When Bad Things Happen to Good People

4. No exceptions for nice people [pages 56-71]

"Centuries ago, people found reassuring proof of God in stories of miracles. The point of all these stories was to prove that God cared about us so much that He was willing to suspend the laws of nature to support and protect those whom He favored. But we today are told those stories and we are skeptical. If anything, we find proof of God precisely in the fact that laws of nature do not change. One of the things that makes the world livable is the fact that the laws of nature are precise and reliable, and always work the same way." [page 56-57]

"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. No matter what stories we were taught about Daniel or Jonah in Sunday School, God does not reach down to interrupt the workings of laws of nature to protect the righteous from harm. This is a second area of our world which causes bad things to happen to good people, and God does not cause it and cannot stop it." [page 58]

"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. I could not worship Him if I thought He was. God stands for justice, for fairness, for compassion. 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." [page 59-60]

"Instead of asking why good people have to suffer from the same laws of nature that bad people do, let us ask why any people have to suffer at all. If God was designing a world for our maximum benefit, why could He not create unchanging laws of nature which would not do harm to any of us, good or bad?" [page 61]

Kushner doesn't really answer this question, and acknowledges as much. He discusses some of the particular manifestations of harm, like pain and death, and points out that they are necessary for our world to work right--people without pain wouldn't know what to avoid, and a world without death would soon be overcrowded. But he attempts no answer to the question the why God couldn't have created a world where pain and death weren't necessary.

"But, as in our previous discussion of pain, we have to acknowledge that it is one thing to explain that mortality in general is good for people in general. It is something else again to try to tell someone who has lost a parent, a wife, or a child, that death is good. We don't dare try to do that. It would be cruel and thoughtless." [page 71]

Buried in the middle of this chapter is the point at which Kushner begins to change the focus of the book: "Pain is the price we pay for being alive. When we understand that, our question will change from, 'why do we have to be in pain?' to 'what do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and is not just pointless empty suffering? How can we turn all the painful experiences of our lives into birth pangs or into growing pains?' We may not ever understand why we suffer or be able to control the forces that cause our suffering, but we can have a lot to say about what the suffering does to us, and what sort of people we become because of it. Pain makes some people bitter and envious. It makes others sensitive and compassionate. It is the result, not the cause, of pain that makes some experiences of pain meaningful and others empty and destructive." [page 64]

He returns to this point to close the chapter: "All we an do is try to rise beyond the question 'why did it happen?' and begin to ask the question 'what do I do now that it has happened?'" [page 71]

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