If God is good, why do bad things happen? (5 potential answers)

If God is good, why do bad things happen? (5 potential answers)

I recently started helping out with the youth group at my church, a progressive Methodist congregation in Charlotte.  Last Sunday, I finished leading a three-part Sunday School series on the “problem of evil.”  The series began because the youth, after brainstorming a list of their doubts and questions, voted to talk about this question (“if God is good, why do bad things happen?”) first.  

Rather than trying to force-feed them one “right answer,” I put together a list of five popular answers to discuss as a group.  The answers contradict each other, so the youth had no choice but to think for themselves.  It was fun to see different kids gravitate towards different answers, often shocked to find that their friends didn’t agree.

Below is the sheet that I typed up for Sunday School (minus the color images of each theologian, which I copied illegally from Google Images).  For church, I made a bunch of copies and cut the sheets into strips (one answer per strip), and the youth glued each strip into their notebook as we discussed it.  We took time to briefly discuss each theologian’s life and read the related Bible passages.


If God is good, why do bad things happen?

1. In order to give humans free choice, God allows bad things to happen

  • Often associated with: Augustine (354 – 430)
  • Bible passages: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-19 (the Garden of Eden)
  • God isn’t quite responsible for evil
  • If God always intervened to stop us from hurting ourselves and each other, we wouldn’t really have free will
  • The world is fallen and broken because of Adam and Eve’s decision


If God is good, why do bad things happen?

2. Because everything serves a greater purpose

  • Often associated with: John Calvin (1509 – 1564)
  • Bible passages: Romans 8:28; Jeremiah 29:11; Ephesians 1:11; Matthew 19:26 (God can do anything)
  • God is ultimately responsible for each tragedy
  • If we could see from God’s perspective, we’d see that every seemingly bad thing happens to bring about even greater good


If God is good, why do bad things happen?

3. Because God is unable to stop bad things from happening

  • Often associated with: John Cobb (1925 – present)
  • Bible passages: 1 Corinthians 13:4-5; Matthew 6:9-10; Matthew 26:39 (Love does not insist on its own way; God’s will is not always done on Earth)
  • God is not responsible for bad things because God does not control people and nature
  • God calls us towards a better future, but cannot force people to do good things
  • God always does all that God can do to make our world a better place, but often this is not enough to prevent bad things from happening

Side note: a 12 year-old in our group, after first reading answer #3, told me that this was the stupidest thing she had ever heard.  I was shocked and excited to see such theological enthusiasm from a kid!  By the end of Sunday School, she  decided that the answer maybe wasn’t so bad after all.


If God is good, why do bad things happen?

4. Instead of asking why bad things happen, we should ask where God is during tragedies

  • Often associated with: Jurgen Moltmann (1926 – present)
  • Bible passages: Mark 15:33-37; 1 Cor 15:51-55; Revelation 21:4 (Jesus dies abandoned by God; one day, pain will cease)
  • God hurts alongside everyone as they go through hard times
  • God is working to bring good out of bad situations, and eventually all will be made right


If God is good, why do bad things happen?

5. Instead of asking why bad things happen, we should ask how we can partner with God to fight injustice

  • Often associated with: James Cone (1938 – present)
  • Bible passages: Job 1:13-22; 40:6-9; Psalm 13:1-2 (in the Bible, pain is acknowledged but never philosophically justified)
  • We shouldn’t try to rationally justify violence and oppression
  • Like Jesus, we must stand up against injustice, enduring the hardships that this will bring

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