When Bad Things Happen to Good People

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

4.3 79
by Harold S. Kushner, Kushner
     
 

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As a Young Theology Student, Harold Kushner puzzled over the Book of Job. As a small-town rabbi he counseled other people through pain and grief. But not until he learned that his three-year-old son, Aaron, would die in his early teens of a rare disease did he confront one of life's most difficult questions: Where do we find the resources to cope when tragedy strikes?

Overview

As a Young Theology Student, Harold Kushner puzzled over the Book of Job. As a small-town rabbi he counseled other people through pain and grief. But not until he learned that his three-year-old son, Aaron, would die in his early teens of a rare disease did he confront one of life's most difficult questions: Where do we find the resources to cope when tragedy strikes?

"I knew that one day I would write this book," says Rabbi Kushner. "I would write it out of my own need to put into words some of the most important things I have come to believe and know. And I would write it to help other people who might one day find themselves in a similar predicament. I am fundamentally a religious man who has been hurt by life, and I wanted to write a book that could be given to the person who has been hurt by life, and who knows in his heart that if there is justice in the world, he deserved better... If you are such a person, if you want to believe in God's goodness and fairness but find it hard because of the things that have happened to you and to people you care about, and if this book helps you do that, then I will have succeeded in distilling some blessing out of Aaron's pain and tears."

Since its original publication in 1981, When Bad Things Happen to Good People has brought solace and hope to millions. In his new preface to this anniversary edition, Rabbi Kushner relates the heartwarming responses he has received over the last two decades from people who have found inspiration and comfort within these pages.

Editorial Reviews

Norman Vincent Peale
This is a book that all humanity needs. It will help one to understand the painful vicissitudes of this life and stand up to them creatively.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Offers a moving and humane approach to understanding life's windstorms. It raises many questions that will challenge your mind and test your faith regarding the ultimate questions of life and death.
Norman Cousins
Almost every great novelist has dealt with the theme of inexplicable illness...Harold Kushner deals with this question with deep insight and provides invaluable reassurance.
Andrew M. Greeley
A touching, heart-warming book for all those of us who must contend with suffering, and that, of course, is all of us.
Publishers Weekly
When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, this book features Rabbi Kushner's perspective on how people can better deal with evil that enters their lives. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“Whether religious or not, this book will speak because it touches–profoundly, but simply–on questions no parent and no person can avoid.” –Harvey Cox, Harvard Divinity School

When Bad Things Happen to Good People offers a moving and humane approach to understanding life’s windstorms.” –Elisabeth KŸbler-Ross

“A touching, heartwarming book for those of us who must contend with suffering, and that, of course, is all of us.” –Andrew M. Greeley

“This is a book all humanity needs. It will help you understand the painful vicissitudes of this life and enable you to stand up to them creatively.” –Norman Vincent Peale

Library Journal
This celebrated work of theodicy by Rabbi Kushner is more directly a work of spirituality than self-help, but it has led to a wave of titles that address nondenominational readers more directly, including Kushner's own Living a Life That Matters (LJ 8/01) and Overcoming Life's Disappointments (LJ 7/06).

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780380603923
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
07/01/1997
Pages:
148
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.45(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

WHY I WROTE THIS BOOK

THIS is not an abstract book about God and theology. It does not try to use big words or clever ways of rephrasing questions in an effort to convince us that our problems are not really problems, but that we only think they are. This is a very personal book, written by someone who believes in God and in the goodness of the world, someone who has spent most of his life trying to help other people believe, and was compelled by a personal tragedy to rethink everything he had been taught about God and God's ways.

Our son Aaron had just passed his third birthday when our daughter Ariel was born. Aaron was a bright and happy child, who before the age of two could identify a dozen different varieties of dinosaur and could patiently explain to an adult that dinosaurs were extinct. My wife and I had been concerned about his health from the time he stopped gaining weight at the age of eight months, and from the time his hair started falling out after he turned one year old. Prominent doctors had seen him, had attached complicated names to his condition, and had assured us that he would grow to be very short but would be normal in all other ways. Just before our daughter's birth, we moved from New York to a suburb of Boston, where I became the rabbi of the local congregation We discovered that the local pediatrician was doing research in problems of children's growth, and we introduced him to Aaron. Two months later—the day our daughter was born —he visited my wife in the hospital, and told us that our son's condition was called progeria, "rapid aging." He went on to say that Aaron would never grow much beyond three feet in height, would have nohair on his head or body, would look like a little old man while he was still a child, and would die in his early teens.

