Do you consider yourself a good person? I consider myself a good person. At least I want to think I am a good person. After all, I have spent the greatest majority of my life trying to be a spiritual person. I have done my best to attempt to live a spiritual life.
Are you perfect? I know I’m not. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve done things for which I have regrets. I have lost my temper on more than one occasion.
Have you ever had something terrible happen to you? I have. There have been people in my life who have died. There has been significant destruction and loss at various points in my life. I have been robbed, and I was bullied at different points in my life. I was also abused as a child. I’ve even been accused of horrible things which I did not do. I have also encountered my fair share of chronic health issues from which I felt powerless to overcome.
Have you ever known a good person who found themselves having to deal with unspeakable tragedy? Have you ever felt horrible for them and find yourself wondering…. why? Why did or is it happening to them?
I ask these questions for the July blog post because I want to talk about something many people find frustrating. It is a theological question as old as theology itself. It is the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
The Blame Game
When things go wrong or not according to our plans or our wishes, most people look for someone to blame. This is, after all, human nature. It is how our mind works. A mind which has been conditioned by the laws of society.
When a crime is committed, it is essential to find the criminal and punish them. Justice has to be served. So you have the usual suspects—from petty thieves to rapists and cruel tyrants—who deserve to be incarcerated for their demeanor. But we are at a loss about what to do in the absence of a perpetrator. We do not understand why bad things that happen to good people.
When tragedy strikes, such as floods, a hurricane, or an earthquake, we cannot single out a criminal who caused this. Even when we face misfortune on a different level, such as the loss of a limb in an accident or the tragic death of a loved one, we try to seek solace using an understanding of cause and effect.
Why are we suffering? Is it because we have committed some sin and are being punished for it? In the absence of being unable to single out a perpetrator, we turn our attention to God. Isn’t God omniscient and therefore responsible for whatever happens?
There Should be an Explanation for Every Action
We turn to the philosophical argument of cause and effect, where an event is always the consequence of something done because of intent or by accident. We think faith or our understanding of an omniscient superior being or God is the only way to explain why bad things happen to good people. In fact, many of us have conditioned the association of our good fortune and fate with an omniscient and omnipotent Supreme Being.
Shakespeare comments on this through the Duke of Gloucester in King Lear, when he says, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.” The gods in this reference are portrayed as whimsical and frivolous, no less responsible than immature boys.
A wiser God is described within the Bible in the Book of Job.
Job was an extremely pious and righteous man. Satan contended that Job is good only because he has been blessed by good fortune. He argued that if God tested him and put him in a position where the comforts of good fortune did not protect him, he would change. So in a dramatic turn of events, everything that Job possessed, including his children, is taken away from him.
The story is often cited as a fable that expresses the notion that when bad things happen to good people, it is God’s way of testing our faith. Additionally, the story in the Bible is meant to teach readers that they can not fully understand or comprehend God. They must instead have faith in God and know that God is always near and knows what is best.
The Answer Lies Within Us Not Outside Us
When a personal tragedy changed his life, Harold Kushner wrote an inspirational book called ‘When bad things happen to good people.’
Harold Kushner is a conservative Jewish rabbi. His son, Aaron, died at the age of 14 from a genetic disease. It was after his son’s death that rabbi Kushner wrote this book. It is a book which deals with the theological question of theodicy or why a good God allows bad things to happen to good people.
Rabbi Kushner believes that God is always with people during their times of suffering. The wisdom in the book is not that it provides concrete answers but that it shows us why it is essential to ask the right questions. Instead of asking why something happened, can we rise above and beyond our own perspective? Can we instead ask, what do I do now that this has happened?
Being able to answer that question is the key to overcoming what oftentimes appears to be unfair strife in life. What do I do now? Not, why did it happen? This small difference forces the mind to look forward and not dwell on what has been. It places the emphasis on hope and possibilities, not tragedy.
Let’s face it, we can try to find the answer to the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” by trying to second guess fate. We can also try to discover the reasons behind why the event happened. In both cases, however, we are dealing with a proverbial Gordian knot.
What’s the story behind the Gordian knot?
While everyone tried and failed to unravel the Gordian knot, Alexander, the Greek King, cut the knot with a sword. There are myriad interpretations of what the sword metaphor indicates. You can call it clarity of thought, the singularity of purpose, wisdom, razor-sharp reason, or simply plain faith. Whatever it is, it is this indescribable quality that allows us to rise above the confusion we wallow in when we ask a question for which we know we cannot find a plausible or satisfactory answer.