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When Bad Things Happen to Good People

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The #1 bestselling inspirational classic from the nationally known spiritual leader; a source of solace and hope for over 4 million readers.

When Harold Kushner’s three-year-old son was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that meant the boy would only live until his early teens, he was faced with one of life’s most difficult questions: Why, God? Years later, Rabbi Kushner wrote this straightforward, elegant contemplation of the doubts and fears that arise when tragedy strikes. In these pages, Kushner shares his wisdom as a rabbi, a parent, a reader, and a human being. Often imitated but never superseded,  When Bad Things Happen to Good Peopl e is a classic that offers clear thinking and consolation in times of sorrow.

176 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1981

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About the author

Harold S. Kushner

58 books340 followers
Harold S. Kushner is rabbi laureate of Temple Israel in the Boston suburb of Natick, Massachusetts. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he is the author of more than a dozen books on coping with life’s challenges, including, most recently, the best-selling Conquering Fear and Overcoming Life’s Disappointments.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,075 reviews
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
November 21, 2020
Yet Another Anti-Semitic Trope

Recently another GR reader (whom I happen to know - a good Catholic boy at Oxford who’s trying really hard to demonstrate his faithful fervour) criticised Rabbi Kushner’s theodicy and called the contents of his well-known book “insulting to God” and “bad theology.” It is of course neither. In addition to being a highly edifying personal story about the suffering and death of his young son, it also has broader cultural significance in demonstrating the struggle that many have with the residue of our Western philosophical past.

Kushner, in his family’s crisis, was confronted by a dilemma for both his faith and his ethical principles. In simplistic terms the dilemma is this: if God has the regard theologians claim he has for his creation, he must not be able to help it to reduce its suffering in every circumstance; or if he is able to relieve suffering and doesn’t, then he must not be all that benign. Kushner comes down on the side of divine benignity rather than divine power. This seems to me not only comforting but theologically satisfying.

Ultimately Kushner, like many of us, was wrestling not with Judaic theological but with Greek philosophical ideas about God. The concepts of divine perfection - omniscience, omnipotence, etc. - are derived largely from the 3rd century BCE Stoics. These ideas were imported into Christianity in the Platonic interpretations of early Christians like Augustine and the latter Aristotelian ‘synthesis’ of medieval theologians like Thomas Aquinas. Similar roles were played in the Hellenisation of Judaism by Philo of Alexandria and Maimonides. The Arabic scholars al-Farabi and Avicenna introduced Greek thought into Islam as early as the late 10th century.

Nowhere in Jewish. Islamic or Christian scriptures do these Greek ideas of divine perfection appear. God is unknowable. The best human beings can do is ascribe him attributes (names) which constitute praise rather than description. There is overwhelming biblical witness in the Old Testament to God’s lack of perfection in the Greek sense: he has regrets from time to time; he clearly does not know the minds of his people; he craves reassurance; he rages and performs rash acts; he breaks promises. He is, in other words, deficient in every Greek virtue. And his power, although beyond the human, is not infinite. The Hebrew God simply doesn’t fit the philosophical mould.

In the New Testament the situation becomes downright scandalous: Jesus demonstrates that he can heal the lame, the blind, and the sick at will. But only to make a point, and not out of loving concern. Claiming sole power to solve all human problems, he needs to be cajoled into using it and then he does so often only grudgingly. Jesus, and his promoter Paul, are entirely wrong in their prediction of an imminent end of the world. The latter even appears to disenfranchise God by insisting, with no authority whatsoever, that the ‘eternal‘ covenant established by God was abrogated and that henceforth all power, infinite or not, is in the hands of Christ. Hardly an endorsement for Greek perfectionism.

Kushner’s issue therefore is, and should be, one that is of concern to all monotheist adherents. Respect for the man’s humanity alone demands a sympathetic understanding of what he is attempting in his book. But beyond that lies his courageous accomplishment in recognising that the logic that created his dilemma is neither Hebrew nor Christian but pagan and may be dispensed with as a source of unnecessary confusion and unwarranted pain in authentic Judaic thought. God is far too complex and strange to be captured definitively by words and an ancient dialectical rhetoric.

The untoward influence of Greek philosophy on Judaeo-Christian theology has been recognised and repeatedly documented over the last century. Only in the last 20 years, however, has a positive theology which avoids the Greek presumptions been forthcoming. I find the most compelling of these to be that of the Weakness of God whose principle champion is John Caputo.

Caputo‘ s theology rejects the fundamental concept of directive divine power and its very un-Christian glorification. His theology is certainly not insulting and provides a rather effective remedy for ridding the theological world of those who consider themselves coercive instruments of God. It also affirms Kushner in his very difficult theological choices.

So Kushner is neither insulting to God nor bad at theology. Rather he provides a human and humane opening to reconsider some very questionable presumptions that have wormed their way into moral thought. The ‘imperfection’ of God is not a flaw at all but an acknowledgement that, as the 11th century theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, put it, “whatever we think God is, he is not that.”

Postscript: it occurs to me that the power of ancient, or really any fixed, philosophy to cause human misery might need a more vivid example for some. Greek ‘perfectionist’ philosophy, for example, also considered the circle to be a ‘perfect form’. Consequently for centuries astronomical researchers refused to consider any other trajectory for the planets around the sun. Not until Johannes Kepler discovered elliptical orbits by dropping this perfectionist presumption could the science of astrophysics progress. Theology unfortunately is more tenacious about its least defensible ideas.

Post-Postscript: The GR reader who attacked Kushner has opted to delete our entire exchange. I think it’s appropriate to repeat my summary of that exchange here:
You have attacked Rabbi Kushner for “insulting God.” You then repeated this accusation in further comments.
This is the precise formula used by all fundamentalists - militant Islamicists, radical Buddhists, and American Evangelicals - to characterise their targets.
But God does not need defending from anyone, especially not from people like Rabbi Kushner. It is people like Rabbi Kushner who desperately need defending from those who claim inside knowledge about God, such as yourself.
Given the unsavoury and thinly veiled anti-Semitic character of your remarks, I have little doubt that you and your co-religionists would slip once again into active persecution if you only had the political power to do so.
So why not cut it out and recognise that your personal divine revelation is merely a justification for uninformed and irrational prejudice?

Post-Postscript: the issue of divine power is one that has plagued Christian thought ever since it adopted Greek philosophy. Very few have dared mess with the disastrous mistake. See here for one who has: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,389 reviews1,470 followers
October 18, 2017
When Bad Things Happen to Good People is Rabbi Harold Kushner's examination of life, why things happen and the role of God in all of it.

