In legal usage in the English-speaking world, an “act of God” is a natural hazard outside human control for which no person can be held responsible. - Wikipedia
Woe upon woe! One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news: “Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: “Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” Job 1:13-19 NLT
Before getting to the cascade of peer pressure and faulty assumptions in the story of Job’s life, I think it is instructive to look at the disasters and emotional assaults Satan piled on him.
Of the four messengers bringing tidings of woe, two were of natural disasters and two of man-made agency. The emotional impact was even worse, cascading in intensity like hammer blows, one after the other, piling on and culminating in the news of the death of his children.
From time immemorial, history is full of stories of the strong preying on the weak.
In Job’s time, there was no central government concerned with the safety and security of its citizens, or police or courts to administer justice. The two clans mentioned in Job 1, Sabeans and Chaldeans, are well documented as being prolific raiders, pillagers and thieves. Shifting loyalties and threats from raiding neighbors were just a constant way of life for people living east of the Mediterranean, and as we have already discovered, Job was the richest man in the region and therefore a tempting target for any force with a “might is right” and “I’ll just take whatever I want” attitude.
Although our Scripture focuses on Job, his experience would not necessarily be unusual, and many unrecorded attacks and raids would have been inflicted on his neighbors as well if they had family, assets or possessions coveted by the raiders. The only remarkable thing about Job’s experience in this regard is his reaction to these events and his unwavering devotion to the only true God, as opposed to the idolatry and superstition of the pagan people surrounding him.
As an aside, lest we think that we are much more evolved in our ethics, we only need to look as far as the shoplifters in our local supermarkets, or the war in Ukraine, to see that human nature has not improved at a basic level since the days of Job!
The other two calamities were what we would normally describe as “natural disasters” — “fire from heaven” is probably a reference to lightning, which can certainly strike in a localized area causing the devastation and effects the messenger describes. We today are not unfamiliar with “powerful winds” and the major difference is that our knowledge of building practices make our houses stronger. However, we are not immune as the following photograph of damage to a house after strong winds blew a tree down recently near me show:
Yet another calamity which befell Job was a profound and painful sickness. If we were to diagnose Job’s affliction with today’s knowledge we might assume that he had contracted either shingles or a severe staphylococcus bacterial infection of the skin causing painful boils. In either case, without the benefit of modern analgesics, he would be in severe, unrelenting pain and probably unable to sleep or find relief leading to profound depression.
Plagues and sickness have always afflicted mankind indiscriminately, with faith providing no particular barrier to infection. Our recent experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, shows that it affected believers and non-believers equally!
What the story of Job tells us is that he was no more exempt from calamity because of his faith in God than his pagan neighbors were!
Faith does not provide us with a guarantee that the vicissitudes of life will magically pass us by!
What is different for people of faith is our reaction to these events, and a willingness to look for how God’s glory will be expressed in that reaction. There is an instructive incident found in the life of Jesus:
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him…” John 9:1-3 NLT
And Jesus then proceeded to show the power of God’s glory by miraculously healing the man!
So, the answer to the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?”, Is that bad things can, and do, and will happen to people, regardless of whether they are good or bad, believers or not. It is not some preferential act of God, but rather a consequence of the way the world works.
Note that the way the world works is not the way God originally intended, but because of free will and mankind choosing sin, is the reality that surrounds us. In fact, perversely, bad things may be targeted at good people precisely because they are good — exactly the case when Satan attacks Job.
When we are confronted by calamity, as Christians our response should be informed by the reaction of both Job and Jesus and look for ways to express God’s glory in the face of dire circumstances.
Jesus warned us that we would have trouble in this world if we are his followers, but he also informs us that He has already overcome the source of troubles.
"Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." John 16:33 NLT So let us be like Job and glorify God anyway — especially in the midst of affliction! The world will take notice!
Blessings on you and yours