In Rabbi Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People, the topic of why God, a supposed all-powerful and all-knowing Supreme Being, allows awful situations and mishaps to happen to generally good people while the bad people live what they would call happy and fulfilling lives is examined. I, like most others, pray to God solely when a problem arises and forget to give thanks when my prayers are answered. If I cannot see an almost immediate response to my prayers I begin to wonder why, if I do everything to the best of my abilities, God allows such bad things to occur. After reading Kushner’s reaction and response to adversities faced in his own life, I believe I have begun finding the answers to my questions.
Kushner introduces his viewpoint by telling the readers about a challenge he overcame at the beginning of his adult life. Rabbi Kushner’s first son, Aaron, was born with a condition called progeria, “rapid aging.” Kushner and his wife watched helplessly as their son fought a fourteen year battle against death itself. Kushner recalls, “If God existed, if He was minimally fair, let alone loving and forgiving, how could He do this to me?” There are times in our lives where we all inevitably feel like this. We see this when our parents and grandparents get sick, when we watch the news and see vulnerable animals abused and neglected by their owners, and the truth is that we cannot help but wonder what reasoning God has behind this pain. If God has the power to create everything in the world, including Earth, why does he not stop the abuse, the hunger, the pain? Kushner addresses this question when he says that “the God [he] believes in does not send us the problem; he gives us the strength to cope with it” (127). This attitude opens the door to thinking that maybe God does not create the problem instead the solution; perhaps the Creator is not finished with His masterpiece, and possibly our everyday troubles are simple eraser marks on an unfinished product.
The third chapter was perhaps my favorite chapter in the entire book because I too have an admiration for the Book of Job. Although I have read and reread the book several times, each time clearing up the waters just a tiny bit, I am still unclear about what exactly the anonymous author was attempting to say. Like Kushner, I can perceive that maybe “(A): God is [not] all-powerful. Bad things do happen to good people in this world, but it is not God who wills it”. Similar to the rabbi’s beliefs, I can say that I would rather believe in God’s goodness than his being ‘all-powerful’. Having faced family issues with death, diseases and physical separation, I can say that I do not think God is all-powerful, if He were I believe he would give my family the financial comfort to be able to fly back and forth for funerals, graduations, reunions, etc.; seeing that He has not been able to provide that, I chose to believe that He is all-good. Although we face the problem of being physically close, God has provided an emotional attachment like none other. A little later in the chapter Kushner says that there was a sense of comfort in believing in “an all-wise, all-powerful God who guaranteed fair treatment and happy endings” (50)but that after seeing what happened to Job we cannot help but feel angry, and we cannot believe in that God without first “giving up our own right to feel angry, to feel that we have been treated badly by life” (50). Kushner then offers the belief in a God of justice, not power; he backs up this belief by stating that this God, instead of leading us to ask “Why me?” leads us to ask for help. Personally, I have forced myself to believe in a God of justice as an alternative to an all-powerful God. Growing up in a home without money to spare I have come to realize that God does not do harm unto the good, but instead provides help and comfort when harm is done; I believe that the God of justice is perchance one of the greatest points Kushner provides in his book.
Kushner also provides an excerpt from the Book of Job, chapter 40: 9-14, “Have you an arm like God? Can you thunder with a voice like His? You tread down the wicked where they stand, Bury them in the dust together… Then will I acknowledge that your own right hand can give victory” (49). Paraphrased, this verse basically says, “If you think you can do it better than I, you do it.” I enjoy that Kushner included this particular verse because I have always noticed that we tend to thumb our nose at God for the things that he ‘does’, but when we actually take the time to sit and think about every little action and reaction, every problem and solution, every detail on a baby, a child, an adult, a flower, a tree, essentially every aspect of life we can quickly come to realize there is no way in Heaven, Hell or Purgatory that we could have come up with such a detailed marvelous world.
Another reason Kushner provides for bad things happening to good people is no reason at all. Kushner says at one point that although random bad luck does happen, something has to cause the random bad luck to happen. Kushner provides evidence that shows that randomness is increasing over time because the world needs to reach equilibrium. Later on in the chapter he says that “on the other hand, our world may not be a system left to itself. There may in fact be…the Spirit of God …operating over the course of the millennia to bring order out of the chaos” (62). He also contradicts that argument by saying that “it may be that God finished His work of creating eons ago, and left the rest to us” (63). As the reader I had a bit of trouble understanding the point in this chapter because Kushner jumped back and forth between contradicting ideas. I believe he did a sufficient job at tying all his ideas together and saying that we can be “sustained and comforted by the knowledge that [various tragedies] are not the will of God, but represent that aspect of reality which stands independent of his will, and which angers and saddens God even as it angers and saddens us” (63). I have come to the conclusion that throughout this chapter Kushner was attempting to say what I stated earlier, that maybe God has not finished his work and every little thing we do is just an invisible stain on an unfinished product.
Lastly, I thoroughly enjoyed Kushner’s chapter on prayer, “God Can’t Do Everything, But He Can Do Some Important Things.” I have always had a problem with people that say that when someone is facing a difficult time it is senseless to say ‘I will pray for you’ because, according to them, prayer comes from Christ, and He will not fix the problem. In this chapter Kushner states that “the first thing prayer does for us is put us in touch with other people” (131). I believe the statement ‘I will pray for you’ is not meant has a way to say ‘God will fix your problem, instead as a way of one friend saying to another, ‘It’s out of our grasp, but I wish you the best’. Prayer, like Kushner says, is a way of connecting “people who share the same concerns, values, dreams, and pains that we do” (131). All religions seem to have their own different forms of prayer; thus telling someone that you will pray for him does not necessarily have a Christian mindset or a Christian subliminal message. It is a simple way of showing that you care. Kushner also says that prayer “redeems people from isolation” (134). I have always been taught that we are not meant to walk through this world alone, and seeing Kushner’s point of view reassured my belief; it gave me hope that perhaps the rest of world will one day feel the same. Kushner finishes the paragraph by saying that “it lets know that they are a part of a greater reality, with more depth, more hope, more courage, and more future than any individual could have by himself” (134). The hope for a better future shown in this chapter is what I live in my day to day life and it helped me see that I am not alone in my dreams and aspirations.
Harold Kushner kept me reading for hours on end. His examples and experiences kept me turning the pages with excitement and anticipating what unbelievable story he was going to reveal next. Kushner was able to shed some light on the dark reality we seem to be living through as well as provide different viewpoints to certain aspects of life that one sometimes writes off as headed straight for disaster. Although no one has the answer to why bad things happen to good people, Kushner provides the information needed to give the world hope for a brighter future as well as plenty of food for thought. At one point in my life I thought of God as someone we are supposed to fear, after studying my religion, as well as speaking, reading and learning about other religions I have come to realize that God is not at all a big, bad wolf; instead he is a kind, loving, forgiving and all-knowing glimmer of hope.