Kushner wrote the book because his son was born with progeria, a disease where his body aged much faster than it should, and he died young. It shook Kushner to his core. "Tragedies like this were supposed to happen to selfish, dishonest people whom I, as a rabbi, would then try to comfort by assuring them of God's forgiving love. How could it be happening to me, to my son, if what I believed about the world was true?" pg 3.

Kushner methodically picks apart traditional explanations for why tragedy strikes. When he's through, none of them hold water.

"I would find it easier to believe that I experience tragedy and suffering in order to 'repair' that which is faulty in my personality if there were some clear connection between the fault and the punishment. A parent who disciplines a child for doing something wrong, but never tells him what he is being punished for, is hardly a model of responsible parenthood. Yet, those who explain suffering as God's way of teaching us to change are at a loss to specify just what it is about us we are supposed to change." pg 23.

It's no secret that earlier this year, I changed jobs - from a reference librarian to a writer in a newsroom. I picked up this book because I was going through a spiritual crisis of sorts.

It's not that I'm overly-religious, but I am spiritual. I believe in things we can't see or explain. I believe in the goodness of people and the universe.

In my job, every day, I read and hear about terrible things that happen for no reason at all. Sometimes, I write about families who lost a child to a rare disease or I read a story about someone dying in a car or motorcycle accident, and I think, "Why do things like this happen?"

I just didn't see how a universe that was inherently good, as I believed, could have things like this happen, all the time, every day.

Kushner says, don't look for God or goodness in the bad things, look for the good in the response or what comes after. "For me, the earthquake is not an 'act of God.' The act of God is the courage of people to rebuild their lives after the earthquake and the rush of others to help them in whatever way they can." pg 60

In the final analysis, the question why bad things happen to good people translates itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened." pg 147

That was a philosophy that I needed.

I now try to look for the good in the response to tragedy and, wouldn't you know, I find it. Every day, there's someone who's kind or generous or brave. The goodness was always there. I just had to change where and how I was looking for it.
Profile Image for Skylar Burris.
Author 20 books238 followers
September 3, 2008
Rabbi Kushner's position is that, because suffering exists in the world, only three options are possible: (1) God does not exist. (2) God exists but is not good, or (3) God exists and is good but is not all-powerful. He chooses explanation (3). Explanation (4), that God exists, is good, and is all-powerful, but for reasons we cannot now fully comprehend, chooses to allow suffering, is not an option.

Despite its unsatisfying theology, I was reminded of three very important things from this book, which was well written and contained some powerful passages: (1) God is not on the side of those who cause suffering, but of those who suffer. (2) It's unkind to offer pat religious answers to people who are in the throes of suffering. (3) The most important question is not, "Why did God let this happen to me?" but rather "How can God help me endure now that this has happened?"
Profile Image for Jennifer Lane.
Author 14 books1,419 followers
July 23, 2015
Savvy Spiritual Guidance

I often recommend this book to psychotherapy clients because it gives me peace of mind when struggling with the pain of life. Written by Rabbi Harold Kushner, this collection of philosophical wisdom is not tied to a particular religion.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does a loving father die of cancer when a murderer lives? How can a young, innocent child suffer a disfiguring injury? This book attempts to answer such questions.

Sometimes well-intentioned individuals say things to the bereaved like "It was part of God's plan" or "God needed her up in Heaven." Those who are grieving might feel hurt by these messages, wondering if the implication is that their loved one somehow deserved to die.

Harold Kushner tells us that God cannot stop bad things from happening, because everyone dies and because we have free will. God can't stop the laws of nature. For example, if a man jumps off a tall building, God can't block the law of gravity to save his life.

But, God can be there to help us cope with life's tragedies. We can turn to God for support and love when bad things inevitably happen.

I read this book before I learned about the noble truths of Buddhism, and the messages of this book parallel those noble truths. My rough paraphrase of the noble truths:

1) Pain is inevitable. Life is difficult and painful by its very nature, not because we're doing it wrong.

2) Suffering is optional. Suffering is what occurs when we have difficulty opening to our life experience, to reality. Craving anything is suffering.
Profile Image for Tom LA.
604 reviews234 followers
December 12, 2022
Honest review: this is a book about the author, not about God. Kushner was crying out against God, just like Job, and - in a contrived way - he expressed his anger by presenting in this book a totally self-made theology, where God is not perfect and all-powerful.

In a nutshell, this book is Kushner attacking God for the death of his young son, while pretending to be rational about it. This means that, as a rabbi and a theologian, he comes up with a customized concept of God that, while absolutely understandable and valid on the emotional and personal level, is not in line with the God that Jewish people or Catholics like me have faith in.

Therefore, here I found heartfelt and genuine feelings, but abysmal theology.

-- Norman R. Adams (Theology Today, October 1982) concludes about this book: "Kushner is surely right about the will of God. I, too, am horrified when someone says it must have been the will of God that my own son was killed by a drunken driver. I want no part of such a God. But neither do I want a limited God. Western theology is going to have to do a better job in solving the problem of evil than Kushner has done."
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
May 22, 2012
Yesterday, while I was trying to compose this review in my mind, I saw this headline in The Philippine Daily Inquirer: Corona Leaving Fate to God. For my foreigner friends, this impeachment trial of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines has been one of the favorite topics for discussion nowadays among us Filipinos. Our Chief Justice is facing 8 Articles of Impeachment. Among these are failure to disclose to the public his statement of assets and liabilities, partiality and subservience in cases involving the ex-President Arroyo, etc.

While looking at that headline, I recalled this book. Very timely. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner (born 1935) wrote this very inspiring book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, as a tribute to his son Aaron, who at the age of 14, died of the incurable disease progeria. In this book, Rabbi Kushner says that God has no capacity to control everything that happens on earth or to us. Many of what happen to us are due to the choices that we take or things that we do to ourselves and to others. Applying it to the case of Chief Justice Corona, his problems are due to his own actions and God has NOTHING to do with it. Shame on him for dragging God to the problems that he seems to have created by himself or with cohorts.

However, if what Corona says is true, i.e., that he is innocent, then it is correct for him to ask for God's guidance or mercy. Rabbi Kushner aptly titled this book: take note that it is not "Why" but "When." This means that this book does not explain why bad thing happens to good people (or vice versa). The reason is that God gave us the free will to decide. So, when tragedy strikes to us, we should not ask God "Why me?" but the right question is "How can you help me, God?" or better yet ask for help. Anyway, God has promised not to forsake those who believe in Him.

