When Bad Things Happen to Good People

In fifth grade, my class held a contest to see who could read the most books. I had the credentials to win this contest. In the third grade, I had set the record for most books read over the year. It was somewhere in the sixties. And some of those books had been long. The Hobbit was on that list. Every summer, I participated in the library’s reading contest. It took me a week or two to get to the t-shirt reward for 1,000 pages read. I was not a reader to be messed with. It’s what I did.

That’s why it hurt so much when I lost the fifth grade contest.

See, there’s another lie that the world tells us. It’s that if you put in the work, if you do the right thing, and if you are a good person, then good tings happen. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. 

I was listening to a podcast from Shane Hipps. He was talking about all of these righteous people that don’t get to experience the fruits of their righteousness. One of the stories was about Dirk Willems, a sixteenth century Dutch Baptist. Dirk Willems was being chased by a magistrate who wanted to execute him, and Dirk went across a thinly iced river. Dirk made it across, but the magistrate wasn’t so lucky. Dirk, feeling compelled to turn the other cheek, went back and saved the magistrate. The magistrate then captured him and executed him. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people.

Dirk Willems saving a magistrate and condemning himself

We are trained to believe that we should do good things because they lead to good rewards, but sometimes they don’t. We should do good things because they are good. I may not have won my fifth grade reading contest, but I did read a bunch of books for it, and that was good because it was good.

1000 Ways to Be a Horrible Person

There’s a show on Spike called 1000 Ways to Die where they showcase a bunch of really strange ways people have died. The entertainment value is practically nonexistent. And the production and acting are even worse than that of those bad Lifetime shows. Still, the show is a bit like a bad train wreck: when it’s on, I feel compelled to watch it for a while.

To make it so that you don’t feel bad about watching the show, the writers for the show characterize every single dying character as morally reprehensible, as if we should be happy about the death.

Death is a silly thing to be happy about. And the show uses no witnesses so it’s impossible to get a fair indication of a person’s moral fortitude.

All of this usually gives me a very sick feeling.

The worst part, though, is we do this all the time in the real world. We try to explain bad things happening to people as having to do something with their character. It doesn’t. Us thinking that way has to do with our character.