by | Mar 14, 2011 | 3 comments

“First of all, God has created a world in which many more good things than bad things happen.  We find life’s disasters upsetting not only because they are painful but because they are exceptional.  Most people wake up on most days feeling good.  Most illnesses are curable.  Most airplanes take off and land safely.  Most of the time, when we send our children out to play, they come home safely.  The accident, the robbery, the inoperable tumor are life-shattering exceptions, but they are very rare exceptions.”

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People

I respectfully must disagree with the above statement taken from his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”  I read this a few months ago that time I grabbed about 20 books from the library.  I’ve heard of it and assumed it was a classic with some wisdom to offer.  While I did feel his heartfelt grief over the loss of his handicapped son, and there were good points regarding the value of religious community – I came away quite disappointed.  Not only does he portray a God who simply can’t do anything- can’t alter natural laws, and doesn’t like suffering – but has nothing to do with it, but the above statement is what bothered me the most.

First, I think God did create a world that was good- there are remnants and echos of it everywhere.  Whether you believe the story in Genesis or not, it seems that something went wrong.  I feel this on the larger scale of the world, and I see it in miniature in myself.  I feel I’m supposed to “be something,” but I’m never quite able to attain it or express what I think that is on the outside through achievements or appearance.  Instead, I catch glimpses of it, but continue to battle with myself- all of those things in the words of Paul- “i do that I do not want to do.”  something like that.

Second, I do not think I find Dan’s death upsetting, even partly, because it’s exceptional.  If 500 others had died on that day the same way- even mysteriously, I would find it no less painful.  My pain would not divide in pie chart form and thus be somewhat alleviated… it would remain
this whole

Thirdly, “Most illnesses are curable,” he writes.  Death is not.  And death is not rare- it is inevitable for each person.  Does that make it any less sad?  I don’t think so.  Natural aging/degeneration- does not seem “good” or “natural” though we’ve become accustomed to calling 80 small years a “good life.”  If it feels that way, that’s because we are desensitized and live 99% of our lives in complete denial of our coming end.  Am I comfortable with the knowledge that one day my daughter will die?  No, I am not.  No matter how “good” in the world’s eyes of a life she lives- that is not what I wish for her.

And lastly, what is one human being’s pain worth?  Is the size or scope of one person’s pain to be determined by the fact that the tragedy that caused it is rare and surrounding that speck of a tragedy are lots of days or families without tragedies?  This makes no sense.  One horrible, tragic, endlessly painful thing seems enough, not to nullify the goodness we do see in the world, but to admit that, no, more good things do not happen than bad things.  You see, it all depends on how you measure it.  And what about the Black Plague, the Holocaust, September 11th?  The tsunami that happened this past week?  Are these blots of horror and pain for millions not enough to turn the tide from “mostly good,” to “hey, this is not so good.”  And we must also detour from Western middle class to those living in the projects or living in countries torn by civil war.  They surely don’t wake up on most days “feeling good.”

I do not argue this point because I am being pessimistic or morbid, (though it may be translated as such) or because I want to “believe” in universal suffering or tragedy because it makes me feel there must be more than this (though this, admittedly, is true), but because I don’t believe any one person who has endured pain, singular pain in their own life on a grand scale, is being self-absorbed when they say, “No, this is not good…something here is horribly wrong.  And it is not just my case…but look..”  because one’s eyes are opened, if one is willing to bear it- to suffering once the veil is torn.  To say anything less, is to take one’s pain and tuck it away and call it an anomaly rather than accept it as our condition…the human condition and continue to wrestle with the question of…


March 14, 2011


  1. karen

    This is really an amazing post. With every tragedy whether of one person or many people's loss as in the tsunami, I feel just intense pain and sorrow. It is hard to live in this day, because most people are always thinking that there is a tomorrow.

  2. nikki

    I agree with all of your points in this post.
    Specifically the idea of that the number of good things vs bad things matters in any way.
    As if the "balancing" of good things and bad makes any difference to a specific person's grief? crazy. I'm quite aware that positive things have happened as a result of my husband's death and millions of "good things" could in the future, but that will never "balance the scale" for me. It doesn't lessen my grief at all.

  3. Brooke Simmons

    Profound. thought provoking. lovely, as always.


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