Sunday, February 26, 2012

When Bad Things Happen To Good People

If you haven't read this book by Harold Kushner, you need to.
That is, if you've had bad things happen to you.
If you haven't, I don't know what to say
except your time's coming.
Totally kidding.
I'm not serious at all.
I hope you never need to read this.
Or that you never feel such
and anger
and confusion that you read any book you can get your hands on.

The whole premise of this book is that the author, a rabbi, is struggling with the fact that his son, Aaron, is dying.  He asks the question that I have asked many times, "If God is all-powerful, why doesn't he stop these tragedies from occurring?"  And, the whole "It's in His plan" and "Everything happens for a reason" are not comforting because 1.) I don't like to think that God planned the death of my children (or others'). It just makes me angry.  And 2) If everything does happen for a reason, I can't think of a reason why my kids need to keep dying for that reason.  All of this "God has a plan" stuff just makes me angry at God.  It has never sat well with me. If God is all-loving, then it is hard for me to swallow that He would do this to me.  Especially to teach me something. Or have me learn something. Can I give whatever is what that I learned back and get my little nuggets back instead?

So, this book addresses that.

I have read mixed reviews on some of you may love it, some of you may hate it.

But, it made me think and it was better than hearing that all of this crap is happening for some awesome things down the road.  Because, what would be even awesomer is that this never happened.  AND...better things in the future?  So, my kids died because I would have better ones later or what?  See what I mean?  People try to be comforting but it just creates more questions for me.

So, I read it.  I highlighted stuff in it and you can choose whether you want to read the parts I highlighted. I'm including it more for myself so I can easily find these quotes and passages.

So, read on if you'd like.  If not, go take your Sunday afternoon nap. Or start reading and fall asleep.  But, I'm sure this could count for your Sunday morning sermon if you picked Bedside Baptist or Mattress Methodist instead.
Here are the quotes that I underlined.  The colored parts are my additions.

  • I am offended by those who suggest that God creates retarded children (can you tell this was written in the 70's?  Retarded isn't quite the word we would use anymore) so that those around them will learn compassion and gratitude.  Why should God distort someone else's life to such a degree in order to enhance my spiritual sensitivity?
  • I was not comforted by this notion that God had singled me out because He recognized some special spiritual strength within me and knew that I would be able to handle it better (I believe Kushner is referring to the crap about 'He only gives you what you can handle.').  It didn't make me feel "privileged," ...
  • 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 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.  If God is testing us, He must know by now that many of us fail the test.  If He is only giving us burdens we can bear, I have seen Him miscalculate far too often.  If this is the case, I am going to figure out how to be weaker so that I don't have to endure any more tragedies.  
  • God is all-powerful.  Bad things do happen to good people in this world, but it is not God who wills it.  God would like people to get what they deserve in life, but He cannot always arrange it.
  • God is not doing this to us.  He can still be on our side when bad things happen to us.  He can know that we are good and honest people who deserve better.  Our misfortunes are none of His doing, and so we can turn to Him for help.  Our question will not be Job's question "God, why are You doing this to me?" but rather "God, see what is happening to me.  Can You help me?"  We will turn to God, not to be judged or forgiven, not to be rewarded or punished, but to be strengthened and comforted.
  • We will simply have to learn to live with it, sustained and comforted by the knowledge that these trials and heartaches...anger and sadden God even as they anger and sadden us.  God weeps next to us.  
  • Nature is morally blind, without values.  It churns along, following its own laws, not caring who or what gets in the way.  But God is not morally blind...God stands for justice, for fairness, for compassion. For me, the earthquake is not the "act of God."  The act of God is the courage of people to rebuild their lives after the earthquakes, and the rush of others to help them in whatever way they can.
  • It is hard to know what to say to a person who has been struck by tragedy, but it is easier to know what not say.  Anything that is critical is wrong ("Don't take it so hard.").  Anything that tries to minimize the mourner's pain ("It's for the best" of "She's better off now.").
  • Sometimes, if we can't find another person to dump our anger on, we turn it on ourselves.
  • The God I believe in does not send us the problem; He gives us the strength to cope with the problem.
  • I am a more sensitive person, a more effective pastor, a more sympathetic counselor because of Aaron's life and death than I would ever had been without it.  And I would give up all of those gains in a second if I could have my son back.  If I could choose, I would forgo all the spiritual growth and depth which has come my way because our experiences, and be what I was 15 years ago, an average rabbi, an indifferent counselor, helping some people and unable to help others, and the father of a bright, happy boy.  But I cannot choose.
  • Let me suggest that the bad things that happen to us in our lives do not have a meaning when they happen to us.  They do not happen for any good reason which would cause us to accept them willingly.  But we can give them a meaning.  We can redeem these tragedies from senselessness by imposing meaning on them.  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?"
  • God helps us when we suffer beyond the limits of our own strength...Our responding to life's unfairness with sympathy and with righteous indignation, God's compassion and God's anger working through us, may be the surest proof of God's reality.


1 comment:

  1. I love all the quotes! This book sounds amazing...I may have to get it for myself. After losing our little one, I've struggled with some of the same questions you have. I love the quote "The God I believe in does not send us the problem; He gives us the strength to cope with the problem". I'm so glad this book is helpful to you! Praying for you Rach!


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