the starting value, for the value 1 to exist it requires the negative value -1. So it might be that for the good concept to exist, the bad concept must exist with it.

    All of nature seems to agree that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So it seems simple to me. Bad things happen so that good things can happen.

    Randy Cox

  2. Yes, and it is helpful to notice it is all happening within stories. Can I find good/evil outside of stories?

    And within stories, as you say, ideas define each other, good is good b/c of evil and the other way around. They split the world among themselves.

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