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Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

For centuries people have struggled with a vexing question: “If there is a just and all-powerful God, why do bad things happen to good people?” Books have been written to explore this difficult question. Some reject faith, because no answer seems adequate. Others choose to trust that God has a plan they will someday understand. Still others look for the good that may emerge through facing the adversity with optimism, courage and faith. But through all the mental and emotional gymnastics that facing reality requires, the fact remains that bad things do happen to good people!

As I discussed in The Optimism Advantage,” years ago, a cancer survivor shared with a friend his struggle with the question—”Why me?” After a moment’s silence, his friend asked, “Did you ever think to ask yourself ‘Why not me?’” It had never occurred to him to even ask that question. That question unleashed a liberating insight. He realized that life is neither fair nor unfair; it’s simply life. Bad things can happen to anyone. “Why me?” assumes I should be exempt from the pain everyone else feels. “Why not me” is humbling and appropriate. It introduces us to the reality that life’s challenges happen to everyone. Difficult days are facts of life, but learning to deal well with those difficult times can help you become stronger.

Faith helps believers turn adversity into renewed strength. Rabbi Harold Kushner has written extensively on the subject. He affirms, “The God I believe in does not send us the problem; he gives us the strength to cope with it.” There is new scientific evidence that faith does help us cope with loss.

A Canadian study published in Psychological Science, provides a clue as to why people of faith live longer lives and enjoy better physical and mental health. Researchers found that belief in God works much like an anti-anxiety drug, creating a buffer against defensive or distressed reactions. A study by researchers Michael Inzlicht and Alexa Tullet from the University of Toronto Scarborough found that being prompted to think of religion before completing tasks resulted in less defensive reactions in the brain to mistakes.

“Religion seems to act as a palliative for believers. It buffers them against the pains of everyday living. It offers meaning, and it structures their understanding of the world,” says Inzlicht. “As a result, when something bad happens, that framework makes them less anxious about it. The point here is the power of the mind to change external circumstances.”

Perspective matters. Faith matters. You don’t need researchers to prove it. Even in the toughest times, God is near. You may want to memorize two of my favorite verses that I claim in times of adversity and loss:

Matthew 6:33-34: “Your heavenly father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Philippians 4:4-7: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

In these challenging times, may your faith see you through no matter what is happening in your life today.

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