33. Why do Bad things happen to Good People
One afternoon I was passing time with my friend Bryce in a rather seedy and rundown café, discussing a topic that I had previously explored with my mother: Why do bad things happen to good people?
Why, since God loves us, should there be so much suffering in the world?
We were seated at a table on which some previous guest had spilt sugar – whether recently or even days ago we could not tell. As we chatted, my down-at-heel philosophic friend was absent-mindedly pushing around crystals of sugar with his thumb. My amusement with his sugar construction made him suddenly aware of what he’d been doing and he laughed and then began to tell me a story about another time, and another table, where he’d also been playing with fallen sugar.
He said he hadn’t paid much attention to his actions at the time until he noticed a small ant running about distractedly at the farthest end of the table as it searched for food scraps, first skirting around a puddle of milk, then disappearing under a spoon, to re-emerge with undiminished resolve.
Recognizing that there was plenty of food for the ant to enjoy if it could just make its way across the table top, Bryce patiently followed the ant’s erratic path with a hovering hand. Each time the ant veered off course and away from the unsuspected sugar bounty waiting at the far side, Bryce planted his big thumb in its path. The ant would run headlong into his thumb and be deflected into a path that would take it closer to the sugar.
This was quite a time-consuming process and after a while he began to imagine the irritation the little creature must be feeling as it collided with one obstacle after another, seemingly to no purpose. He imagined the ant feeling quite irritated and then, as the obstacles continued, its irritation would turn to anger and eventually to overwhelming frustration, despair and futility.
The ant had no way of knowing that each seemingly arbitrary obstacle was really the intervention of an unseen force that had the ant’s greatest well-being at heart or that, with each apparent misfortune, the object of its search was drawing ever closer.
That’s pretty much been the story of my own life: running headlong into painful obstacles. I was the despair of my headmistress at school, and of my Bible Class teacher at church. I won’t list all the disasters here because I’ve embarrassed my parents enough already, so you’ll just have to trust me. But I’ve grown up enough now to know that running into painful obstacles is not that exceptional after all.
Now I’m old enough to look back and recognise that it was those very experiences that taught me the most valuable life lessons. I know that Bryce’s brief experience with that little ant had made a profound impression on him, for he had seen his own life in the journey of the ant, who was not able to appreciate that each barrier it ran into was in reality guiding it to the very object of its search.
For the first time he recognized a purpose in many of the considerable adversities he had encountered in his own life; that each episode had been especially designed for him and him alone, to help him grow and develop, leading him to recognise the purpose of his creation and in the process to identify and acquire the spiritual qualities that would be needed for him to successfully fulfil his divine purpose on this plane.
As a teacher I too recognised the apparent injustice of some pupils in the eyes of others - the apparent ease of gifted children compared with the challenges of my 'special class' children. So that is what I often thought about during my later work as a counsellor, learning of the great burdens some people have had to face in their lives, compared with the apparent relative ease and comfort of others.
Some life lessons are fun and appealing. Some are confronting and difficult. Now I have grown old enough and wise enough to realise that this process is true for both our material and spiritual education; in responding with strength, patience and determination to adversity, we stretch and expand our present capacity, and uncover innate powers and hidden gifts that we may otherwise have never discovered.
Bryce has passed on now but I know he’d agree with me that, although life is really tough at the time, we wouldn’t have missed a moment of it.
So, getting back to that original question; ‘Why do bad things happen to good people? Why, since God loves us, should there be so much suffering in the world?’; the Bahai Writings advise that in spiritual terms, those tests and difficulties that outwardly appear as ‘bad’ are, in reality, precious lessons.
"O My servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain". ---Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah – CLIII.
"IF ye meet the abased or the downtrodden, turn not away disdainfully from them, for the King of Glory ever watcheth over them and surroundeth them with such tenderness as none can fathom except them that have suffered their wishes and desires to be merged in the Will of your Lord, the Gracious, the All-Wise." ---Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah – CXLV.