My favorite part is Rabbi Kushner's analysis of The Book of Job where he mentions exactly his treatise above. God is not that all-powerful to control everything that happens on earth. He does not have the power to control what happened in the Holocaust. He did not will the death of the Jews. Those were the actions of men.

Thank you to my friend, Barbara, for recommending this book to me. Very inspiring. Eye-opener. Good straightforward narration. Proof that an author does not need to employ big words and vague philosophy to deliver his message.

A worthwhile book!
Profile Image for Megan.
16 reviews7 followers
January 4, 2008
The best I can do to explain this book is to quote it:

"But if Man is truly free to choose, if he can show himself as being virtuous by freely choosing the good when the bad is equally possible, then he has to be free to choose the bad also. If he were only free to do good, he would not really be choosing. If we are bound to do good, then we are not free to choose it." Harold Kushner, p. 79.

I think a lot of things come down to choice. And this book explains it really well. I really liked this book and I'm glad I read it, even though the guy who recommended it to me is a giant stupid a-hole and I hope he gets herpes.

Profile Image for Ellen.
88 reviews14 followers
October 27, 2007
I wish I could say that this book answers the question posed by its title. Instead, it is more of lesson on how "God" doesn't cause bad things - humans do. If this a concept unfamiliar to you then you might find this book mind opening and perhaps relieving. On the other hand, if you already felt this way, then this book might seem a bit elementary and disappointing. However, I give this book four stars for two reasons. One, the author seems like the coolest rabbi around. He seems to "get" it - something very few clergy members seem to do. Seccond, the very end of the book comes to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter why something bad happens, instead it matters how we respond to a tragedy and what we do afterwards. Afterall, what else is there to do? You can squander your life away with angrer, confusion, and isolation. Or you can accept that, yes the world is full of unfair and imperfect events and people, but it is also capable of being full of beauty, love, and great happiness. Cliche? A little, but the author puts it more eloquently that you actually DO feel a little better at the end of this book.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews608 followers
October 1, 2015
I read this book when it came out! I heard the author speak.

Its an old book. It was one of the books marked for a new friend here on Goodreads.

I 'think' the author has a more recent book out --(I'll have to check)

About this book: It can be valuable to read if a person is going through a loss -a death of somebody close -(any tragic situation) --

Personal tragedy is the context of this book --then the reader can look at different perspectives and beliefs.

The topic of GOD is examined (not pushed down your throat --just examined). I liked parts of the books more than other parts --
but mostly --I felt it was 'valuable' --(and could be a useful book for the right person at a right time in their life)
Profile Image for Deacon Tom F.
1,856 reviews146 followers
February 24, 2022
Truly A Classic

Please add my name to the long list of people that I’ve called the book an absolute 100% classic.

As a man who in the past two years has had a heart attack/stroke and a broken back. Plus I live with cancer. So,this book was in many ways my story.

It is logical and it is sensible and should be read by all.
Profile Image for Jenny.
91 reviews3 followers
May 20, 2010
God is not all powerful. God does not inflict suffering. Suffering is not a divine means to punish, to test our faith, or to teach us a lesson. These ideas fly in the face of what most every believer has been taught, and the ideology that is embedded and reinforced by the Judeo-Christian folk religion of the larger society. And yet, read Rabbi Kusher's reasoning and you, too will gain a broader understanding of God and what it means to be human and to endure pain, suffering, and joy. I have come to learn that God is love. The world is not fair and life is full of random circumstances; and yet, God is loving compassion, a force for good that grants us free will and provides humanity strength and comfort when we suffer. This is short book is written in simple, straightforward language that makes the theology and philosophy easy for everybody to understand. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Josephine (Jo).
618 reviews42 followers
August 20, 2020
I did find parts of this book useful but, because I am a Christian, I had the constant feeling that the Rabbi was only looking at half of the picture. He bases his arguments entirely upon the God of the Old Testament because of course, he does not recognise Jesus as the Son of God. Rabbi Kushner comes to the conclusion that God is not perfect, (a little presumptuous I think for a mere mortal) and says that it is no use praying to God to take away our suffering as He cannot do so. In the New Testament Jesus tells us to pray to God The Father through Him in the words of The Lord's Prayer. Also when Jesus is facing His dreadful fear of being crucified He prays to His Father saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Therefore Jesus believed that God could change the future if it was the right thing to do at the time. We also have to understand that man lives in a world that, at the moment contains a lot of evil, God gave man free will and that means that we have the choice to be good or bad. God would not want to force us to be good, there would be no point, and there would be no point in Him forcing us to love Him, or bribing us to love Him, that would not be real love. He does, however, give more and more knowledge to doctors, surgeons and those trying to find cures to some of the dreadful illnesses that we suffer and maybe one day many of them will no longer exist.
As to the 'why bad things happen to good people', I don't know but I do believe that we are all capable of bad and that there are more factors in why someone turns to crime, violence, drink or drugs and we are not in the position to judge.
I do know what it is like to lose a child, husband, sister and other much-loved relatives and friends before what we would consider being their allotted time but I cannot see the point in blaming God who had been there throughout my life to comfort me. I feel that my trust and belief will one day be justified and that I will see my loved ones again.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,452 reviews473 followers
May 5, 2017
When Bad Things Happen to Good People - Harold S. Kushner I've no desire to deprive the grieving of anything that might help: get through this unimaginable horror, and then later on you can deal with whatever problems your coping mechanism has created. Kushner chooses to believe in an imperfect god, which allows him to maintain his belief while at the same time exonerating his god for all the pain, suffering, and death which befall the most innocent of bystanders. It doesn't work for me. Either this god could prevent all misery, and deliberately chooses not to, in which case I want nothing to do with him because mean. Or, this god who supposedly created this entire universe isn't powerful enough to prevent misery, in which case that first bit must be a lie, huh?I find it much more comforting to believe that what happens to us is just plain dumb luck (or lack thereof). And that we should all of us feel real sympathy for the pain of others which could easily be our own. And of course, I believe in harm reduction, which means that as social animals we must do everything possible to reduce the misery among us, because clearly no one else can be bothered.
Profile Image for Margaret.
4 reviews2 followers
April 24, 2012
I read this book when I was greiving the death of my husband. I was hurt, angry and was all alone - feeling abandoned by everyone, including God. A therapist jotted down "When Bad Things Happen to Good People", and I bought and read the book. I was still angry and said, but I want to know, "why"!

It wasn't until several years later that I could accept Rabbi Kushner's message that bad things will happen to all of us at some time in our lives, but it's how we receive and process that event that will determine how we receive God and will experience life.

