Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do things happen seemingly at random without cause?

by May Tam
Third Sunday of Lent

Exodus 3:1-8A, 13-15

1 Corinthians 10:1-6,1-12

Luke 13:1-9

I admit that I have to struggle to understand today’s Gospel Reading. It is difficult because it triggers in our heartsthis question which we ask so often in our daily lives, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”(cf Lk 13:1) It is difficult because Jesus did not give us the answer but instead, He Himself cited another incidence which gave rise to an equally difficult question, “Why dothings happen seemingly at random without cause?”(cf Lk 13:4)

To tackle it properly, I think perhaps we should take into consideration the context of the story. In the minds of His audience and prevalent at Jesus’ time was this “retribution theory”-----a belief that the victims deserved their lot in life. The underlying assumption is that God, in His divine justice, causes tragedies to happen as punishments for undisclosed sins (cf Job 4:7-8). A belief that somehow still abounds today.

This is why Jesus did not respond with indignant comment on the atrocities of people who werekilled, either intentionally by evil doers or accidentally by uncontrollable acts of nature. His message is clear:do not equate tragedy with divine punishment and do not be self assured for "unless you repent, you will all perish as they did”(Lk 13: 3, 5). The emphasis is not so much on “why” but on “when”. If life’s fragility and the suddenness of death threaten, then the need for repentance is even more urgent. Calamity, no matter how tragic it is, is temporal but the loss of soul is eternal. This is not to say that the loss of people does not matter, Jesus simply wants us to prioritize our attention and seize God’s grace when there is still time. While God may use suffering as an instrument for purification and sanctification, and tragedies may help us to becomemore reflective and deliberative, they often come so unexpectedly that they are the end, not the beginning, of our opportunities to be reconciled with God.

The source of that urgent call is love. God’s love is more than the tolerance of the gardener of the vineyard. Repentance is not only for the murderers, the adulterers, the liars or the non-believers. It is an ongoing awareness and attitude of our condition and our relationship with God.Encountering the reality of suffering enables us to realize that God, who took upon Himself our sins and suffered for us, loves us in a way that surpasses all human understanding.