When Bad Things Happen to Innocent Bystanders

Posted on September 5, 2019 by Robert Ringer


While pundits and politicians use the mass shootings in Dayton, El Paso, and Odessa to score cheap political points, I thought it would be a good time to take a deep breath and reflect on that age-old question, Why do bad things happen to good people — or, perhaps more accurately, to innocent bystanders?

To address this question, let’s start with the Universe and work our way down to Planet Earth and humankind.  The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it even exists.  Why does there need to be a Universe at all?  Why not just one galaxy?  Or one planet?  Or one rock?  Or nothing at all?

The second most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is its vastness.  The endless trillions of cosmic bodies that inhabit it are so far apart that we would know almost nothing about even our closest neighbors were it not for our knowledge of the language of the Universe, math.


  • The nearest star — repeat, nearest — to our solar system is Proxima Centauri — 4.3 light years away. For the record, a light year is 186,000 (miles/second) x 86,400 (seconds in a day) x 365 (days in a year).

    By my calculations, that’s more than twenty-five trillion miles, or a hundred billion times further than the distance between the earth and the moon.

    Not exactly a good bet for a Sandals vacation, given that a 21st century spaceship would take at least 25,000 years to get there.  Or, if we could ramp that up to a futuristic spaceship that could travel at the speed of a million miles per hour, we could cut the time down to about 6,000 years.

  • As to our own little solar system — which is just one of trillions of such systems in the Universe — it’s still so big that no one will ever reach its outer edge. Although we cannot be certain of the exact distance, we know that it has to be at least three billion miles or so from where we reside.
  • Of course, the Universe is another thing altogether. The mathematically visible Universe is said to be a million million million million miles across.  That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles.  However, most scientists suspect that it’s really millions of times bigger than this.
  • There are 200 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and there are perhaps as many as 150 billion other galaxies in the known Universe.

The reality is that it’s impossible for the human mind to comprehend the vastness of the Universe.  The spaces between the planets, stars, and galaxies are far too great to be navigated by intelligent life, at least via any mode of travel that we understand today.

Back here on our own little world, you and I, on average, are comprised of seven billion billion billion atoms, but no one has a clue as to what caused these atoms to come together in just the right way to create us.  Nor do we know why atoms even exist.  Further, after having gone through all the trouble to make you, the atoms that formed you are dismissive of your existence.

That’s right, we’re nothing more than a collection of atoms that will someday desert us, at which time we will longer exist in human form.  But even though you disappear, the atoms that formed you go on to make up other things.  Strangely, those atoms are never alive in any sense that we understand, which, by secular standards of logic, makes no sense at all.

Which brings us to mankind’s eternal question:  What is the purpose of life?  Answer:  No one has a clue.  Nor does anyone know why there is such a thing as a Universe or why it developed in just the right way as to make intelligent life possible.  Perhaps astronaut Gene Cernan — the last man to walk on the moon — gave as good an explanation as any as to what otherwise makes absolutely no sense to the human mind:

“What I saw as I looked at the earth from the moon was that it was all too beautiful to have happened by accident.  This could not have been the result of two dust particles coming together.  I wanted to grab that crescent Earth, put it in my spacesuit and take it home and show it to people.  Looking up at the Earth, I had the sense that I was sitting on God’s front porch.”

Given a complete lack of evidence to the contrary, until a more logical explanation comes along, Cernan’s view sounds pretty good to me.  But is the Earth really all that unique?  When all is said and done, it’s still just another ball of rocks and minerals spinning around in a seemingly unremarkable solar system located in a seemingly unremarkable galaxy, which itself is located in a seemingly unremarkable part of the Universe.  We know all this to be true because the human mind, compared to all other species, it is not unremarkable.  It is unique.

That said, it is somewhat ironic that we know so much about the physical Universe but almost nothing about preventing manmade tragedies like mass shootings.  And until that changes, notwithstanding the grandstanding of politicians, bad things will continue to happen to innocent bystanders.

So sad … and so frustrating.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

11 responses to “When Bad Things Happen to Innocent Bystanders”

  1. JurassicRick says:

    The universe is indeed mind-boggling and hard to image being an endless void out there that does not end. To me, it s also mind-boggling and hard to image, with our very short time here on earth, that unbelievably terrible things have to happen to other people, especially good people who do not deserve those kinds of imaginably bad and horrific things to happen to them. The question is why does it have to happen, what does it accomplish, and what purpose does it all serve in the end?

    • Vechy1 says:

      Hi, I look at it this way. We should all be kind to one another because one day we may all succumb to a global killer like in the movie Armageddon.

  2. Ivan says:

    When you look at the age of the human race and if you believe we’ve all been through a series of births or deaths, then one can’t help to believe that we all have experienced good and bad in different lifetimes and even different countries. I sometimes like to believe the above. For now, I like to think that we’ve been given one shot at life here on earth and to make it a good one. After all, I wouldn’t want “instant karma” coined by John Lennon to get me.