I'm not going to give the details of this book away, it's for you, the reader to uncover and process. I will say that even if you cannot relate to the book now, hold onto it and it's message. At some point in your life, in your darkest hour, you will reach for this book.

I am dating this review the date of my husband's death from cancer. Thank you Rabbi Kushner for helping me to find a place of acceptance and the ability to move on with my life. Praise God!
Profile Image for Holly.
565 reviews8 followers
July 15, 2011
I only finished this book by Rabi Kushner because I truly wanted to understand the author's position and therefore that of thousands in this world. I enjoyed his logical methodical manner of understanding trials and God's role, there are some points I agree with.
1. God follows the rules and laws of nature.
2. Many bad things happen because of the nature of the world.
3. God is deeply saddened by the pain and cruelty of the world.

However, I heartily disagree with a few main points. Here are some of the positions that I take where Kushner disagrees.
1. God is all powerful.
2. Miracles do exist and were real in the bible
3. Death is not the horror that he thinks it is, nor is it's existence proof that God does not love or care for us. Death is by far not the worst thing that can happen to anyone. Nor does God feel that way.

These are far too big of disagreements for me to love the book. I did solidify my own position by reading. That is truly valuable.
141 reviews102 followers
June 28, 2016
The most important thing that rabbi Kushner really did is breaking the taboos of bad fate and destiny being all directly from God, and the silly ridiculous consequent statements it entails.
-You must have done something horribly wrong and that's your just punishment, even we are pretty sure of one's goodness. Blaming the victim attitude!

-God sends tragedies only to those who can bear them!
“Does God "temper the wind to the shorn lamb"? Does He never ask more of us than we can endure? My experience, alas, has been otherwise. I have seen people crack under the strain of unbearable tragedy. I have seen marriages break up after the death of a child, because parents blamed each other for not taking proper care or for carrying the defective gene, or simply because the memories they shared were unendurably painful. I have seen some people made noble and sensitive through suffering, but i have seen many more people grow cynical and bitter. I have seen people become jealous of those around them, unable to take part in the routines of normal living. I have seen cancers and automobile accidents take the life of one member of a family, and functionally end the lives of five others, who could never again be the normal, cheerful people they were before disaster struck. If God is testing us, He must know by now that many of us fail the test. If He is only giving us the burdens we can bear, I have seen Him miscalculate far too often.”

-It's for the best, surely it's a part of some grand design in God's plan!
-The suffering of a leukemic child is for their parents' good!
And other ridiculous justifications that all refers to the direct action of God to people!

Most of people cope with such statement in order not to let themselves really encounter their tragedy in realistic terms. They fear they would lose their faith while letting their anger appear. And here are rabbi Kushner's forward: “for all those people who wanted to go on believing, but whose anger at God made it hard for them to hold on to their faith and be comforted by religion.”

I think most of people can accept human evil as matter of fact and as a result of man's responsible freedom. If we're really free and to be ultimately fairly judged in another world by God, then we're probably ready to accept it. The feeling of anger can be directed to the man who inflicted us pain through his bad or evil action. We can develop and upgrade our laws and mechanisms to minimize such human violations. The tragedy and the agony are no question still present but the way to healing and resolution is way easier than natural evil!

For natural evil, rabbi Kushner makes a good encounter through the story of Job, as told in the bible, and he proposes that as long as Job is a good person, like the majority of human beings, then God is all just but He is not all powerful, meaning that He is limited by the laws of nature He created and thus He can't intervene to change the way they act on this world and on everyone of us.
Laws of nature are inflexible, and the relations that form the texture of this natural life is so complex making it almost totally random from our human perspective.

“Laws of nature do not make exceptions for nice people. A bullet has no conscience; neither does a malignant tumor or an automobile gone out of control. That is why good people get sick and get hurt as much as anyone.”
“I don’t know why one person gets sick, and another does not, but I can only assume that some natural laws which we don’t understand are at work. I cannot believe that God “sends” illness to a specific person for a specific reason. I don’t believe in a God who has a weekly quota of malignant tumors to distribute, and consults His computer to find out who deserves one most or who could handle it best. “What did I do to deserve this?” is an understandable outcry from a sick and suffering person, but it is really the wrong question. Being sick or being healthy is not a matter of what God decides that we deserve. The better question is “If this has happened to me, what do I do now, and who is there to help me do it?” As we saw in the previous chapter, it becomes much easier to take God seriously as the source of moral values if we don’t hold Him responsible for all the unfair things that happen in the world.”
“God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal, living in a world of inflexible natural laws. The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehavior, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God's part. Because the tragedy is not God's will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to Him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are.”
“I believe in God. But I do not believe the same things about Him that I did years ago, when I was growing up or when I was a theological student. I recognize His limitations. He is limited in what He can do by laws of nature and by the evolution of human nature and human moral freedom. I no longer hold God responsible for illnesses, accidents, and natural disasters, because I realize that I gain little and I lose so much when I blame God for those things. I can worship a God who hates suffering but cannot eliminate it, more easily than I can worship a God who chooses to make children suffer and die, for whatever exalted reason.
Some years ago, when the "death of God" theology was a fad, I remember seeing a bumper sticker that read "My God is not dead; sorry about yours." I guess my bumper sticker reads "My God is not cruel; sorry about yours.”

Rabbi kushner makes the separation between God's will and laws of nature so clear then he moves to the significance of faith and prayer in such position:
“We can't pray that God make our lives free of problems; this won't happen, and it is probably just as well. We can't ask Him to make us and those we love immune to diseases, because He can't do that. We can't ask Him to weave a magic spell around us so that bad things will only happen to other people, and never to us.
People who pray for miracles usually don't get miracles, any more than children who pray for bicycles, good grades, or good boyfriends get them as a result of praying. But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of they have lost, very often find their prayer answered.”
“We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end war; For we know that You have made the world in a way That man must find his own path to peace Within himself and with his neighbor. We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end starvation; For you have already given us the resources With which to feed the entire world If we would only use them wisely. We cannot merely pray to You, O God, To root out prejudice, For You have already given us eyes With which to see the good in all men If we would only use them rightly. We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end despair, For You have already given us the power To clear away slums and to give hope If we would only use our power justly. We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end disease, For you have already given us great minds with which To search out cures and healing, If we would only use them constructively. Therefore we pray to You instead, O God, For strength, determination, and willpower, To do instead of just to pray, To become instead of merely to wish. Jack Riemer, Likrat Shabbat”
“We don't have to beg or bribe God to give us strength or hope or patience. We need only turn to Him, admit that we can't do this on our own, and understand that bravely bearing up under long-term illness is one of the most human, and one of the most godly, things we can ever do. One of the things that constantly reassures me that God is real, and not just an idea that religious leaders made up, is the fact that people who pray for strength, hope and courage so often find resources of strength, hope and courage that they did not have before they prayed.”

