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When bad things happen to good people

by Expert Dr.Stephanie.Ph.D | 28 Apr 2017

The very title of the book (When Bad Things Happen to Good People) certainly would appeal to people in general. The question of evil has been around since time immemorial, and there are many books written to address the subject mostly from theological standpoint. I think it is only right to address the problem of evil and suffering from the vantage point of theology because it engages the ultimate and the metaphysical when dealing with issues of evil and sufferings. Harold S. Kushner dealt with the question of suffering from the most practical sense that any human being could – by trying to make sense of tragedies in life generally. In an excerpt taken from his best-seller book (http://www.myjewishlearning.com), he outrightly stated what he had come to believe about God. “Constraint” as a descriptive word is now not only applicable to humans but also to God. He said, God has “His limitations.” Nature has laws that even God has no power to break.

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Of course, this is his way of making sense out of the troubles and tragedies that have become part of existence since the beginning of the history of man. In order for us to keep our balance psychologically in turbulent times, and at the same time keep ourselves from abandoning our faith in God and still perceive Him as loving and caring in spite of the bitterness of life’s misfortunes, we must change our concept of a God who is in total full control of everything. To keep on believing that God is sovereignly over everything is nonsense. It will automatically follow within the argument that if God is in full control and He allowed catastrophes in any form to have happened, then He is responsible – no matter how grand His design might be – by permitting such calamities to take place.

Moreover, God is not only responsible, but also cruel. And Kushner could not conceive of such a God. So, the first thing to settle within one’s mind is this wrong concept of God: that He is sovereign. It might be a good idea to entertain a supreme God who rules everything if the entire scenery of man’s history has no record or not tainted with so much trouble; but unfortunately, history is riddled with so much atrocities. God does not cause misfortunes. We can think of other things to blame like our finiteness, other people who are evil, or bad luck or simply the limitations exerted on us by natural laws of nature, but never blame God. This is one of Kushner’s arguments. God is as outraged as we are by what has happened to the victims of 911 terrorists attack. We can turn to Him for help like He will see us through in the midst of our difficulties.

Another thing that is very important to Kushner is the “sense of meaning” which people undergoing some kind of difficulties must have a grasp of. Most of the messes which people got into are bearable and surmountable if only those experiencing them can find some sense of meaning out of those ordeals. Indeed, to many, this is the case. And this is true. We need to only have a sense of purpose in everything and to put up with the ramifications would be easier. It makes no sense dying of cancer at home while doing nothing, whereas to spend or be spent in a cause more worthwhile is more sensible and hence, people who are engaged in political activism at times opted rather to be incarcerated for what they deem a more noble cause. According to Kushner, we can impose “our own meaning” on our tragedies. Misfortunes in and of themselves have no meaning, but we can create or think of some good meaning for them.

A good perspective to add is the biblical perspective that says “all evils in this world are caused directly and indirectly by the Fall.” Why there is evil in the world? The Scriptures answer to this is: because of man’s disobedience to God. If there is any reason for calamities in this world, it is for all humanity to realize the seriousness/gravity of God’s word. God takes sin seriously. When God restricted the first couple through His command “not to eat of the fruit of the tree,” it was as serious as the consequence of disobeying the command. God warned them that the moment they disobey and eat of the fruit of that tree, “they will surely die.” Since that time death and all evils have become the part and parcel of life in this world. There is nothing good in us if we are left alone. But to those who are really good people – those who have been made good by the grace of God – tragedies, if perchance they happen to them, there is definitely some purpose behind them, and meaning as well.

Works Cited

  • Kushner, Harold. Suffering and Evil: An Excerpt from “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” Published by Schocken Books. 
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