Months ago, I briefly introduced a book titled “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” written by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner. After 5 drafts and hours of over thinking I finally have decided to share this post.
As someone who is no stranger to unexpected loss or grief I have heard lots of words and biblical phrases thrown around; many which upset me, made me even question humanity and changed my views on life and religion all together.
Why do the righteous suffer? That is the reoccurring question in the book and one I bet most of us have asked at one point of our lives.
Kushner uses his personal experience of losing his son to discuss how misfortune changes our views not only on religion or believes but life in general. As a rabbi he was accustomed to visiting families in times of despair but when misfortune knocked on his door everything changed.
Too often people offer vague words or phrases when trying to console someone in despair, for instance; everything happens for a reason, God gives his strongest soldiers the toughest battles, etc.
Kushner discussed his interpretation on the biblical story of Job, focusing on Job’s anger when his friends offer the following words for comfort; “Don’t lose faith, despite these calamities. We have a loving, father in Heaven and he will see to it that the good prospers and the wicked are punished”.
According to Kushner’s analysis these words bring Job no comfort but rather make him angry at the thought that his friends are questioning his kid’s integrity or his own, as if this tragedy happened as punishment for his or their sins. His friends are just throwing religious verses and defending the belief that God has control over everything and that everything happens for a greater purpose. For a lot of people it’s the only way tragedy makes sense or seems acceptable.
But it is that belief that often makes us lose faith, making the higher being we believe in responsible for everything that happens in our life. If God controlled everything that means we would have no free will and then there would really be no point in living. We would just be actors in a film directed by the higher power.
It is easy to throw those religious verses when someone else is the one grieving but what about when it’s your turn. Do those verses mean anything?
Imagine telling a mother (a kind woman; does no harm and always helps others) who has just lost her child that God chose it that way and everything happens for a reason or that there must be a greater purpose for this loss. That would make anyone bitter and cause for their faith to be shaken surfacing resentment and questions ; Why me? Why my child? What have I done to deserve this? Why did God allow this to happen? etc.
I agree with Kushner’s believe, that God does not send us these hardships, these battles happen just because it’s life, its nature, random things just happen. Kind of like spinning a wheel you never know where it will land.
Why does misfortune happen? We will never know. And really there is no way to prepare for it or avoid it, it happens to any and every one, good or bad.
This brings us to his next theory of free will and prayer. He writes God has granted us free will to make our own decisions and map out our lives the way that we choose. He cannot take back that free will whenever it’s convenient, for example to prevent someone from committing a crime.
Kushner states that God cannot stop tragedy from happening but what he can do is send us strength to learn to deal with each situation.
Sometimes we feel defeated as if we can’t go on anymore and then randomly we get a dose of energy and strength that didn’t live in us before. That is what Kushner describes as God’s doing. He can’t fix everything for us but he sends us strength and the power we need to make it happen for ourselves.
The last point I will discuss is prayer. Often times we pray asking God to make things happen and are disappointed if it doesn’t happen. An example Kushner gives is someone with cancer asking God for a cure. He reiterates that God doesn’t choose who survives the diseases but rather he answers prayers when asked for strength to fight, for positive thoughts, for will of power to be able to push forward.
I think it’s a beautiful way to view life, like Kushner I choose to believe God would not intentionally allow anyone to suffer.
Lastly I will add while I comprehend it is difficult to understand something you have never experienced putting ourselves in other people’s shoes helps us have more compassion and able to share sincere and heart-felt words of love and comfort (biblical or not, use common sense don’t just speak to speak); acknowledging pain without trying to make sense of it or trying to find a reason why it has happened solely focusing on lending a shoulder to cry or lean on.
These are only a few of the points Kushner makes, I would definitely recommend reading the book.