And finally I must admit it was a good read with rabbi Kushner through some of the Jewish traditions and prayers, and I do agree with him that God's intervention must be through natural laws, by inspiring people to excel in certain science and in helping each other in hard times, I strongly agree with him that surviving and bearing unavoidable suffering is a true miracle and one of the most Godly things to do, and surely the meaning emerges clearly to the patient sensitive man. I just refer to the term "RAHMA/MERCY" in Islam texts that needs more investigation together with the story of Job.

Are you capable of forgiving and loving God even when you have found out that He is not perfect, even when He has let you down and disappointed you by permitting bad luck and sickness and cruelty in His world, and permitting some of those things to happen to you? Can you learn to love and forgive Him despite His limitations, as Job does, and as you once learned to forgive and love your parents even though they were not as wise, as strong, or as perfect as you needed them to be?”

I really felt that sigh of relief while reading the book, but as I ended it I knew something is missing. I hope I could contribute to the cause of the book someday.
Profile Image for Janice.
1,186 reviews67 followers
August 23, 2014
I wasn't all that keen to read this book. I read it because my friend (who picked the book for our bookclub) is struggling with the question of why her husband is having to fight ALS, as well as the millions of other questions that impact her and her family.

I realized that I have been asking myself those same questions, but about my mother. Let me tell you about her. My mother is truly a wonderful person, and I'm not saying that just because I am her daughter. Her many friends who have not abandoned her in her illness is a testament to that. She has always been loving and caring to all around her. I was always impressed with her acceptance of others regardless of their differences. Her religious and spiritual life has never waivered. She filled many positions in her church through the years, and her Bible is her favourite possession.

Over the recent years, she has suffered 3 strokes which have left her with mobility issues, weakness in her arms, unable to read or write, and unable to effectively communicate. Oh, we who know her well are able to understand her, but conversations are minimal. This once vibrant, active woman now spends much of her day doing nothing. She can not tell you what day it is, nor can she remember what happened the day before unless you remind her. Most days, she can not tell me what my name is. Some days, she can not tell me what her name is.

I have asked myself why my mother has to now finish her life in such a state, and why God would visit this on one of his faithful followers.

Another reason I wasn't too keen on reading this book is that it is religion based. The author is a rabbi. But, I was pleasantly surprised at the tone of the book and the way Kushner talked about our relationship with God.

I learned much with this book - that we have certain beliefs that the good will be rewarded and the the bad will be punished. So when something bad happens to us, we immediately equate it to punishment and wonder what we did that we are now being punished. I learned the purpose of prayer, and how to pray. I'm sure my family reading this will be thinking, "But Janice, you learned how to pray when you were a very young girl!"

I wish I could have had the benefit of this man's wisdom many years ago. But he had to go through the pain of losing his son to acquire it. Maybe that's how we all learn wisdom - through moving beyond the hardships in our lives.
Profile Image for David.
436 reviews
March 31, 2015
This book has a religious structure, but it’s absent the kind of proselytizing that not only is of no interest to me but often makes me bristle with antagonism. In fact, the author takes a number of well deserved potshots at conventional religious pretense. With religion, Kushner says one question really matters: why do good people suffer? Actually, this is a question that has plagued not only theologians, but philosophers and regular folks throughout history. You don’t have to be a theologian or philosophizer to find yourself asking, “Why me?” when you’re getting screwed for no apparent fault of your own. Kushner then proceeds to examine conventional answers religions and religious people commonly offer. These typically include the following: (1) God is punishing you for something, (2) God is testing you, or (3) it’s all part of some divine plan that is often beyond your mortal comprehension. He notes that these justifications are often followed up with fictitious assertions such as “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” or “These are hidden blessing that will make you strong.” Kushner politely refers to these reasons as “unsatisfying” and explains how such answers are often inconsiderate and can leave any thinking person asking why they should buy in to this weak, audaciously bogus belief system, or even stirs hostile feelings toward their chosen Supreme Being. I have to give Kushner credit for his honest, forthright approach and for making this intellectual margin call. His own answer is not one that makes victims of ill-fate feel much better but is infinitely more credible. He points the finger at pure randomness. Bad things sometimes happen for no good reason and God can’t do anything about it. Kushner tells us that God is imperfect and limited by natural laws. I don’t think conventional religion can acquiesce to the idea that God is not omnipotent. He goes on to say that prayers asking God to intercede with natural events are misguided and doomed to failure. Here again, organized religion and most believers don’t want to believe this. They don’t want to accept the idea their God may have limited power or that their prayers have no currency for divine intervention. This all leads to the inevitable question, “What good, then, is religion?” which is the title of the book’s final chapter. The obvious answer is “none.” But this is where Kushner’s intellectual honesty comes to Judgment Day, because that’s not an answer that an ordain man of God can man up to. His answer, effectively, is that religion is a useful and compassionate crutch, and that prayer is a way of opening your heart to external support when you can’t find it in yourself. And he also makes the observation that, “Love is not the admiration of perfection, but the acceptance of an imperfect person with all his imperfections, because loving and accepting him makes us better and stronger.” With regard to the original ultimate question, Kushner gives sound, non-secular advice--when bad things happen, the question we should be asking is not, “Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?” That is really an unanswerable, pointless question. A better question would be “Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?”

