Book Reviews, Books & Movies, Personal

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

bad-thingsAn impulsive act of a friend saw When Bad Things Happen to Good People bobbing it’s way over the wide ocean from America to Australia at the end of last year. 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 for what happened. Barry took his own life, 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.

Harold Kushner wrote of an old Chinese tale about a woman whose only son died. Desperate to have her son back, she goes to a holy man and asks if there is a magical incarnation which will bring her son back to life. The holy man tells the woman to fetch him a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. The woman set off on her quest to find the magical seed. Of course, she could not find such a house. She learned that everyone – the rich and the poor, the educated and the not so educated, the young and the old – everyone had their sorrow, but on her journey she learned to help other people and eventually forgot about the mustard seed.

In grief, it can feel lonesome. People don’t know what to say, because they don’t want to hurt you more than you are already hurting. Yet to say nothing also hurts you. We don’t want to hear that our loved one has gone to a better place (if it’s so great there, why are we all still here?). We don’t want to hear that there was a reason for that person to suffer and die (that statement certainly did not help me). We don’t want to hear that their time was up, or that God needed them more than we did, or that they have learned the lesson they were send here to learn. We don’t need to hear “don’t cry” or “don’t feel bad”. None of these things help and the book explains why these statements are damaging. All these things result in guilt and blame and punishment. The people left grieving do not need this added pressure at the darkest hour of their lives. They need comfort and understanding. They need the comforter to say, “this is unfair” and “you have a right to cry”. They need the comforter to just be there and listen.

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 the Barry 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.

I think of Aaron and all that his life taught me, and I realize how much I have lost and how much I have gained. Yesterday seems less painful, and I am not afraid of tomorrow.
~ Harold S Kushner ~

Thank you, Sherry, for being impulsive and being a friend. Your gift helped me immensely.

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    3 thoughts on “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”

    1. This sounds like an amazing book. The title is a question I have been often asking myself lately: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I liked the story about the woman and the mustard seed. On the other hand, though, I wish it was in my power to make life “fair”.

    2. I agree with that, Helen. “Fair” would be a definite improvement, but I guess we can’t harp on that wish, because not being able to make it come true would be too depressing.

      Last night, I met a woman who is in a wheelchair after a pregnancy hiccup. She had emergency surgery, which saved her unborn daughter, but the woman came out of the surgery a paraplegic. She admitted that she had a hard time dealing with that in the first few years, but eventually gave those thoughts the big “shove”, because they were stopping her from living life with her ever growing daughter. She said that is wasn’t easy and she still battles those demons from time to time, but acceptance on her part has enabled her to be much happier.

      This woman inspired me a great deal. It seems I’m experiencing several inspiring things of late, which is good for me, of course.

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