Why does God allow unemployment to happen to good people?

It’s a question that has vexed religious communities for millennia, and in a time of high unemployment and low prosperity, … Continued

It’s a question that has vexed religious communities for millennia, and in a time of high unemployment and low prosperity, it seems more relevant than ever: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

Stephen Rhymer, a 59-year-old from Oklahoma who has been out of work for two and a half years, recently wrote to the Post about how the question has caused him to reconsider his belief in God for the first time.

“After a lifetime of religious education, reading and soul-searching, God has become an on-again-off-again God to me, who capriciously grants only those prayers that appeal, and then only when God feels like it,” Rhymer wrote in an entry for the Post’s “Help Wanted: Stories of Unemploymentproject. “A God who permits suffering under the guise of ‘teaching a lesson’ or ‘testing’ is a God who just isn’t that interested.”

Rhymer is not alone, of course.

While there is little available polling data on the subject of faith and employment, religion experts said that if there were, it would likely show that many believers facing economic difficulty also question their faith.

“The inequality in distribution of good and bad has always been a question that has led some people to deep and profound outrage at God,” said Charles Matthews, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia.

Matthews said the modern American religious institutions have been hurt by this downturn more than previous ones because they have largely abandoned their historical role as economic support systems. That “identity shift,” caused by the increasing role of government welfare programs, has made religious organizations less appealing to the poor and jobless.

But Matthews said the impact of tough times on individuals can go both ways – while some will lose their faith, others will more fully embrace God.

“It’s like if you put pressure on a building,” he said. “In some situations, the building will be stronger because of that pressure. And in some cases, it won’t.”

Father Jonathan Morris believes in the former outcome more than the latter.

The Catholic priest and news commentator noted that almost all people seeking spiritual guidance do so after encountering crisis.

The nature of the crisis? That’s essentially irrelevant, Morris said. It can be material or mental, natural or manufactured, permanent or temporary. Regardless, it causes people to look to a higher power for answers.

The unemployed follow the same pattern, Morris said.

“When you haven’t had a job for a week or six months or two years, you enter into crisis mode because you can’t control your life,” he said. “And when people are at that point, they come running (to the church).”

“Crisis allows us an opportunity to either become bitter or to become better,” Morris added, arguing that those who allow material conditions to affect their relationship with God are being selfish and those who do not will always find comfort in faith.

As for the more fundamental question of why God allows evil to occur, Morris said most suffering is caused by the misuse of free will. Other ways of suffering, such as natural disasters and sickness, were not in God’s original plan and “points to the fact that we’re living in an imperfect world,” he said.

“There is an answer to that, which is the afterlife,” he said.

For the unemployed Rhymer, the answer is less clear. While he still believes in God and some version of the afterlife, the Oklahoman thinks God has “certainly been ignoring me and my prayers for the last two and a half years.”

In response to a Facebook callout asking for reactions to Rhymer’s post, dozens of readers said that unemployment has brought them closer to God.

Karla Atherton wrote that it “made us realize how wrong and selfish we were…We have realized further what’s more important in life, rather than any economic interest.”

Another reader, Keena Powers, wrote that “If you have faith, then nothing in this material world has any meaning, and so should not affect one’s faith. I don’t really believe God is in charge of our economy anyway. Why should he care?”

And Naomi Wright wrote she “will always trust in the Lord no matter what!”

Only a handful of readers disagreed with that attitude. Those readers expressed disappointment and confusion.

Lehua Wells admitted that her “faith in anything is completely destroyed.”

Another reader, Donna Hortz, stated simply “I hope He shows up soon.”

Wells, Hortz and the other doubters were rebutted by those whose faith has been unaltered.

“If anything affects one’s relationship with God, it’s never been that solid,” wrote Guilherme Bernard de Paula.

What do you think? Has the unemployment, recession or other economic difficulty caused you to question your relationship with God? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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  • gladerunner

    Even in a time of recession and/or sluggish recovery, where millions of Americans have lost jobs and exhausted benefits and savings, one must still say that from a global perspective, the good ‘ol USA is really not such a bad place to live. The standard of living in the US is still, even with these ‘dire’ economic times, much higher than many, many, if not most places in the world. Take India for example. A growing, emerging country where the poverty rate is 41%. Even worse, many African countries. If God has not sought to pull these souls from desperate poverty, ravenous starvation and the illness and deaths of so many children, I deeply doubt that the economic conditions in the U.S. are even on his radar.
    If God does actually care about those global tragedies then the ‘suffering’ here in the U.S. is certainly well above his action point of intervention. I’ll believe that god is lifting a hand to help the U.S. after I see what he does/doesn’t do for the truly desperate everywhere else.

  • ThomasBaum

    Ever thought that God gave us to each other?

  • YEAL9

    If and only if there is a god which is a big IF:

    From Father Edward Schillebeeckx, the famous contemporary theologian in his book, Church: The Human Story of God, Crossroad, 1993, p.91 (softcover):

    “Christians (humans) must give up a perverse, unhealthy and inhuman doctrine of predestination without in so doing making God the great scapegoat of history” .

    “Nothing is determined in advance: in nature there is chance and determinism; in the world of human activity there is possibility of free choices.

    Therefore the historical future is not known even to God; otherwise we and our history would be merely a puppet show in which God holds the strings.

    For God, too, history is an adventure, an open history for and of men and women.”

  • JohnnyDale1

    When are people going to grow up? Your imaginary friend has nothing to do with your employment prospects – unless you make your living by fleecing the gullible that is.


    There is no God.

    Ben Bernanke, who THINKS he’s God, allows unemployment to happen to people.