One other item having nothing much to do with the thesis but of particular interest to me in my broader studies was Kushner’s observation that people seem to seek order and equilibrium in the affairs of man. We want life to balance—good deeds to be rewarded and bad deeds to be punished, hard work to pay off and laziness not. We want the world to be orderly and predictable. As far as I can tell, we don’t yet really know to what extent it works out this way, and we are inclined to be fooled by randomness. The existence of a God is agreeable to us because He would fulfill this need we have for order. Religion’s pat answers to why we suffer are not offered because they hold up to scrutiny, but because they impose a vision of the world that we desperately want to believe. The balance sheet of our universe and the distribution of intangibles is unknown and unexplored, and goes begging for inquiring minds.
Profile Image for Barbara H.
697 reviews
April 21, 2011
This book has been in my personal library for many years, but I do not forget it. Although it is written by a rabbi, it is well suited for people of any faith. Rabbi Kushner, whom I have met, has had his own share of personal tragedy, so it is fitting to state that he is not just sermonizing. His words help in many ways to make sense of loss, grieving and turmoil. An important feature of his writing is that he enables a traumatized individual to shed guilt or fault-finding related to the problem. One need not be religiously observant to appreciate this book.
Profile Image for Ignacio.
459 reviews89 followers
August 27, 2021
¿Por qué le pasan cosas malas a la gente buena? Para el rabino Harold Kushner, autor de este libro, es la única pregunta teológica que realmente importa. Se le podría decir que hay preguntas más fundamentales: por ejemplo, por qué ocurren cosas malas para empezar, o por qué hay gente buena y mala, o si la distinción entre bueno y malo tiene algún sentido en absoluto. Pero es cierto, sí, que se trata de una pregunta que nos interpela más frecuentemente, en nuestra experiencia cotidiana, sin que -necesariamente- forme parte de una cosmovisión teológica. Es decir, todos tenemos una cierta idea de la justicia, y casi continuamente comprobamos que el orden del mundo no se rige según esta idea – especialmente, cuando las cosas injustas que ocurren nos afectan en un sentido negativo.

Cuando el hijo del autor tenía tres años, fue diagnosticado con progeria: una enfermedad que supone, además de múltiples estigmas físicos y una calidad de vida penosa, la condena a una muerte temprana. Estas noticias supusieron el imaginable shock para la familia Kushner. Hasta entonces, nos dice el autor, había sido uno de los afortunados que sabía de este tipo de sufrimiento solo de segunda mano. Desde un punto de vista, digamos, profesional, le había sido fácil considerarlo y evaluarlo siempre que les ocurría a otros. Kushner se vio en la situación de muchos otros creyentes, de casi todos, puestos ante una situación que contradecía su idea de la justicia – idea que, nada menos, supone la existencia de un dios justo y todopoderoso.

De este punto de partida podría esperarse lo que también es habitual en estos casos: que, en lugar de modificar este presupuesto, sus conclusiones terminaran reafirmándolo. O sea, una de las formas vulgares de la teodicea, o sea, una justificación del sufrimiento humano que no contradijera la benevolencia y el poder de Dios. Kushner, para mi sorpresa, descarta todas estas justificaciones fáciles. A quienes dicen que el sufrimiento existe como parte fundamental de un plan divino, opone la obviedad de que hay cosas que ocurren sin razón. Hay, por ejemplo, muertes innecesarias, como la de su propio hijo. Por cada persona que se salva imposiblemente de una situación límite, y sale de la experiencia con una fe fortalecida, hay centenas y miles que no la cuentan (la diferencia decisiva es que a esos no podemos escucharlos).

En este punto, querría decirle a Kushner que el problema es partir de una concepción de Dios y después tratar de que esta concepción se ajuste a la evidencia, como hacen, normalmente, las teodiceas. En realidad, creo que deberíamos hacer lo contrario, empezar por lo que sabemos sobre el mundo y a partir de eso hacer nuestras especulaciones. ¿Concluiríamos que existe algún tipo de entidad superior detrás del diseño del universo? Quizás. ¿Sería esta deidad omnipotente, omnibenevolente y omnisciente, por necesidad? Sospecho fuertemente que no. Claro que el rabino Kushner tiene derecho a creer y escribir lo que quiera, pero de mi parte veo un problema inexistente, un problema que solo aparece merced a una concepción heredada y tradicional de Dios.

Con todo, las teodiceas tratan normalmente de salvar todos los atributos de Dios, es decir, de justificar la existencia del sufrimiento sin que este pierda su omnipotencia ni su benevolencia. Kushner no sigue este camino. Le parece obvio que Dios se abstiene regularmente de actuar en el mundo y, en consecuencia, de evitar un sufrimiento evitable, o que al menos sería evitable para una deidad todopoderosa. La conclusión de Kushner es que hay cosas que Dios no puede hacer, aunque quizás querría hacerlas. Es un Dios todavía benevolente pero limitado; limitado, en este caso, por las leyes de la naturaleza. Las cosas ocurren por principios físicos, mecánicos, que no tienen ninguna relación con la justicia. Para Kushner, hay que buscar a Dios no en el sufrimiento en sí, como si proviniese de él, sino en nuestra respuesta al sufrimiento, en nuestra noción de justicia e injusticia, en la compasión e incluso en la ira. Esta es su tesis principal.

El texto no ahonda en detalles teológicos, por lo que no sé exactamente si coincido con la argumentación de Kushner. A primera vista, me parece que no coincido con sus conclusiones. Hay especulaciones clásicas sobre lo que significa la omnipotencia. Santo Tomás, creo, decía que para Dios todo es posible, incluso aquello que va contra las leyes de la lógica. San Agustín operaba otra definición de omnipotencia, que significaría la capacidad de hacer todo lo que es posible. De esta manera, Dios no podría crear un triángulo de cuatro lados, ni hacer que 2 más 2 fueran 5. Bastaría, entonces, considerar que las leyes de la física son solo una extensión de las leyes de la matemática, y estas de la lógica. Para Dios sería igualmente imposible revertir una enfermedad, o reparar el motor descompuesto de un avión, como hacer un triángulo de cuatro lados. Bajo nuestra concepción humana, se trata de problemas de distinto orden, cuando en realidad no lo son.

Así, el Dios de Kushner es aún todopoderoso, pero su omnipotencia tiene ciertos límites. Este gambito resuelve, ciertamente, algunos problemas, al mismo tiempo que crea otros. Emulando el Dilema de Eutifrón, pero ahora aplicado al ámbito de la naturaleza, deberíamos preguntarnos si Dios sigue ciertas leyes o si las leyes lo siguen a él. En el primer caso, Dios no sería un ser primordial, dado que las leyes de la naturaleza, o las de la lógica, de alguna forma serían preexistentes a él. En el segundo, tendríamos que suponer, en cambio, que Dios decidió crear un universo bajo ciertas leyes y, después, abstenerse de romperlas. Un problema más grave, que no es mencionado en el texto, se deriva del tercero de sus atributos clásicos: la omnisciencia. De ser Dios omnisciente, entonces debía saber, al momento de crear el universo, todas las consecuencias que ese acto traería. De manera que, si no fue la causa inmediata para aquella enfermedad o este accidente aéreo, sí fue su causa primera, y lo fue, además, voluntariamente. Esto nos deja en un territorio todavía más pantanoso: o tenemos un Dios aún más limitado, que creó el universo contra su voluntad, o volvemos a la antigua teodicea, según la cual Dios conocía todo el mal que iba a causar, y sin embargo decidió crear el universo por un bien mayor, todavía desconocido. Kushner, por razones comprensibles, no lleva su especulación hasta este punto.

