Why do bad things happen to good people?

by Chaitanya Charan dasJanuary 23, 2014

Here’s an analogy to understand the answer. In villages, grain is often stored in huge vertical containers; fresh grain is poured into the top, and old stored grain is taken out from the bottom. A farmer may have produced poor quality grain of, say, brand Z for the past four years and stocked it in his container. This year he produces high quality grain of, say, brand A and stores it at the top. He is therefore exasperated when he finds grain of brand Z coming out from the bottom. This illustrates how seemingly innocent people suffer in this life: they have been doing good things in this life, but have earlier done bad things whose reactions are coming to them now.

The workings of karma are often difficult to appreciate is that most people have a karmic record that is neither white nor black, but shades of gray. That mixed record leads to reactions that often appear arbitrary. A question that vexes many when they see bad things happening to good people is: “If these people were really so bad in their earlier lives, how could they have been virtuous in this life for so long?”

There are several possible answers. We often see even upright people occasionally succumbing to temptation and perpetrating abominable misdeeds. Of course, their virtuous nature rectifies them quickly, but still the fact remains that they did commit a greatly sinful act and are therefore liable for a reaction. So the wrongdoing, like an ugly black spot on their otherwise clean karmic slate, will result in a severe reaction in an otherwise happy future life. Shift this scenario one lifetime backwards and we have the answer to the above question. The harsh affliction coming to a good person may thus be due to an occasional but grave transgression in a previous life.

Also, our behavior in this life is not determined only by our tendencies in the previous life; upbringing and association in this life also play a significant role. So if people with bad inclinations are born into a good family because of some good karma, their congenial upbringing and surroundings may empower them to shed their baggage of negative propensities. Thus they may become moral in this life, but their misdeeds from previous lives will make them suffer despite their rectified conduct now.

Thus the principles of reincarnation allow us to view life with a much broader perspective—not from the standpoint of one brief lifetime, which is nothing more than a flash in time, but from the standpoint of eternity. With this broader vision we can understand how each of us individual souls is alone responsible for what happens in our life.

[No doubt, the issue of karmic justice is complex and one short answer can’t do justice to it. You can read more about it on these links:

Does the concept of karma have a logical basis?

Why me? What did I do to deserve this?

Why are some people born wealthy and some born poor? ]

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan das
5 Comments
  • krishna dasa
    August 18, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    as you rightly pointed out ,concept of karma is very complex ,and often difficult to comprehend for common man , but the bad things that sometimes happens to good people may also be due to different reasons .now this alternative cause of suffering of good people is exclusively for people who are not just good ,but also devotees of the lord .

    there is a very informative verse in srimad bhagavatam 10.88.8 ,which says

    srī-bhagavan uvaca
    yasyaham anugṛhṇami
    hariṣye tad-dhanam sanaiḥ
    tato ’dhanaṁ tyajanty asya
    svajanā duḥkha-duḥkhitam

    “The Personality of Godhead said: If I especially favor someone, I gradually deprive him of his wealth. Then the relatives and friends of such a poverty-stricken man abandon him. In this way he suffers one distress after another.”

    this above verse very clearly explains the reason why apparently the people who are not just good ,but also a devotees of the lord , feel so much problems and suffering .
    srila prabhupada explains “But if the Lord is so compassionate to His devotees, why does He expose them to special suffering? This is answered by an analogy: A very affectionate father takes the responsibility of restricting his children’s play and making them go to school. He knows that this is a genuine expression of his love for them, even if the children fail to understand. Similarly, the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu is mercifully strict with all His dependents, not only with immature devotees struggling to become qualified. Even perfect saints like Prahlāda, Dhruva and Yudhiṣṭhira were subjected to great tribulations, all for their glorification ”

    but it is clearly explained ,that the sufferings felt by such great devotees , are not due to consequences of material work but as incidental effects of their loving reciprocation with the Lord .

  • keshav kashmiri
    October 31, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    hare krishna

    As krishna dasa pointed out the another reason for why often bad things happen to good people ,as bhagavatam says

    “If I especially favor someone, I gradually deprive him of his wealth. Then the relatives and friends of such a poverty-stricken man abandon him. In this way he suffers one distress after another.”

    then why at other places ,in sastras ,like for eg

    In the Padma Purana, in the Vaishakha-mahatmya, in a conversation of Narada Muni and King Ambarisha, it is said: (quoted from hari bhakti vilasa ,eleventh vilasa ) .

    “When He is worshiped with devotion, the Supreme Personality of Godhead responds by fulfilling all desires. He gives beautiful wife, good children, long life, kingdom, residence in Svargaloka, and final liberation. ”

    and there are many more such statements in sastras ,where such material doses are given like good wife ,svargaloka and long life . when bhagavatam clearly says ,such material benefits are impediments to attain devotional service to krishna ,and thus as 10.88.8 says , devotees at times also their material possessions ,as a mercy of lord ,then why such transcendental devotion to lord ,is brought down to some material benefits by the same scriptures ,as it is seen from the verse quoted above from HBV .

    what is the result of those who worship lord hari ,do they lose their possessions or become rich in their possessions ,as above things seems contradictory . please explain .

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