  • PhillyJimi

    I was taught growing up, god always answers prayers in 3 ways: Yes, No and Not Yet. Just think about this BS, talk about covering all your bases, as if there are any other options?

    If you’re a believer you have to admit at best, god is a 1st class “dead beat dad”. When you need him, he can’t be found. When something good happens then he magically swoops in and takes all the credit.

    Example, when an earthquake kills 50,000 people but a baby is found alive a week later, every gives god the credit for the miracle of saving the baby but none of the blame for killing 50,000 people. I find the power of indoctrination babies in faith to be amazing, as to be able to blind the simple logic behind something like this.

    Ask the pious why this is, and they will regurgitate the same old canned answers they have always sold. Yes, they’re selling something but you don’t have to buy it.

  • PhillyJimi

    Gladerunner at best this argument for your magic man in the sky is a “dead beat dad” kind of god that is completely useless. He takes all the credit for good things and makes excuses and can’t be found when things go bad.

    Also since the big guy in the sky has retired from doing magic, ever since his zombie son walk around 2000 years ago. How is possible to directly help the poorest without helping the richest (USA)? For example, lets use one of your moral and loving god’s creations, small pox, he must of blessed the US in order to develop the resources and technology to eradicate that disease from the face of the earth. I mean prayer alone didn’t work.

    Small pox what a beautiful example of our creator’s love and compassion. I can see why everyone wants to spend forever with a being that was so loving to create something as wonderful as small pox in order for him to test our faith in him.

    Yes the zombie’s logic is as clear a mud in a pitch black room.

  • gladerunner

    Thomas Baum:
    “Ever thought that God gave us to each other?”

    If so, then what do we need God for? If he is not going to intervene on the behalf of the poor, the meek, the starving, the unemployed, the suffering, the sick, the dying, then why bother praying to him for relief at all?

  • Rongoklunk

    “Why does God allow unemployment to happen to good people?”

    Because he doesn’t actually exist outside of the human mind. There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise. He’s the most ancient of ancient beliefs.

    All cultures invented gods at a time before they invented science or common sense. They lacked all knowledge, and god was the first thing they came up with when trying to figure things out.

    That the ancients embraced the god hypothesis is understandable. They were ignorant and totally superstitious, and believed spirits were behind anything that moved. I’m sure that I would believe too – if I’d been around back then.

    But we know better now. There are no gods and never were.

  • Rongoklunk


    It doesn’t even phase believers that their god never ever shows up. Never. You might ask where was god during the Holocaust? Where was he during the two world wars? Where was he when the Asian tsunami of 2002 killed hundreds of thousands? Where was this superdude during the recent disaster in Japan? Voltaire asked the same questions after the great Lisbon earthquake. It’s a great question. But the indoctrinated are blind to commonsense and probing questions about god’s actual existence. They are hypnotized as children – when too young to discriminate between what makes sense and what is patently absurd.
    Give me the child for seven years – say the clerics – and I will give you back a totally indoctrinated man who believes forever in the great invisible skygod.

  • tony55398

    Either God is infinite or He is not. An infinite God knows all, the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things. Too many believe God is a good luck charm to be carried about protecting one from all harm He is no such thing, yet when you put your entire life in his hands He will truly be your help and guide, and when you do have troubles He will always be at your side. The sun shines on all, the good and the bad and all will be judged accordingly.

  • david6

    God is indistinguishable from nothing.

  • tony55398

    Is Love nothing?

  • gladerunner

    “yet when you put your entire life in his hands He will truly be your help and guide, and when you do have troubles He will always be at your side.”
    What you are saying is that he will always ‘be at your side’ (passive), but he won’t actually do anything/much to help you, he will not intervene unless he feels like it, for reasons that are a secret, known only to him.
    So what comfort is there in having a powerful magic being at my side that isn’t going to at least keep me from accidentally stepping in front of a bus, even if I beg him to?

  • Kingofkings1

    “Crisis allows us an opportunity to either become bitter or to become better,”


    I believe the above sentence was sufficient for this article in terms of sufficient explanation of the title. The rest was unnecessary

  • ForChrist

    The question seems to be whether Rhymer is a normal individual in questioning his faith after being out of work for two years. It would wonderful to think that when trials come one’s faith would never buckle but that is rather naive.

    One of the greatest demonstrations of faith is Peter walking on the water. One minute he was doing the seemingly impossible and shortly thereafter he was sinking. His faith was obviously stronger than most, enough to step over the side of the boat while in the midst of a tumultuous storm and defy the Law of Physics. But something happened to his faith. What? Perhaps a momentary thought popped into his head thinking to himself, “No one can walk on water.” (I’m sure it would’ve crossed mine) While we’re on “thoughts” it is good not to forget about Satan (or one of his demonic staff) who thrive on encouraging a believer to question their faith in God when at their weakest point. Do we somehow think any of us are exempt from such attacks? Christ Himself underwent such attacks especially during his moments of physical weakness such as while fasting in the wilderness. Likewise, Jesus cried out in His greatest hour; “My God, My God, why hast thou forgotten me?” Did he ever feel separated from His Father or alone?

    For the Christian, the old sin-nature is always present, battling for supremacy over the new nature of Christ living in us. Perhaps Peter found that out as the storm’s mountainous seas and wind-driven rain caused him to take his eyes off Jesus and that’s all it takes for anyone’s faith to be thrown into disarray.

    Having experienced unemployment myself (some years earlier) for nearly seven years which forced the sale of our home, the relocation of my family and back to school, along with enduring five major back surgeries, starting over financially at age 55, etc, I can readily identify with Rhymer in that having one’s faith flounder during times of extreme turmoil in life is not unusual. Many of us struggle to keep our eyes upon Jesus w