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Monday, October 5, 2009

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”


the fifth page for October 4, 2009


“When bad things happen to good people” by Rabbi Harold Kushner is the book many people think of when Job’s plight, and the questions raised by Job’s story are discussed. Kushner wrote it in response to the death in 1977 of his 14 year old son, Aaron. Aaron had the incurable disease progeria. The book is dedicated to his memory. If you have not read this book, it is well worth picking up. I have a copy you can borrow, and I am sure it is available at the library. It has been a best seller since it was first published in 1981.


Kushner writes in read-able prose, and does not hide behind vague academic or theological jargon, as he wrestles with the same question as Job: “ If God is benevolent and loving, why do bad things happen to us?” This is the classic “problem of evil”.


"I knew that one day I would write this book," says Rabbi Kushner. "I would write it out of my own need to put into words some of the most important things I have come to believe and know. And I would write it to help other people who might one day find themselves in a similar predicament. I am fundamentally a religious man who has been hurt by life, and I wanted to write a book that could be given to the person who has been hurt by life, and who knows in his heart that if there is justice in the world, he deserved better. . . . If you are such a person, if you want to believe in God's goodness and fairness but find it hard because of the things that have happened to you and to people you care about, and if this book helps you do that, then I will have succeeded in distilling some blessing out of Aaron's pain and tears." (from the Random House website)


I am going to include an excerpt from the first chapter, to offer you a taste:


“There is only one question which really matters: why do bad things happen to good people? All other theological conversation is intellectually diverting; somewhat like doing the crossword puzzle in the Sunday paper and feeling very satisfied when you have made the words fit; but ultimately without the capacity to reach people where they really care. Virtually every meaningful conversation I have ever had with people on the subject of God and religion has either started with this question, or gotten around to it before long. Not only the troubled man or woman who has just come from a discouraging diagnosis at the doctor’s office, but the college student who tells me that he has decided there is no God, or the total stranger who comes up to me at a party just when I am ready to ask the hostess for my coat, and says, “I hear you’re a rabbi; how can you believe that . . .” —they all have one thing in common. They are all troubled by the unfair distribution of suffering in the world.


The misfortunes of good people are not only a problem to the people who suffer and to their families. They are a problem to everyone who wants to believe in a just and fair and livable world. They inevitably raise questions about the goodness, the kindness, even the existence of God. “