We tell our children if they work hard and play by the rules, they’ll succeed in life. Jerks, cheaters, and thieves won’t. They’ll end up in the gutter. Or jail. Or worse.

But if you keep your hands out of the cookie jar, your zipper up, and do your best to walk the straight and narrow, you’ll be okay. God will reward you. You’ll be happy.

The good are Most Likely to Succeed.
The bad are Most Likely to Fail.

But we’re half-lying and half-truth-telling. Life is not nearly so predictably black and white.

There’s the sleazy, fork-tongued blowhard who’s a multimillionaire with a trophy wife, two beautiful children, and Bentley in his eight-car garage. And there’s the sweetest, salt-of-the-earth, virgin-until-her-wedding-night whose husband left her for another woman a few months after she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

Good things happen to bad people.
Bad things happen to good people.

P-shaped People

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s step back a minute and look at things differently.

For starters, there are no good people and bad people. There are simply people. And all of us begin life with a congenital defect: we are shaped like a capital “P”. Our head is bent down until our face is eye-level with our navel. We are curved in upon ourselves. Self-interested, self-loving, self-absorbed. We are good creations of a good God, yes, but are infected by a badness that permeates and warps us from the moment our father’s sperm says hello to our mother’s egg.

So if you find yourself talking about good people and bad people, go wash your mouth out with soap. It ain’t true.

Throw Out Ethical Pedigrees

The Scriptures do, however, categorize people as believers or unbelievers, righteous or wicked, just or unjust. You’re either in God’s family or out. And your place there is determined solely by your connection to Jesus, God’s Son, not your ethical pedigree.

So there are not good and bad people.
There are believers and unbelievers.
And these are not moral designations but postures of faith.

So let’s ask the question differently:
Why do good things happen to unbelievers?
Or, to reverse it: Why do bad things happen to believers?

Nailing Our Philosophies to Wood

We know a sliver of an answer.

We know good things happen to unbelievers because God is good. Every good gift comes from him. He waters the crops of the atheist, clothes the agnostic, and fills the lungs of Muslims with air. He does good because he is good.

And we know bad things happen to believers because we live in a world diseased by evil. Sunday School teachers get cancer. Nuns get robbed. Faithful employees get their walking papers. In a world as sick as ours, bad stuff happens.

But ultimately the answer to why bad things happen to believers and why good things happen to unbelievers is this: Wrong Question.

God doesn’t leave open the door of his mind so we can wander around inside and find answers to all of life’s questions. He tells us only as much as we need to know. Indeed, he tells us more than enough.

He doesn’t tell us why this or that happens. He says, “What matters is this: I love you. Don’t be afraid. If I cared enough about you to become one of you, to live among you, even to die and rise for you, I’m not going to walk out on you now.”We ask the wrong questions. Instead of Why, let’s ask Where? As in: where is God for us? where is God showing us he loves us? where is God when we need him? where is there proof that he will care for us even when bad things happen?

The answer always directs us back to God’s full disclosure of himself. Where? In Jesus alone. In him all the fullness of the godhead dwells bodily, as Paul says. We know nothing of God apart from Jesus. He is not 50% of God’s revelation to us. Not even 99% of God’s revelation to us. He is everything. He is the “where” of God.

All God desires us to know about himself is in that virgin-born, sinner-welcoming, cross-bearing, death-killing man.

Philosophers can discuss theories of how God can be all-powerful and all-good and still let evil exist. As for me, I’ll nail my philosophy to the wood of the cross. There evil met its match in the good blood of God. There dirt was shoveled over the grave of death. And there the Lord opened—not his mind but—his chest to reveal a heart that beats to the rhythm of unending grace for a world lost without him.

And that’s really all the answer we need.