Otra cuestión que permanece sin ser aclarada es por qué Kushner decide salvar la benevolencia de Dios y sacrificar su omnipotencia. ¿Por qué no supone que Dios es todopoderoso, pero no es necesariamente bueno? ¿O por qué, quizás, que no es ni una cosa ni la otra? Acá, como en muchas otras cuestiones relacionadas con la fe, parece pesar más el deseo del propio creyente. En un pasaje del texto, Kushner nos dice: “Dios no es moralmente ciego. Yo no podría adorarlo si pensara que lo es”. A lo que podríamos fácilmente contestarle: ¿y eso qué? El hecho de que él prefiera que Dios sea de una determinada manera no debería cambiar en absoluto la naturaleza de Dios. En la misma vena, alguien escribe en un comentario algo así como “yo no quiero un Dios que permite el sufrimiento, pero tampoco quiero un Dios limitado”. De nuevo, ¿qué le importa a Dios lo que quieras de él? O bien: ¿qué le importa al universo lo que quieras de él? El que te parezca más satisfactoria o agradable la idea de que Dios existe no la hace ni un ápice más real. Cualquiera descartaría este razonamiento así planteado, y sin embargo muchas veces, como incluso en este libro, aparece bajo algún tipo de disfraz respetable.

Kushner, por lo demás, da una vuelta teológica que sin embargo termina en lo que, para mí, es el punto de partida. Su universo se parece mucho al mío, hecho de una naturaleza ciega e intrínsecamente amoral. Es nuestra propia consciencia la que imprime juicios de valor, la que distingue entre un bien y mal sin correlación con los hechos del mundo. Si quisiera, podría decir que esa consciencia es comparable a la divinidad. Desde ya, no sería el mismo Dios personal en el que Kushner cree y del que habla, pero al mismo tiempo ese Dios de Kushner se parece demasiado a su propia inexistencia.
Profile Image for Bridget.
23 reviews
July 31, 2016
So maybe I missed the point here but the logic of this book doesn't seem to make sense to me.
Kushner says in the last chapter (to sum up his answer to the question that the title poses), "God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal, living in a world of inflexible and natural laws. The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehavior, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God's part." So maybe I'm oversimplifying here but this basically says to me: bad shit is random and God can't cause it nor stop it. Going along with that, this poses another important question: Why do GOOD things happen to BAD people? If the bad things are random and out of God's control, the good things must be too. This paints a picture of a god that sits back and watches everything unfold. In that case, what the hell is the point? Nothing has any meaning by this logic- the good things or the bad things.
I'm not even going to go into how this contradicts the idea of a supposedly all-powerful, all-knowing god. That's a whole other huge issue.
I can see how this book brings comfort to people. However, looking at this from a more critical perspective, this argument doesn't really hold up.
Profile Image for David Crow.
Author 2 books893 followers
November 10, 2020
Rabbi Kushner has written a very brave and candid book about one of life's most inexplicable mysteries. Why do bad things happen to good people, and conversely, why do good things happen to bad people? Unlike other authors who lace their books with mythology and distant references that make little sense, Kushner takes you through his own unfair grief and still gives you a reason for faith. An extraordinary book by a great man. Read it.
Profile Image for Rianto Dermawan.
98 reviews8 followers
February 8, 2020
I stopped reading the novel consciously after seeing this book, 'When Bad Things Happen to Good People'. I put a novella for awhile to read this book written by Harold S. Kushner, who lives in Massachusetts who lost his 3-year-old son to progeria (rapid aging). Even though he is a Jew and a rabbi, it is very valuable to everyone, whatever their religion, even if they are atheist.

Reading this book is like visiting Friday Prayers in mosques for Muslims, or on Sundays going to church. We all hear sermons, words from preachers or priests, reflect on the meaning of God, His existence. Leaving all the busyness back to reflect on the life that runs, the wounds we experience, the misfortunes that come and change lives. And look for strength so that we can continue to live our lives.

And finally, to the person who asks, “What good is God? Who needs religion, if these things happen to good people and bad people alike?” I would say that God may not prevent the calamity, but He gives us the strength and the perseverance to overcome it. Where else do we get these qualities which we did not have before? The heart attack which slows down a forty-six-year-old businessman does not come from God, but the determination to change his lifestyle, to stop smoking, to care less about expanding his business and care more about spending time with his family, because his eyes have been opened to what is truly important to him—those things come from God.
Profile Image for Elaine.
17 reviews2 followers
March 27, 2012
An old book that I never read until my friend Maureen Stemmelen lent it to me last weekend. She had just come from the Unitarian Meeting House and checked out some books, because Walter's dad, Irving, was dying. She said she had read it when she was a Speech Pathology student and found it enriching.

I had avoided reading it in the past, fearing it was "preachy". It is a bit, but in a good way. He speaks from sad personal experience. His 14 year old son died from progeria, a disease of premature aging that begins in childhood. He said that Aaron's death made him a more compassionate and caring pastor, but that he'd give up all that he gained in a minute if he could have Aaron back.

That spoke to me. Most religious people yammer on about "God's will", or "God gives the greatest burden to those who can bear it" and "Something good comes from something bad". He rejects all those arguments. Read the book. He explains things much better than I can.
Profile Image for Czarny Pies.
2,532 reviews1 follower
November 12, 2014
In this short book, Rabbi Kushner gives his reader a very simple message. When something bad happens to you, don' blame yourself. There was nothing you could have done. Don't blame God, there was nothing he could have done.

When you see something bad happen to someone else, rush to comfort them. Do not judge and do not offer advice.

Kushner cites as an authority the great sociologist Emile Durkheim who argued that the basic purpose of religion was to put people in touch with each other not God.

Kushner's book was an instant hit when it was first published in 1981 and still continues to sell well. In the introduction to the 20th anniversary edition, Kushner expressed his great "gratitude to Christian clergymen who made my book a bestseller." Practicing Jews, Protestants and Roman Catholics all were very grateful to Kushner for having made such a clear statement of what they believed so profoundly.
Profile Image for Marisa.
72 reviews1 follower
August 9, 2011
I read this book against my better judgement as it is the selection of the library book club and I found it lacking in so many ways that it would be impossible to enumerate them all.

