Of all the books in God’s canon of Scripture, the story of Job is among the hardest to swallow. A godly man’s happy life quickly torn to pieces, only to be followed by disheartening council from friends, and a horrifying rebuke from God Himself. Although the book eventually concludes on a happy note, readers are left struggling in its wake with difficult questions. A common query resulting from Job’s misfortune has made its way into both sacred and secular thought: why do bad things happen to good people?
It would be prudent to first define what I mean by “good” and “bad.” Of course, we are all sinners. The Bible affirms that “no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12). Good, in the context of this article, refers to those who have professed belief in Christ and are striving, albeit imperfectly, to obey Him. Bad describes those who care nothing for God nor for their neighbor, and unashamedly walk in rebellion before our great King.
As difficult as the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is, many Christians can reach in their biblical toolbox for answers. Maybe God is using the present calamity to sanctify someone. Maybe He is working something out for the believer’s good. Perhaps the trial will give muscle to the Christian’s testimony and aid another in coming to faith.
All would be peachy if we could stop here. Unfortunately, Job goes deeper. The gravity of his despair drives him beyond questioning God’s actions toward the good, and leads him to focus on the evil. From dust-covered eyes and disease-laden lips, Job’s laments pose a question with a much more elusive answer, which is why we need to ask the question, “Why do good things happen to bad people?”
In the midst of his agony, Job’s friends come to console him (they were wildly unsuccessful, by the way). Specifically, chapters twenty and twenty-one find our man and his friend, Zophar, immersed in passionate debate over the fate of the wicked. Zophar’s view is seen in the following:
“Do you not know this from of old, since man was placed on earth, that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment? Though his height mount up to the heavens, and his head reach to the clouds, he will perish forever like his own dung; those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’’ (Job 20:5-7).
Job fires back:
“Keep listening to my words, and let this be your comfort. Bear with me, and I will speak, and after I have spoken, mock on…Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their offspring are established in their presence, and their descendants before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them…They spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol” (Job 21:2-3,7-9,13).
Zophar believes the run of the wicked is short, and the enjoyment of their actions lacks ultimate reward. Job is of a different camp, claiming that evil is overlooked, ignored, or even met with blessing. Perhaps Job’s opinion was a bit skewed at the moment. The whole lose-everything-you’ve-ever-loved-in-one-day thing may have produced some understandable cynicism.