Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good people have to suffer?
The people in Jesus’ day wanted to know the answer to these questions, and so do we.
People asked Jesus about two separate tragedies that happened to innocent people. The first was the murder of some Galilean Jews by Pilate. Some background might be helpful. Jerusalem needed a new water supply. Pilate took some temple money to pay for this needed improvement.
This outraged some Jews from Galilee that this money given to the temple should be used for purposes that were not religious. They created a riot over this matter. Pilate sent his soldiers to end the riot. The result was that Pilate’s soldiers killed some Galileans.
The second incident concerned the collapse of a watchtower that protected Jerusalem. The tower collapsed, killing 18 people who were standing under it.
The people of Jesus’ day asked, “Why did these tragedies happen to these people?” “Did God cause this to happen?” “Did they commit some sin?”
Let’s explore some wrong answers and the right answer to these questions.
Some people believe that people suffer because God sends the evil as a punishment. We see this attitude in John’s Gospel. The disciples passed a man who was born blind. The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
Jesus had to correct them and tell them that it had nothing to do with sin. Our loving God doesn’t send evil.
A second wrong opinion is the devil causes suffering. People who think this way attribute all evil and calamities to the devil. They reason that if God sends rain, the devil converts it to something evil like tornadoes or hurricanes. Some people even believe that evil caused by the devil can be stopped by invoking the name of Jesus. They believe that the suffering of innocent people is their own fault, because they have failed to call on the name of Jesus.
What is the correct answer that Jesus gave? The suffering that comes to the innocent is the creation of human beings. We make our own suffering. If the Galileans had not been protesting the water system that Pilate built with money from the temple, he would not have killed them.
If you annoy a mad dog, please don’t blame God or the devil if the dog bites you. Although the dog has no right to bite you, the dog is likely to bite you even if he does not have the right. Jesus was saying that the Galileans died because they underestimated this evil Roman governor.
When the tower fell, those killed were the victims of the carelessness of someone. Either the person who designed the tower did not do their work properly, or the workers had not been careful in constructing the stones. We should not blame God or the devil for human carelessness.
“Why does God allow suffering?” The answer is simple: God has given us free will. We make our own choices and decisions. We decide the direction of our lives. We are not robots. What makes us human beings different from other animals is our ability to think, choose, and love. This is what we mean when we say that God created us in his image and likeness.
Jesus said that the only way to stop the suffering of innocent people is for all to repent. If one drunken driver is on the road, other people’s lives are in danger. If we keep polluting our water and our air, more people will die of cancer. It is our sinfulness that brings suffering, not only on us, but also upon others.
Let’s look to ourselves, to our sin, our selfishness, and our failure to live according to God’s way. The causes and cures of the suffering are not with God, nor with the devil, but with us.