When Bad Things Happen to Good People is Rabbi Harold Kushner’s examination of life, why things happen and the role of God in all of it.
Kushner wrote the book because his son was born with progeria, a disease where his body aged much faster than it should, and he died young. It shook Kushner to his core. “Tragedies like this were supposed to happen to selfish, dishonest people whom I, as a rabbi, would then try to comfort by assuring them of God’s forgiving love. How could it be happening to me, to my son, if what I believed about the world was true?” pg 3.
Kushner methodically picks apart traditional explanations for why tragedy strikes. When he’s through, none of them hold water.
“I would find it easier to believe that I experience tragedy and suffering in order to ‘repair’ that which is faulty in my personality if there were some clear connection between the fault and the punishment. A parent who disciplines a child for doing something wrong, but never tells him what he is being punished for, is hardly a model of responsible parenthood. Yet, those who explain suffering as God’s way of teaching us to change are at a loss to specify just what it is about us we are supposed to change.” pg 23.
It’s no secret that earlier this year, I changed jobs – from a reference librarian to a writer in a newsroom. I picked up this book because I was going through a spiritual crisis of sorts.
It’s not that I’m overly-religious, but I am spiritual. I believe in things we can’t see or explain. I believe in the goodness of people and the universe.
In my job, every day, I read and hear about terrible things that happen for no reason at all. Sometimes, I write about families who lost a child to a rare disease or I read a story about someone dying in a car or motorcycle accident, and I think, “Why do things like this happen?”
I just didn’t see how a universe that was inherently good, as I believed, could have things like this happen, all the time, every day.
Kushner says, don’t look for God or goodness in the bad things, look for the good in the response or what comes after. “For me, the earthquake is not an ‘act of God.’ The act of God is the courage of people to rebuild their lives after the earthquake and the rush of others to help them in whatever way they can.”pg 60
In the final analysis, the question why bad things happen to good people translates itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened.” pg 147
That was a philosophy that I needed.
I now try to look for the good in the response to tragedy and, wouldn’t you know, I find it. Every day, there’s someone who’s kind or generous or brave. The goodness was always there. I just had to change where and how I was looking for it.
Thanks for reading!