The Good, the Bad and the Providence of God

Johannes Maccovius, in his Theological Distinctions, treated the subject of the Divine providence toward the righteous and toward the wicked with the maxim, "In this life, what happens to good people is never bad and what happens to bad people is never good." He then appealed to the 14th Century theologian, Thomas Bradwardine--who, in his De Causa Dei Contra Pelagium, told the following story:

"Once upon a time, he says, there was a hermit who was thinking that the wicked received the good and the righteous received evil. Therefore, he began to doubt the existence of God and whether He, should He exist, was a righteous God, because human affairs continued to be in a completely perverse order. He gave up his solitary life and wandered through the world. While he was doing this, an angel in the shape of a man joined him in traveling through the country. Together they met somebody who received them politely and treated them very well. Rising at midnight, the angel took a golden cup from him and went away with the hermit. Next, they met and stayed with someone else who, equally polite, received and treated them. Rising at midnight together with the hermit, the angel went to the cradle and strangled the baby lying in it. For the third time they went and met somebody who was not willing to receive them in his house, but let them pass the night in the open air. Early in the morning, the angel knocked on the door and presented to the wicked man the golden cup which he had stolen from the good man, and said to him: I give you this cup for the kind hospitality with which you received us. Finally, they came to a man who treated them most kindly. When the angel was about to leave, he asked him to send his servant in order to show them the way to go. So it happened. When they reached a bridge over rapid waters the angel threw the servant into the river. 

The hermit, seeing all this and thinking about it, said: now I want to leave you, because you are a villainous man. But the angel said to him: wait a moment. I will tell you who I am and teach you that everything that has been done, has happened justly by virtue of God's order. He said: I am an angel of God and I am sent to teach you that many things that seem unjust to human kind, are very just and good.The first man we met and from whom I took away the golden cup profited from this, because, before possessing this cup, he feared God. But after having received the cup he was drunk every day. Thus God sent me in order to remove this incentive to drunkenness, so that this good man would no longer endanger his eternal salvation. To the other inhumane man to whom I gave the cup I was not good but I did much harm to him. For through this cup he was induced to the same fault committed before by the other man, i.e. drinking. Therefore, God decided to give him something else in this life, because after this life he will have nothing at all. Before he was blessed with offspring the man whose child I killed was generous to the poor. But after the child was born, he washed his hands off the poor. Therefore, by order of God, I killed his child, so that this man would no longer endanger his eternal salvation, but, in fact, would return to his previous generosity. Regarding the servant sent to us by the landlord in order to show us the way: that night he was about to murder the lord, the landlady and their children. But because God loved this family, He sent me to prevent this evil. Then the angel said: 'Off you go and stop judging divine providence in the wrong way, because you see bad things happen to good people and good things to bad people.'"1

1. Johannes Maccovius Scholastic Discourse: Johannes Maccovius (1588-1644) on Theological and Philosophical Distinctions and Rules (Apeldoorn: Instituut voor Reformatieonderzoek, 2009) pp. 173-175.