Rabbi Harold Kushner makes the point in this book that every serious
discussion of religion boils down to the problem of suffering. If
God exists, why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad
things happen at all?
The author starts by explaining that his book grew out of the pain of
watching his son, Aaron, die of old age when he was just 14. When
Aaron was only three, he was diagnosed with progeria, a rare condition
in which a child ages very rapidly. On hearing the diagnosis, the
author’s natural reaction was anger and bewilderment. He had
always believed that God was good, kind, and just, but how could a
good, kind or just God treat a child this way?
In order to come up with an explanation of suffering which satisfies
both honest observation of reality and faith in a good God, Rabbi
Kushner starts by assessing the explanations for suffering which he
grew up with and encountered when trying to deal with Aaron’s illness
and death, all of which failed to satisfy. He notes that most
explanations serve more to excuse God than explain the suffering;
moreover, experience proves them false. A baby who wanders out of
sight for a moment and drowns in the family pool does not learn from
the experience; he dies. Not all people who are tested by God
past the test; some are crushed.
God does not make all things
right in the end for those who serve him; sometimes good people die
before God can make things right. Sometimes the righteous suffer
and the wicked continue to flourish.
In place of the explanations which he dismisses, Rabbi Kushner offers
the suggestion that God is limited by what He can do by the laws of
nature, by human nature, and by human freedom. God does not cause
our misfortunes as punishment for sin or to test us; instead God is as
outraged by our misfortunes as we are because God is indeed good, kind
and just. The author further suggests that perhaps God permits
misfortune because, by refraining from intervention by miracle, God is
leaving room for human beings to act.
Instead of asking why bad things happen, Rabbi Kushner quotes Dorothee
Soelle who said that why is the wrong question to ask about
suffering. The correct question is, in fact, what we can do about
our suffering to confer meaning upon it, to create good from the evil
we must each endure.