A common question people may ask when they are challenging the existence or authority of the Christian God is “If there is a good god why do bad things happen to good people?”. To answer that question, a definition of the word “good” is needed. People may believe they have the authority to decide for themselves what is good based on what seems nice to them. But the word actually describes something that matches up well to an existing standard decided by others (For a longer discussion of this concept read the letter about goodwill on the PeaceAndGodwill.com website). In the Bible the word “good” describes the characteristics of God’s ideas, not ours. God has the authority to define what is “good” for all of His creation.
So if we selfishly insist that we can decide what is good, then yes, bad things happen to supposedly “good” people. Either because we say there is no god so fate or people are in charge, or the god(s) are indifferent or unjust to people who think they deserve better. But a “nice” person who rejects Jesus and dies young from cancer, leaving his family without a breadwinner, is only “good” by our standards, not God’s.
If we defer to the God of the Bible’s authority to decide what is good, but we don’t know how to have a successful relationship with Him, then no, bad things don’t happen to good people because there are no good people (that can meet His standard):
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Romans 3:23 Holman Standard Christian Bible
And using our own understanding of His ideas on what is good to please Him will not work either:
“For no one will be justified (or “declared righteous”, “acquitted”) in His sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.” Romans 3:20 Holman Standard Christian Bible
If we defer to God’s authority and do have a relationship with Him, then yes, bad things happen to God’s “good” people. But this only happens in limited ways and only while still on Earth, because God wants to lead his children into better lives like any responsible parent raising a child. But in this case “bad” things are only bad from the child’s perspective, because they do not understand the reason for chastening and pruning:
“Because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Hebrews 12:6 (NIV)
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.” John 15:1-2 (Holman Christian Standard Bible, quote from Jesus)
A similar question is something like “If God is good (again it is a matter of deciding goodness standards) why would He condemn people who never chose (or had the chance to choose) a relationship with Him?” The person asking this usually adds an example about children not mature enough to understand spiritual ideas, or an undiscovered tribe that has never heard of Jesus, or a person that has heard about Christianity but is brainwashed into or coerced by fear into accepting a religion, or maybe a kind and generous person who chooses to live by some philosophy of “niceness” instead.
It is nice to believe in a God who takes all children who die early (even the unborn) to Heaven because they did not understand the need to accept Jesus as their Savior. There are examples of this in the Bible, although they are always about specific children of Godly parents, there are no verses about the children of evil people getting the same favor. Most likely God sees the heart of a child and knows what the child would have done with their free will once they reach the age of understanding. So God would know where to place them for eternity. The events in the Old Testament that led to the deaths of groups of evil people do not mention any exceptions for children. The Bible is clear that ALL people are born with a sin nature and start life condemned. Children are not born innocent, they merely have not had the chance to show their sin nature yet.
Every one of the other examples mentioned is either a person allowing himself to be coerced by his community, or is solely referring to the community for guidance (this is called “horizontal relationship”). The first step for a person considering that maybe the God of the Bible is real is to explore a “vertical relationship” directly with Him, even if ignorant of details or secretly for fear of reprisal. Ideally this would not be mere intellectual curiosity (which could lead to a false sense of salvation from accumulated man’s knowledge), but from a perceived “effectual calling” (God using His Spirit to initially attract the people He has chosen).
This initial call could be to a person in a free society that has knowledge of Christianity and is allowed to choose Him, or in a closed society with knowledge but is prohibited or restricted from choosing, or even within any remaining “Undiscovered Peoples” with no knowledge of Christianity whatsoever. God’s initial call would first cause these people to doubt whatever “truths” they have been led to believe, prompting them to build an altar to an unknown God outside of mythology similar to Acts 17:23 or deciding that worshiping an apex predator as the creator of their world seems wrong etc. ALL people, not just those that have already chosen Christianity, are able to recognize that there is an actual Creator and worshiping “images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” is evil (Romans 1:18–22). Even some modern scientists that previously attempted to reject God in favor of evolution theories have decided there must be some sort of plan to it all (“Intelligent Design”), but they still prefer to leave a defined God out of it, to their loss.
Certainly the quote from Jesus in John 14:6 (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”) is true. But if God calls someone from an “Undiscovered Peoples” group, and they answer from their ignorant position, we don’t know what God does with them since He never sent them a Jonah type of prophet to educate and warn them. He knows their heart and may disciple them Himself without our Great Commission help. If God calls someone from a group where Christianity is known but prohibited or restricted, they are responsible for acting on the call the way they know they should. They will not enjoy an exemption from the requirement of accepting Jesus as their Savior.