Why do bad things happen to good people? Part I

I feel like this is one of the most asked questions in the world, and since this blog is supposedly about answering the “big questions,” I think it’s one we should address. This question has been on my mind since reading the article Brigham talked about in his post a couple days ago, and it’s a question that often causes us to question the existence of God.

As an economist (don’t worry, I’ll try to leave that phrase out of at least one post a month), I spend a lot of time thinking about causal relationships or what things cause some phenomenon to occur. Because my 24/7/365 graduate school experience has brainwashed me, I’m going to approach this question in the same way I approach most questions.

I’m going to start off by defining the phenomenon we’re looking at (“bad things” is a pretty vague description). When people say “bad things,” they’re probably referring to things that happen to them that they didn’t want to happen, or things that decrease their overall level of satisfaction with life (or utility, as we call it in economics).

Next, let’s look at all possible sources for these bad things. I think everything that happens to us in this life, good or bad, can fit into one of three categories:

  1. A direct or indirect result of my own actions
  2. A direct or indirect result of the actions of others
  3. Anything else (we’ll call this “natural causes”)

In my next few posts, I would like to give a Mormon’s perspective on each of these categories. I’ll discuss what I believe about why each of these types of causes sometimes leads to bad consequences. I’ll also discuss my thoughts on why the existence of these cause/effect relationships does not provide evidence against the existence of God.

As I’m putting together my thoughts on these different categories, I’d really like to hear the viewpoints you have to share. I think any thoughts you have on why bad things happen to good people would be very helpful. I’d also like to hear any arguments for how the existence of these very negative events in our lives is evidence against the existence of God. Please share your thoughts in the comments, as they will help me to reevaluate some of my own thoughts and to address your concerns.

For now, I’d like to direct you to a chapter in the Book of Mormon that discusses these questions so that you can start to see where my perspective is coming from. In this chapter, which takes place in about 600 BC, a Jewish man by the name of Lehi who has trekked through the desert and sailed across the ocean to America with his family to escape destruction and persecution in their old home town, Jerusalem, is close to death and is giving his young son some final words of counsel. During their extremely long journey, this family had clearly suffered a lot, and in this chapter, Lehi is explaining the purpose of this suffering to his son. He makes some very interesting points, and I’d recommend you read them and comment about them here.

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