Why do bad things happen to good people? Don’t worry. All will be healed in Heaven. OSV News photo/Firas Makdesi, Reuters.

The need to discern life’s dark downers

  • February 23, 2023

A workman came to the convent the other day and we began talking about the problem of evil. 

“Why do good people get cancer and evil people live to a ripe old age?” he asked. “My mother is the holiest woman I know and she has been battling painful cancer for years.” 

I answered with the simplest answer I could (without being simplistic). “Oh, there’s very little justice in this world. We don’t get rewarded in this life.” 

The workman rolled his eyes: “That’s what my mother says.”

What John Paul II liked to call “the mystery of iniquity” is a reality that keeps people from believing in God, and causes believers to lose their faith. However, it’s important to distinguish the kind of evil we’re talking about. 

As I see it, “evil” has five basic categories. There are natural occurrences such as storms, forest fires and avalanches, which are only deemed disasters when humans or human property happens to be in their path. Then there are random accidents and diseases that can cause tremendous bodily and/or psychological harm. (So far, we’re not dealing with “evil” per se.) There is evil of all kinds that humans perpetrate on one another, with or without knowledge or malice. There’s evil that results from our own bad choices. Finally, there’s physical and spiritual evil that Satan — an angelic being with free will — is allowed to inflict on us (in a restricted way).

Does God specifically ordain that certain of these evils befall certain people at certain times? Sometimes. Whatever for? Is He playing with us? Is He some kind of sadistic puppet master? Not at all. God’s every action, every intervention in our lives, is His attempt to save our sorry souls. His entire relationship with each of us is relentless love. God does only what is optimal for our eternal salvation. It’s hard to remember this amid devastation and desolation, but it’s the absolute truth. 

When objectively bad things happen to us, our first thought can tend to be: “Why is God doing this to me?” or “What did I do wrong?” or “What am I being punished for?” These are thoughts of a person with some kind of faith, but little understanding. We need to discern all the downers in our lives. Which of the five types of “evil” am I dealing with? We need to ask God what we need to do in each situation, how we can live it well, what we can learn from it and perhaps how we can be a blessing to others through it all.

Unlike the 12 Apostles, we don’t have Jesus at our side to explain every incident (or do we, through prayer?) Our Lord identified the “evil” of the Falling Tower of Siloam which killed 18 people as the second type of evil, a random accident, in a culture that viewed sin as the direct correlation to every illness and misfortune (see also the rather entertaining story of The Man Born Blind in the Gospel of John).

I was speaking to some young people recently at a Confirmation retreat, where they submitted anonymous questions toward the end of my talk. Two questions dealt with life’s bummers: “Why did God give me a mental illness?” and “Why did God make me born with a disability?” 

Again (because I have all the answers), I answered with the simplest and truest (general) answer: “God doesn’t exactly ‘give’ us abnormalities when we’re born, or later in life. Remember Adam and Eve? They lived in an earthly paradise. But after the Fall, everything got messed up. Even animals are born with birth defects. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us, or loves us less than someone else. We all have our struggles, and many of them are hidden deep inside of us. But everything will be healed forever in Heaven.”

So, if God is the Creator of all, wouldn’t He have to have created evil? Nope. Evil doesn’t have existence. Evil is a void. It’s a lack. A lack of good, a lack of love. 

If you’re still ticked off by evildoers getting the upper hand — often at your expense — and the increase of evil in every sector of today’s society, read Psalm 73. It explains it all.

(Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. HellBurns.com  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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