Why bad things happen to good people according to Americans

“For the Thing I feared has overtaken me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. I cannot relax or be still; I have no rest for trouble comes” (Job 3:25-26).

This has been a question that great thinkers have grappled with since suffering entered into our reality. Long before Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book “When Bad Things happen to Good People” or Dr. James Dobson’s book “When God doesn’t make sense” men and women have been wrestling with the theodicy question.

During the pandemic the Pew Research Center Surveyed 6,485 American adults including 1,421 evangelicals in September about how they philosophically “make sense of suffering and bad things happening to people.”

While in times past a tint of theological meaning or spirituality might infuse the answer, in our modern age that seems to be fading away.

According to the Pew study:

“Americans largely blame random chance—along with people’s own actions and the way society is structured—for human suffering, while relatively few believers blame God or voice doubts about the existence of God for this reason,” it concluded.

While many Americans do prescribe many of their bad circumstances to purely random chance the metaphysical roll of the dice. Many do see purpose or lesson(s) that can be learned from the pain and suffering experienced stating:

The vast majority of U.S. adults ascribe suffering at least partly to random chance, saying that the phrase “sometimes bad things just happen” describes their views either very well (44%) or somewhat well (42%).

Yet it is also quite common for Americans to feel that suffering does not happen in vain. More than half of U.S. adults (61%) think that suffering exists “to provide an opportunity for people to come out stronger.” And, in a separate set of questions about various religious or spiritual beliefs, two-thirds of Americans (68%) say that “everything in life happens for a reason.”

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