Why Do Tragic Things Happen To Good People?

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Brian Kight

The conversation was boring. At least to me. I was at a table in Starbucks with my dad and another man as they discussed local community topics of no particular importance. It wasn’t gossip but it wasn’t meaningful either. Just boring.

I was 23 years old at the time. Local community talk about the things happening in their church, their golf game, and their 401k’s was about as interesting to me as the tiles on the floor.

In a minute the discussion suddenly changed. What I heard and experienced penetrated the depths of my heart and lit a fire of conviction that has blazed in me ever since.

The man asked, “Did you hear about the Smiths? [Not their real name] They just found out their youngest son was diagnosed with cancer. He’s only two. Heartbreaking.”

Neither me nor my dad had heard the news. I didn’t know the family at all. My dad only knew them as members of his church.

He continued, “It’s heartbreaking. There’s no explanation. They’re such good people. They’re such good Christians. I mean, I don’t know. If that happened to one of my kids, I don’t think I could keep my faith.”

I asked what he meant.

He explained, “If my two year-old was diagnosed with cancer? I don’t think I could continue believing in a God that would let that happen to us. After all our devotion, prayer, and contribution? I wouldn’t be able to believe in it anymore. I wouldn’t be willing after something like that. It would be too much for me.”

That moment, that perspective, changed me forever.

What struck me was how selfish, weak, and fragile his worldview was. I don’t mean in a religious way. That was just the context he spoke in that day. I mean in any way similar to that. I also don’t mean in any way judgmental of him. He was a good man with a good heart full of love for his children. And he was scared.

What I realized was life-shaping for me. Why wouldn’t bad things happen to me and people I care about? What unique protection do I have from the tragedies I hear about? What lasting promise do I have that my own trials won’t be that heartbreaking?

The answer to me was as obvious then as it is now: I have no personal exemptions, no unique protections, no lasting promises to be free from tragedy. I am as exposed to the devastating aspects of life as everyone else. I am not in the least bit special or privileged to escape that level of heartbreak.

My conviction is to never ask, “Why me?”, when I experience pain. Because if I ask that question for myself, but I don’t ask it for everyone else, I place my importance above other people. And I’m not more important than other people.

Instead I ask myself, “Why not me?” That grounds me. It keeps me humble. It keeps me empathetic. It keeps me conscious of the inevitable. It keeps me grateful no matter what happens.

I choose to see life as it is, not as I believe it was supposed to go for me. If my beliefs are dependent on good things happening to me, I don’t think those were ever real beliefs to begin with. They were only convenient facades. I choose beliefs that fill my sails in smooth seas and fill my courage in life’s storms.

Living and loving in this life is inseparably bound to pain and loss. I believe that. I accept that. I cherish it. I value it. Bring it on. All of it.

Everything is training for something. Do the work.

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