  3. desertjeito says:

    Cernan is right, "all too beautiful to have happened by accident." And it didn't. The purpose of it all? As God, our Father stated "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." We have both a spirit body and a temporal, mortal body of flesh and bone that is given life by our spirit body, which enters the womb of our mother before we are born. Upon death, our spirit body leaves our mortal body which then is without life, reverting slowly to it's basic elements. Our spirit then returns to our home which we had earlier left when we entered our mother's womb. This is all part of God's plan. There are experiences and lessons we can learn only in our mortal state. He wants us to learn these things, which entail trials and tribulations that we must pass through in order to achieve the progress He wants us to achieve. But our time on this earth is limited. The choices we make while in the flesh will affect our future after our mortal death. At some point in that future, our mortal body will be reunited with our spirit body and we will then have an immortal body of flesh and bone just as Jesus has. That's what his resurrection entailed: the uniting of his mortal body, which had lain dead for three days, with his spirit body, which had left the mortal body upon his death on the cross. This is all part of our Father's plan. Our Father? God, who is the Father of our spirits, and who is the Father of Jesus. When Jesus prayed, He wasn't praying to himself. He was praying to His Father – the Father of His spirit, who is also our Father, the Father of our spirits. Yes, we are literally all brothers and sisters, and Jesus is our elder brother, who consented to receive an earthly mortal body, show us all the path we need to follow if we wish to have eternal joy and live with Him and the Father eternally, and then to sacrifice His life upon the cross in order for us to gain an eternal body of flesh and bone. Our Father in Heaven is the intelligent being who planned the creation of this earth, as well as the entire universe. Yes, He is that intelligent. He has perfect intelligence. None of us mortal beings can comprehend this. But His power comes from His obedience to eternal universal laws. And He obeys them perfectly. And the elements in turn are obedient to his commands. Well, all of what I just stated is true. Whether one does or does not accept it as truth does not change it's veracity. It just is; things as they really are. To gain a more comprehensive understanding, go to : https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org, the official web site of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints.

  4. larajf says:

    I remember the story you told once about the car behind you that got hit head on and your mixed emotions about it. Yes, unfortunate things do happen. I have to connect to my faith with the belief that there's a reason for everything, and we just don't understand it. And maybe it's best to be kind and focus on areas of agreement to make the world a better place where we can.

  5. davidmbrowndotcom says:

    I am having trouble posting a reply to Robert Ringer's article; perhaps my reply is too long. However, I have posted it at my own blog and perhaps the system will allow me to link to it: "When bad arguments happen to good writers."

  6. MomentofClarity says:

    why do our problems seem so huge and unsolvable when we are so small and insignificant? …

  7. HonestProfessor says:

    A few theories:

    1. Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. One day it will be restored to what it was meant to be.

    2. Bad things happen because we need a challenge to overcome in order to grow spiritually. If we just sat on pillowy clouds sucking candy canes all day, what would we learn or achieve?

    3. We agreed to experience the hardships before we came to Earth. Look up "soul contract".

    4. Bad things are needed so good things can be expressed. If a person has a desire to provide tenderness and care, that person can become a nurse. But there has to be a sick or injured other person to be cared for.

    It is interesting to study near-death experiences, which are very consistent throughout ages and cultures. I think when we cross over, everything will be very clear and we will say, "Oh yes, of course!" It will all make perfect sense. Where we go after this life is another question. Do we keep reincarnating on this planet (as in Langdon Smith's poem "When you were a tadpole and I was a fish") or do we assume another form on one of the billions of other planets that there must be in the universe? What's going on at one of those unreachable planets right now?

    • davidmbrowndotcom says:

      1. Fallen from what? Who dropped it? 2. Overcoming challenges doesn't require the existence of "bad things," just the fact that many things worth achieving are not achieved automatically and require some struggle to achieve. There is no prerequisite that something bad be confronting us in order for that basic fact to be true. Whether we have to deal with bad things or not, effort–sometimes strenuous and prolonged effort–is required to gain values worth gaining. 3. No, nobody "agreed to anything" before being born, i.e., before existing. 4. No, bad things are not "needed so good things can be expressed." One can be tender and caring toward significant others even if those persons are not sick, injured, or terribly flawed in character. What would it mean to marry someone and claim to love that person, but to then behave coldly toward that person for years, becoming tender and caring only after that person has become the victim of a crippling and disfiguring car accident?

  8. EndoGear says:

    what is the bad story with happened, i have no interest

  9. mchenkzemi says:

    This best travel credit card has rewards earned, credit score, types of travel credit cards and how to redeem your points earned.A travel credit card is one that rewards customers with points or miles that may be redeemed for travel-related transactions, such as plane tickets and hotel accommodations.For people who travel frequently or very often, a travel credit card will be very necessary.