Terrible tragedy inevitably raises the question: How could a just God allow bad things to happen to good people? Whether you grew up believing in God, or later opened to the possibility of a higher power, when confronted by loss you are likely to question your faith. Or you may believe it’s simply a random universe.
Whichever way your cookie crumbles, Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, arrives at a hard won answer. Kushner has grappled with unexplainable suffering and loss, and emerged with wisdom.
His conclusion: Things happen in life that God has nothing to do with.
Kushner offers powerful testimony based on personal tragedy – the illness, suffering, and death of his son Aaron at the age of 14.
When I wrote Swimming with Maya, I had not read Kushner’s book. On the surface, it would seem that Rabbi Kushner and I have little in common. But we are forever united in our struggle with divine injustice, in our anger at God for “taking our children,” and in our ultimate reconciliation with a higher power whose nature remains mysterious but whose essence includes a place for free will, random occurrences, and loss.
God is not an all-powerful parent who exists for the express purpose of protecting good people from bad things. God is way more complicated.
After Maya died, I screamed and yelled, cursed and cried, and told God that my daughter’s death was a terrible mistake. I begged on my knees for God to send Maya back to us. I fought as hard as I could to win God over to my point of view. In essence, I threw a two-year-long tantrum.
“It’s God’s will,” or the worst platitude, “She’s in a better place now,” made me want to scream. People say these things because they want to avoid the uncomfortable truth. I saw that God didn’t have control over Maya’s choices on the afternoon she was thrown from the back of a horse. In the end, I realized that God had not “taken” Maya.
Like a lovers quarrel that resolves into deeper understanding and connection, I finally reconciled with God. Anger was fruitless.
As I write in my book, “God is a probability specialist constantly shuffling multiple alternate realities. There are an infinite number of possibilities for the outcome of any event. Every outcome depends on human choice because we have free will.”
We label things “good” or “bad,” but the infinite mind of God does not operate in this limited fashion. In the end, like Rabbi Kushner, I made my peace with random tragedy. God never personally punishes the bad or rewards the good – nothing I had done in any lifetime could have caused the suffering I felt. It just was. Maya died. God had nothing to do with it.
Reaching this kind of spiritual maturity is hard work. Most of us get there only if we are driven to it. A lucky few may attain it without great suffering. I don’t personally know them. I do know an honest spiritual seeker when I encounter one, and Rabbi Kushner is such a person.
I hope you’ll read When Bad Things Happen to Good People and Swimming with Maya – and then pass them along to others who are looking for comfort and inspiration. There are no easy answers to the God question, but these books wrestle with it honestly.