How does one handle news like that? I was a young, inexperienced rabbi, not as familiar with the process of grief as I would later come to be, and what I mostly felt that day was a deep, aching sense of unfairness. It didn't make sense. I had been a good person. I had tried to do what was right in the sight of God. More than that, I was living a more religiously committed life than most people I knew, people who had large, healthy families. I believed that I was following God's ways and doing His work. How could this be happening to my family? If God existed, if He was minimally fair, let alone loving and forgiving, how could He do this to me?

And even if I could persuade myself that I deserved this punishment for some sin of neglect or pride that I was not aware of, on what grounds did Aaron have to suffer? He was an innocent child, a happy, outgoing three-year-old. Why should he have to suffer physical and psychological pain every day of his life? Why should he have to be stared at, pointed at. wherever he went? Why should he be condemned to grow into adolescence, see other boys and girls beginning to date, and realize that he would never know marriage or fatherhood? It simply didn't make sense.

Like most people, my wife and I had grown up with an image of God as an all-wise, all-powerful parent figure who would treat us as our earthly parents did, or even better. If we were obedient and deserving, He would reward us. If we got out of line, He would discipline us, reluctantly but firmly. He would protect us from being hurt or from hurting ourselves, and would see to it that we got what we deserved in life.

Like most people, I was aware of the human tragedies that darkened the landscape—the young people who died in car crashes, the cheerful, loving people wasted by crippling diseases, the neighbors and relatives whose retarded or men tally ill children people spoke of in hushed tones. But that awareness never drove me to wonder about God's justice, or to question His fairness. I assumed that He knew more about the world than I did.

Then came that day in the hospital when the doctor told us about Aaron and explained what progeria meant. It contradicted everything I had been taught. I could only repeat over and over again in my mind, "This can't be happening. It is not how the world is supposed to work." 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?

I read recently about an Israeli mother who, every year on her son s birthday, would leave the birthday party, go into the privacy of her bedroom, and cry, because her son was now one year closer to military service, one year closer to putting his life in danger, possibly one year closer to making her one of the thousands of Israeli parents who would have to stand at the grave of a child fallen in battle. I read that, and I knew exactly how she felt. Every year, on Aaron's birthday, my wife and I would celebrate. We would rejoice in his growing up and growing in skill. But we would be gripped by the cold foreknowledge that another year's passing brought us closer to the day when he would be taken from us.

I knew then that one day I would write this book. I would write it out of my own need to put into words some of the most important things I have come to believe and know. And I would write it to help other people who might one day &d themselves in a similar predicament. I would write it 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. And I would write it for all those people whose love for God and devotion to Him led them to blame themselves for their suffering and persuade themselves that they deserved it.

There were not many books, as there were not many people, to help us when Aaron was living and dying. Friends tried, and were helpful, but how much could they really do? And the books I turned to were more concerned with defending God's honor, with logical proof that bad is really good and that evil is necessary to make this a good world, than they were with curing the bewilderment and the anguish of the parent of a dying child. They had answers to all of their own questions, but no answer for mine.

I hope that this book is not like those. I did not set out to write a book that would defend or explain God. There is no need to duplicate the many treatises already on the shelves, and even if there were, I am not a formally trained philosopher. I am fundamentally a religious man who has been hurt by life, and I wanted to write a book that could be given to the person who has been hurt by life—by death, by illness or injury, by rejection or disappointment—and who knows in his heart that if there is justice in the world, he deserved better. What can God mean to such a person? Where can he turn for strength and hope? If you are such a person, if you want to believe in God's goodness and fairness but find it hard because of the things that have happened to you and to people you care about, and if this book helps you do that, then I will have succeeded in distilling some blessing out of Aaron's pain and tears.

If I ever find my book bogging down in technical theological explanations and ignoring the human pain which should be its subject, I hope that the memory of why I set out to write it will pull me back on course. Aaron died two days after his fourteenth birthday. This is his book, because any attempt to make sense of the world's pain and evil will be judged a success or a failure based on whether it offers an acceptable explanation of why he and we had to undergo what we did. And it is his book in another sense as well—because his life made it possible, and because his death made it necessary.

Copyright ) 1981 by Harold S. Kushner

What People are saying about this

Norman Vincent Peale
This is a book that all humanity needs. It will help one to understand the painful vicissitudes of this life and stand up to them creatively.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Offers a moving and humane approach to understanding life's windstorms. It raises many questions that will challenge your mind and test your faith regarding the ultimate questions of life and death.
Andrew M. Greeley
A touching, heart-warming book for all those of us who mustcontend with suffering, and that, of course, is all of us.
Harold S. Kushner
I knew that one day I would write this book. I would write it out of my own need to put into words some of the most important things I have come to believe and know. And I would write it to help other people who might one day find themselves in a similar predicament. I would write it for an 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. And I would write it for an those people whose love of God and devotion to Him led them to blame themselves for their suffering and persuade themselves that they deserved it.
Norman Cousins
Almost every great novelist has dealt with the theme of inexplicable illness...Harold Kushner deals with this question with deep insight and provides invaluable reassurance.