Kushner has experienced suffering, without a doubt, but his approach to suffering in this book is not authentic and rational in terms of theology. He humanizes God to the point that he is more like a concerned neighbor than an almighty creator. He effectively incapacitates God by stating that God has no control over the bad things that happen to us. Many of his assertions are bold and not backed up by a reasonable argument. Overall I found it less than enlightening and somewhat ludicrous.
Profile Image for Chris.
756 reviews108 followers
January 31, 2013
It did not bring me the comfort that I was looking for, but did have some pearls of wisdom to impart and food for thought.
Profile Image for Sue.
635 reviews24 followers
June 7, 2020
This book was among those I kept from my father's library after he passed away (many years ago now.) When I opened it up, not only was his dear signature there -- my father signed his name in all his books because he loaned them so often and wanted them back -- but also a note in his handwriting saying that it had been a birthday gift in 1983 from me, my husband, and my daughter. Apparently that was something he wanted to remember. I was flooded with memories of my gentle and loving father, who remains the very best, kindest, and most spiritually-centered man I have ever met. Because he had made notes in the margins of these pages (something he often did), reading this book was a bit like having a conversation with my dad, albeit a one-sided one. How I miss talking with him!

Though none of us knew it at the time my family gifted my dad with this book, he was to be one of the good people who are blindsided by bad things. Shortly after he retired, and while he was still in his mid-60's, my non-smoking father was diagnosed with a rare terminal lung disease and died within a year of his diagnosis. He did not even live to meet all of his grandchildren, much less see any of them grow up. And while I know there are greater tragedies in the world to mourn, my family was still left with the age-old question: Why him? Why so young? Why would such a good man die?

This is the question Kushner addresses in his book, and if you are looking for a definitive answer, look elsewhere. But if you are looking for comfort and a thoughtful discussion of what it means to be human and to live in this imperfect world, this may be a good choice. There's a reason this book is now considered as classic.

Kushner freely admits that he doesn't know why God would create a world in which sickness and disease exist. He doesn't know why God would allow pain to exist. He has no answer. But he does know that no one escapes life without pain. In this he speaks with the authority of experience, as he and his wife lost a young son to an incurable disease. I will quote him here: "Pain is the price we pay for being alive. . . . When we understand that, our question will change from, 'why do we have to feel pain?' to 'what do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?'"

Kushner also makes the point that humankind has free will, and since most of us are far from perfect, our human actions can lead to great pain -- for us and for others. As a Jewish rabbi, he has often been asked, "Where was God in Auschwitz? How could He have permitted the Nazis to kill so many innocent men, women, and children?" His response is always that it was not God who caused it. It was caused by human beings choosing to be cruel to their fellow men. WE are in charge of our behavior, both individually and collectively, and the responsibility for the consequences of those actions lies with us.

As I write this, COVID-19, a heretofore unknown illness, has taken hundreds of thousands of lives. George Floyd, a black man living in Minneapolis, has died at the hands of cruel police officers, a victim of the systemic racism that act represents. Many, many good people are suffering from bad things almost too numerous to count. Pain is everywhere. Kushner's book has never been more relevant nor his advice more timely. The real question isn't "why are these things happening" but "how can we use the pain caused by these things to make the world a better place, to make us better people?" I pray we are up to the challenge.

Profile Image for Gabe.
20 reviews
June 3, 2019
I borrowed this book from a friend, she seemed to think I would enjoy it, and I really did.
I enjoyed this book dearly but I have a lot of feelings about it.

I found the book extremely insightful and enjoyed the emotion that Rabbi Kushner managed to pack into such a small book.

Second off though, this book is written by a rabbi. Remember this. The book goes into detail on Judaism and attempts to deal with the title's question from a Jewish perspective. I don't think that it's bad for a non-Jewish person to read this (it's a good book! anyone can read it!) but just be prepared to face that this comes a from a Jewish perspective. Reading some previous reviews some reviewers don't seem to understand this. Judaism is a completely different religion, culture and even identity compared to Christianity. I'd say that someone who is curious in learning more about the current Jewish contemporary view on death should probably pick this book up.
Profile Image for Karen Field.
Author 9 books21 followers
March 25, 2009
The byline of this book is “for everyone who has been hurt by life...”

The author, a rabbi by the name of Harold S Kushner, wrote this book because he had been hurt by life. His only son was born with progeria, “rapid aging”. His son died two days after his fourteenth birthday and When Bad Things Happen to Good People was the result of the pain and hurt the author felt. But, more importantly, it was the sharing of how his faith was tested to the extreme and the conclusions he made in the end that helped him carry on with life.

Not being much of a religious person, I was a little taken aback when I realised the direction the book was taking from the start. However, the author writes in a manner that is absorbing and touching and I found I couldn’t put the book down. More than once I felt that all familiar lump choke my throat and tears well in my eyes as I felt he was talking directly to me.

As I turned the pages I felt something stir within me. The fundamental message of this book is that God is not all powerful, He is not perfect and He is not to blame for bringing the bad things into our lives. He is not punishing us for things we have done wrong, He is not piling grief and sadness onto our shoulders because He thinks we can handle it and He is not sitting back looking down on the world enjoying what He is seeing.

Bad things happen to good people, bad people and indifferent people. No one is favoured, no one is spared. But it is not God’s doing. It’s just life and nature. God is there to help us through those bad times. He will give us the strength, perseverance and the courage we need. He will walk beside us and offer us comfort.

In order to let us be free, in order to let us be human, God has to leave us free to choose to do right or to do wrong. If we are not free to choose evil, then we are not free to choose good either. Like the animal, we can only be convenient or inconvenient, obedient or disobedient. We can no longer be moral, which means we can no longer be human.

~ Harold S Kushner ~

If God is not to blame, who is? I never blamed a God I wasn’t even sure existed when I lost my son to suicide. How could I blame God for that? I blamed myself for the loss of my son. To me, something I had done had bought this about, but When Bad Things Happen to Good People has helped me see that I’m not to blame either. I am not to blame! However, I can see how a mother of a child who dies from cancer might blame God. Or why the parents of a child who is handicapped feel as if they have been abandoned by God. These things are not fair and in the midst of pain and grief, we automatically want to blame someone for what has happened. This book helps the reader see that no one is to blame. Life is cruel and so is nature, but no one is to blame.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People helped me see that I shouldn’t be asking why this has happened to me. The simple fact is that it did happen and nothing I can do will change the fact that my son is gone. I have to stop asking why this happened and concentrate on how I will respond to what’s happened.

When bad things happen to people, some of those people turn bitter and nasty, others live a life feeling disappointed and unforgiving, and others can’t push the hurt aside. But this book has reminded me that although the world and its people are not perfect, and although it doesn’t always seem like it, there is great beauty and goodness to be found around us. All we have to do is forgive and love.
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