Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?


It’s absurd that I’m feeling sorry for myself, given that my life is overall so blessed. But … there has been this one part of it that has been making me miserable for a while (regular readers know which part I mean). And apparently it just wasn’t going to end painlessly, no matter how much I tried. Having a baby was just too much of a crime to these people.  (On that topic, see last weekend’s NYT Magazine article). What’s frustrating is that I can’t really talk about it since there may be legal action involved, and more frustrating is that it is occupying far too much of my thoughts when I should be focused solely on Casey. Maybe one day I’ll be able to talk more about it, but in the meantime, I asked Al, and I’ll ask you all, why do bad things happen to good people (while monsters like them prosper)?

There is happy news, too, though … I have a beautiful baby that I love more than life. Being with him really is my whole life now — I am lucky to have this short break to be able to post something! He is almost seven weeks old now and changing every day. I can’t treasure each moment enough, as I know that these times will pass far too quickly. Which is not to say there haven’t been challenging moments … but the happy ones more than make up for those.

I promise that I’ll try and talk about something else next time. If it weren’t for this late unpleasantness that has come into my life, I might have something mildly interesting to say. In the meantime, if any of you have unfairly been treated badly by someone who has power over you, how did you deal with it? How did you manage to not take it personally and know that you did not deserve the bad treatment?


15 Responses to “Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?”

  1. urbino Says:

    I don’t have an intelligent answer to any of those questions, sadly. I think, generally, I have always felt I must’ve done something to deserve it.

    I find that’s less the case now than it was when I was younger, though. Maybe it’s one of those things that requires a strong sense of oneself and one’s value — a sense that isn’t dependent on others to hold it up — and that seems usually to come with age. Which is why all I can offer you is:

    1) Hang in there. You will survive and be stronger. And..
    2) Forgiveness means giving up all hope of having a better past. The past is what it is. Forgive it, let it go, and live in the present.

    As for the “why do bad things happen to good people” question, I’ll leave that one to the god-fearing among us. It’s an easy one for me to answer, but my answer isn’t very satisfying.

  2. alsturgeon Says:

    I really don’t have glaring instances of such treatment to share, Sandi. I’ve truly had it easy.

    And as to your timeless title question, I was kind of hoping some others would chime in first, partly because I already gave you a lame answer in private, and partly because I’m interested in the responses.

    My answer still revolves around indiscriminate love. Our world is filled with injustice, and I think the only antidote is indiscriminate love – the catch-22 being that indiscriminate love cannot be forced, which necessarily precludes justice from being guaranteed.

    That confused me to say it, so if it makes sense I’ll be surprised!

    Let me work out the Hungry Hippos kinks & then we’ll have a grand unveling party – that ought to generate more comments/discussion.

  3. urbino Says:

    Indiscriminate love is great, as far as it goes, but it’s more a response to the problem than an answer to the question. It’s a treatment for the symptoms, not an explanation of the disease.

  4. alsturgeon Says:

    Point well taken. It is an antidote, not the reason behind the disease.

    Let me try it this way: Selfishness (possibly described by discriminate love) leads to bad things happening to good people.

    Now I’m just dealing with human actions (like msmiranda has recently faced), not random acts of nature (e.g. kids with cancer, etc.).

  5. urbino Says:

    Fair enough.

    Next question: is indiscriminate love possible?

    I don’t mean in a philosophical, theological, or theoretical sense. I mean is it possible for a human being to love indiscriminately over the course of a lifetime, in the world we actually live in? Or will that person end up deeply broken?

    (I hope Sandi doesn’t feel I’m hijacking her post. She doesn’t seem to be following the discussion right now, so maybe we can have our little dialog before she comes back.)

  6. alsturgeon Says:

    Define what you mean by ending up deeply broken.

    I’m thinking I would answer the (“over the course of a lifetime, in the world we actually live in”) question with “no,” but I’m not completely sure what you imply with the last question.

  7. urbino Says:

    I mean, contrary to popular belief, ISTM love isn’t free. Giving love costs the giver. It takes energy. And it isn’t “like a lucky penny”; give it away and you won’t automatically “have plenty.” So, in the world we live in, where the number of people practicing indiscriminate love is vanishingly small, that energy can go unreplenished.

    Over the long haul, ISTM that loving indiscriminately can leave a person exhausted and, mentally/emotionally, deeply broken. I might even go so far as to say will have that result.

    Jesus, from what we know of him, practiced indiscriminate love. But he also seems to have been unhappy a good deal. And he died young.

  8. alsturgeon Says:

    Right on about the costly nature of love, especially the indiscriminate kind. AND I’m with you on the exhaustion/brokenness that comes if unreplenished.

    Which is why I believe one shouldn’t fly solo while practicing something as dangerous as indiscriminate love. It should always be practiced in community. This is what “church” is supposed to be.

    What? Quit laughing.. 🙂

    But I am serious. It’s too much to handle alone.

    I think indiscriminate love is the only real hope for the world. And I think the powerful will selfishly kill off those who get in the way – people like Jesus for instance. So it isn’t for the fainthearted or selfish, but I think the cause is worthwhile nonetheless.