Meet the Author

Harold S. Kushner is the Rabbi Laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts. He is the author of five books.

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When Bad Things Happen to Good People 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 79 reviews.
RYMS43 More than 1 year ago
When I was going through a deep depression before/after my mother died, I read this book. It helped to move me beyond the deep loss I was feeling and brought me to a place where I began to accept that Bad things do happen to good people. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When my Mom died from cancer, after a long fight, a close friend recommended this and gave me a copy. Our church, main stream Protestant, givs it to our members as a gift after a death, although it is written by a Rabbi and has an Old Testament outlook. Nothing has helped more people deal with loss, in my experience, than this book. .
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rabbi Kushner's writing style and brilliant ability to show contrast with real life situations creates an eagerness to read on and an insatiable need to learn more. From the tone of this book it leads you to assume that Rabbi Kushner is just a lovable human being, rich in modesty and humility. This is a very short book which will be of value for both religious and non religious people. Whether religious or not, Rabbi Kushner's book has the ability to put a new prayer or creed in your heart, and will also enlighten you to not lose sight of the meaning of life in your life. People need not wait for some tragedy to come along to pick up this book. Personally, I am not currently dealing with a loss however, after completing this book I feel more prepared to take on the burden of coping with any unfortunate occurrences, which the future may hold. I bought this book to enable me to pass on comforting words to people close to me which were going through some tough times in their life. The majority of the readers of this book has mis-interpreted this book primarily from the misquoting of the title of the book. If you get the title wrong then this book will not serve its proper purpose to you. If you seek a bridge to the New Testament read Melvin Tinker's 'Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People'. In Tinker's 'Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People' you will find a more expanded interpretation of the Book of Job and other important passages in the New Testament that delivers what Kushner could not due to his commitment and belief in the Jewish faith. In my judgment, the two merged will give you a wider scope of learning.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was floundering, wondering if I could ever trust God again with the safety of my family after the death of my 19 year old son in a collision with a drunk driver. I did not understand why God did not protect Christopher, after all,I prayed constantly for his safety. I could not see how any sin I may have committed was so bad as to cause another person to lose their life. I could not reason how my son's death could benefit the world in some great Master Plan. I was SO SO angry with God until I read Kushner's book. I now realize that God cried too when Chris died. The man who killed him had free will and chose to drive drunk. He was driving a vehicle much older and larger than my son's Honda Civic. The laws of nature took over. This book does not go against God in any way -- it reaffirms God's love for us and his wishes for our safety. And it literally saved my life.
m_hall-1 More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book. I have read this twice. It is good after some life setbacks such as deaths, loss of property, money issues, and marital problems.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was Kushner's great insight to see that people who are caught in tragic circumstances not of their own making usually get stuck in some version of the dilemma: if God is all-powerful, why do tragedies occur? On the other hand, if God is not all-powerful, of what use is this no-longer-supreme deity to us? Patiently, and with great wisdom, Kushner sorts through issues of God and grace. I'm a Protestant but I got more out of this book than years of Sunday School. 'When Bad Things Happen to Good People' may be a little oversimplified in places but it's a great place to start--especially if you're mad at God!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books that I have ever read. Not only for the wounded, but also for the healer. Not only for the mourner, but also for the comforter. Not only for Christians or Jews (I am neither) but for those of any faith. Not only for the heart but also for the mind.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was hit by a drunk driver and injured. The pain was terrible, and the doctors couldn't find the cause. Life was so hard, and there was no pleasure. I barely kept my business going and had some not very happy clients in the process as I struggled to do that which was required. A friend recommended this book. Not only did it provide the support I needed at the time, it clarified for me the role of God in our lives. How many times I hear people say things implying that bad things happened to them because they fell short somehow. Kushner banishes such thinking. Our trials and challenges are not due to our own short-comings or to an ever-watchful and harsh God who punishes us. The only short-coming we can really have is forgetting to turn to God when bad things do happen.
ClydeVA More than 1 year ago
Best book ever written on the subject of loss, and trying to make sense of it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Regardless of your religion, I think this book can be very helpful in gaining a better understanding of God, your "Higher Power" or whatever name you use. I found that the author provides logical explanations that have allowed me to find the answers to many questions I have had. The real-life examples that he uses make it easier to understand the concepts he is discussing. In addition to helping me to better understand how God works, this book will be invaluable to me as I try to comfort others who experience loss.
Honestreaders More than 1 year ago
