“When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold S. Kushner


I had heard about this book for years and years… never thought I would be in a position to need it.  It does provide some clarity to the “why did this happen?” question that haunts anyone who believes in a God that is kind and loving.

**Warning: pg 76 has insensitive comments regarding the loss of a stillborn**

‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ is not to limit our concern to the martyrdom of saints and sages, but to try to understand why ordinary people–ourselves and people around us–should have to bear extraordinary burdens of grief and pain.  pg 11…

Some ways we try to explain suffering:

  1. we assume we deserve what we get, that somehow our misfortunes come as punishment for our sins …or that people do in fact get what they deserve, but only over the course of time.
  2. we can’t see the full picture, it is actually beautiful (tapestry analogy–back looks mangled but the front is a beautiful pattern).
  3. to help or educate us (a surgeon is helpful but only to someone who understands surgery)
  4. to test us so that we discover how strong and faithful we are
  5. we believe it comes to liberate us from a world of pain and lead to us a better place
  6. sometimes in our reluctance to admit that there is unfairness in the world, we try to persuade ourselves that what has happened is not really bad
  7. sometimes we fasten our hopes on the idea that life in this world is not the only reality

But maybe there is another approach….maybe God does not cause our suffering.

Forced to choose between a good God who is not totally powerful, or a powerful God who is not totally good, the author of the Book of Job chooses to believe in God’s goodness.

If God is a God of justice, and not of power, then He can still be on our side when bad things happen to us.

Instead of feeling that we are opposed to God, we can feel that our indignation is God’s anger at unfairness working through us, that when we cry out, we are still on God’s side and He is still on ours.

But why do we have to insist on everything being reasonable? Why must everything happen for a specific reason? Why can’t we let the universe have a few rough edges?

The world is mostly an orderly, predictable place, showing ample evidence of God’s thoroughness and handiwork, but pockets of chaos remain.

Christianity introduced the world to the idea of a God who suffers, alongside the image of a God who creates and commands.

Even Job would rather have had his God document his guilt than admit that it was all a mistake.  If he could be shown that he deserved his fate, then at least the world would make sense.

Anguish and heartbreak may not be distributed evenly throughout the world, but they are distributed very widely.

Prayer, when it is offered in the right way, redeems people from isolation.  It assures them that they need not feel alone and abandoned.  It lets them know that they are part of a greater reality, with more depth, more hope, more courage, and more of a future than any individual could have by himself.

But when we reach the limits of our strength and courage, something unexpected happens.  We find reinforcement coming from a source outside of ourselves.  And in the knowledge that we are not alone, that God is on our side, we manage to go on.

…the one crucial thing we can do for them after their death is to let them be witnesses for God and for life, rather than, by our despair and loss of faith, making them ‘the devil’s martyrs.’ The dead depend on us for their redemption and their immortality.

We do not love God because He is perfect.  We do not love Him because He protects us from all harm and keeps evil things from happening to us.  We do not love Him because we are afraid of HIm, or because He will hurt us if we turn our back on Him.  We love Him because He is God, because He is the author of all the beauty and the order around us, the source of our strength and the hope and courage within us, and of other people’s strength and hope and courage with which we are helped in our time of need.  We love Him because He is the best of ourselves and of our world.

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