  9. urbino Says:

    it isn’t for the fainthearted or selfish

    Who is it for? It doesn’t seem to be for anybody with a sense of self-preservation or a desire for mental health. I hear you about the spostabe and the church. But spostabes don’t feed the bulldog.

    The church being what it is instead of what it’s spostabe, or if one happens not to be a Christian, if you don’t have your own personal community in which to fill and be filled, I think you’re right that this indiscriminate love business is not recommended. How many people have that personal community?

    (That’s a real question. It’s related to the question of how effective a response to injustice indiscriminate love really is.)

  10. alsturgeon Says:

    I say it’s for the fate of humanity. I believe in some causes that rise above self-preservation.

    I don’t know how many people have that personal community (btw, fwiw, you’re part of mine whether you like it or not!), but part of my calling (if you will) is to help form those kinds of communities I think.

  11. urbino Says:

    I’m all for altruism — even self-sacrifice in some contexts — but I still think there remains a question of efficacy in what you’re proposing. (If I understand you correctly.)

    Three points:

    1) I think we agree that with exceedingly rare exceptions, the church doesn’t provide a community of support for the kenotic lifestyle.

    2) I think we also agree that the number of people living the kenotic lifestyle is extremely small.

    3) I suspect we agree that neither of those things is likely to change appreciably.

    Given 1 and 2, there’s precious little indiscriminate loving going on in the world; precious little antidote for the injustice illness. So there’s one efficacy problem.

    Another is that, given 1 and 2, anybody trying to do this indiscriminate love thing is going to be pretty much on his or her own. That being the case, those people are going to tend to get broken and be unhappy, as we discussed previously.

    Other people who see such people’s lives are not going to say to themselves, “Boy, I want my life to look more like theirs.” It’s not an example anybody’s going to want to follow. It’s going to look like a recipe for misery, which is pretty much what it is.

    So the prognosis for indiscriminate love is:

    a) It needs large numbers and whole communities in order to be effective.
    b) Very small numbers and almost no communities practice it.
    c) There appears to be no reason to think larger numbers will ever adopt it.

    Therefore, it is an unworkable approach.

    The only way it would ever work is if a huge number of people adopted it all at once, and formed long-lasting communities in which to perpetuate it. ISTM the evidence is in that human nature is such that that’s never going to happen. So why not look for an alternative, less self-immolating approach?

    This is, I think, the fundamental problem with Jesus’ approach to changing the world (kenosis, aka indiscriminate love). It sounds great, but it can’t work.

  12. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Okay, I’m not going to argue with your last comment, and it’s perfect given the fact I stupidly played the “fate of humanity” card. I definitely agree that kenosis won’t be adopted by large numbers – I completely buy the narrow road metaphor.

    So I seemingly switch in midstream (though not really – it’s a magic trick!) and settle on the sappy story of the starfish as metaphor (you remember, the little boy throwing starfish doomed to die back in the ocean, the businessman says he could never make a real difference, and he answered that it made a difference to that one…).

    I still think kenosis is the hope of the world, but I also think the world is doomed. That being given, my approach is to do my part anyway, find and/or create the support system needed to carry on such a life, and have at it for those that cannot speak for themselves.

    For example, I’ve just come back from my next training session on the path to be a CASA for children of child abuse/neglect. I suspect this path is a “recipe for misery” in many ways, but given the misery these kids have unjustly encountered, I think getting off my sofa and into their lives is worth the effort.

  13. urbino Says:

    I’m not arguing that kenosis won’t help other people. At all. Clearly, it does.

    What I’m saying is that it isn’t a workable solution to the injustice problem, which is what we started from. Not because it doesn’t help other people, but because it destroys the person practicing it.

    And I’m not arguing we shouldn’t help other people. I’m arguing kenosis — great as it sounds — isn’t the way to go about it.

    Also, I took your “fate of humanity” comment seriously, and meant my previous final sentence seriously. That is the conclusion I’ve come to about Jesus’ approach. It sounds great, but it’s completely unworkable. If you’ve decided the world is doomed, anyway, I guess unworkability doesn’t disqualify it as a lifestyle. I’m still looking for something that will work on a large scale here and now, though; something I can practice and in good conscience recommend to others.

    My answer to your question, Sandi, is: bad things are always going to happen to good people, because things are always going to happen to people, and there isn’t anybody to steer the “goods” and “bads” to where they justly belong.

    We can try to ameliorate that, though, and I’m still looking for ways to do that on a large scale.

  14. alsturgeon Says:

    Good discussion. Didn’t realize I was so fatalistic (cynical?), but I probably shouldn’t be surprised.

    Oddly enough, that doesn’t leave me down in the dumps. I think it was C.S. Lewis (isn’t it always?) that said something about those who focus on the world to come make the greatest difference in this one. Dont’ know if that’s true or not, but it makes me feel better so early on a Tuesday.

  15. urbino Says:

    All that said, sorry to hear about your trouble, Sandi. I hope it all gets sorted out without too much additional stress.

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