We have given this book to many friends, who found it insightful and inspiring when going through the most difficult of times.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first time I have read or heard a reasonable answer to the recurring questions of, if there is a God why does he permit these things to happen and why does he choose to ignore my prayers for help? So much common sense and wisdom in such a small book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was going through a tough time trying to accept that the dearest person I knew had been dignosed with Alzhimers. I was given this book and it changed the way I viewed life, death and my relationship with G-d. I aways keep a copy or two of this book just to give away. It is a wondeful book. A must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Heartfelt writing from the author!
YogaNurse108 More than 1 year ago
The only words that have ever come close to helping make sense out of the senseless things that happen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first read this many years ago. Ordered several to give to friends who are facing troubling issues and questioning God's place in their lives. Kushner's explanations make such good sense to me. I highly recommend reading this again and again. I also recommend "When God Stopped Keeping Score" for anyone who feels bound by their anger, guilt, hurt or pain. I thought that the book was just about forgiveness, I soon learned, it was about so much more than that. It was about how you should deal with friends, family and yourself and more importantly, how to keep these relationships strong when things go wrong. Having read it, I feel like a better person. Maybe because this book spoke to me and not down to me. I have read a lot of books that was written like I didn't know anything. What the author of "When God Stopped Keeping Score" does is talk to you like a friend. I needed that. You will understand why when you read it. It is on sale here on BN.com.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Helped me deal directly and honestly with the anger and sense of abandonment I felt toward God after my father passed away. At that time I had prayed so much and he still died. I was feeling so helpless and lost. Kushner helped me see God is walking beside me through the hard times, and is not the the source of the 'bad things'. This book was very helpful for me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up just a few days after loosing one of my close highschool friends in a car accident.At first glance I thought this book was going to be just another religious book explaining why the author feels god takes the lives of our loved ones. However this was not the case ,instead Kushner does and absolutely outstanding job of making the reader form their own opinions on the issue of why they think god makes the decisions he makes.I recommend this book to any one who is going through the tough times of losing a loved one. This book relates on all levels no matter what religion you are.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read 'When Bad Things Happen to Good People' when it first came out five years ago. At that time, I found it interesting. But it was not until I lived through the deaths of two of my closest friends and I reread Kushner's classic that the book hit me with full force. Two recent books also were important to me during this dark period. I recommend all three of these books for anyone going through difficult times: During the early summer, two of my best friends, both women in their 40's, died of breast cancer. I searched for books that would offer me help with my grieving, and a perspective on what I was going through. Most of the books I found were long on faith and hope, and short on thought. And then I discovered two books, both recently published, that saved my life. These were Harold Kushner's 'The Lord is My Shepherd' and Dennis Shulman's 'The Genius of Genesis.' I thank Harold Kushner and Dennis Shulman for giving me a way of understanding life and death in a broader context. All three of these books tenderly guided me through my valley of the shadow of death and toward healing, and, for this, I am grateful.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the great classics. All of us struggle from time to time with this profound issue. The author delves into the depths of life and your soul. I absolutely recommend this book, and I also recommend you read Optimal Thinking. You will learn how to accept what is out of your control, and make the most of anything and everything that is within your control. Both of these books are first-rate!
Guest More than 1 year ago
My best friend and her entire family died in a plane crash this year and this book helps give me such acceptance to death. I never thought i would have to think about death at only 17 but now that i have had to deal with it this book has made me so much stronger
Guest More than 1 year ago
After the long death of the man who helped raise me, this book reminded me to live for what he had stood for. A remarkable way to reclaim not only my own soul, but my own life and happiness.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A well written book that's great for people who have been hurt or are in question about their god. It gave me a new outlook on life. The author talks about his personal struggles and his inability to accept some of the religious aspects of god. A truely compassionate man who shares the same questions of scripture interpretation as I. His personal accounts and senerios are the base for his beliefs, along with actual passages from the bible. I would recommend this book to anyone but would strongly earge those who are struggling with their beliefs to pick this one up!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
THE BOOK WAS WONDERFUL.MY BEST FRIEND LOST HER 1 1/2 YR. OLD SON TO AN AUTO ACCIDENT FROM A TRACTOR AND TRAILER DRIVER. WE LOST A GREAT LITTLE BOY AND LIFE WITHOUT HIM WILL BE DIFFICULT.BUT RABBI KUSHNER MADE ME REALIZE AT HIS SEMINAR IN TYLER THAT LIFE MUST GO ON. AND I WOULD JUST LIKE TO SAY THANK YOU,RABBI KUSHNER FOR BRINGING PEACE TO MY LIFE.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A friend gave me this book just after my miscarriage last fall. It really helped me to deal with my grief, without losing my faith in God. I have since bought copies of this book for friends that are also suffering a loss.