In 1978 Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book that stayed on the best-seller list for many months, entitled When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The book detailed Kushner’s attempt to understand why his son had Progeria, an incurable, rapid-aging, genetic condition that led to his death at fourteen years of age.
Kushner’s questions are those many of us ask. Why does a God we think of as loving allow awful things to happen?
Kushner explained that losses and other unwanted events are allowed by God to help us understand the strength, character and presence of God in our lives.
Not everyone believes in God. Regardless of our beliefs in God or not, we all try to figure out why things happen, especially those that take a toll on our fortunes and dreams. None of us escape from experiencing bad things like the loss of loved ones, terminal illnesses, family quarrels, bad farming years, wars and natural disasters.
Although we vary in the amount of time and ways we take to find answers, it is part of the natural course of life to make sense of tragic events that turn our lives completely upside down. We recognize there are forces beyond our understanding and control.
Even science can’t explain everything. Most of us, including most scientists, believe there was–and still is–a primeforce that started the universe and set in motion the processes we call life.
This difficult-to-understand concept has led nearly every human culture to acknowledge there is a power higher than anything in the universe. This higher power is God.
“Suffering is not punishment from a cruel God,” Rabbi Kushner said. He came to understand that for him bad things that happen are inevitable consequences of being human and mortal. The laws of nature work on us, Kushner explained.
Kushner came to accept that a sense of meaning makes painful events more bearable. He explained that humans seldom pay as much attention to good things that happen.
It is the bad things that stir us to reflect on the question of “Why?” In other words, bad things have the effect of making us search to understand what we conceive of as God.
Kushner also said that looking to the future helps us deal with tragedies. Thinking about positive future possibilities helps us to move on and to let go of painful events.
Everything that happens is an opportunity to improve our selves. By improving our selves I don’t necessarily mean getting richer, more knowledgeable or even healthier. What I am referring to is improving our character and motives for behaving.
For all of us life is a continuous sequence of decisions, which are essentially behaviors that are under our control. Everything that happens to us is an opportunity, even a gift! It’s an opportunity to practice “Not my will, but Thy will.”
Make life a constant prayer. Prayer is essentially an attitude to be open to accept whatever happens and to make the most of it.
Everything that happens to us presents an opportunity to contribute to progress in advancing the welfare of the world, or to detract from making life better. Our opportunities vary from person to person.
Some of us are given exceptional abilities, attractive physical appearances, wealth, or other enviable gifts, while others of us have little to show off. It is easier for those of us with little to lead pure unselfish lives than when we have much. Having a lot presents special challenges, for more is expected of those who have more.
But we can do enormous good that improves life everywhere by using our gifts of money, power, success, knowledge, good looks or whatever we have to help other people, our environment, our institutions and other worthy causes. As the adage says, “We can’t take it with us when we die.”
Using opportunities for personal gain is greedy and does little to make us happy in the long run. It bothers me there is so much inequity among people in our country and the world. Selfishness leaves us feeling empty. But how and why we use our good fortunes, as well as the bad things like Kushner talks about, are behaviors we control. It’s up to us to guide our motives.
I would like to end this article by inviting you to please share your thoughts. I am sure you will have some time as you undertake field work this spring, or while carrying out other occupational and recreational activities, to contemplate this and related matters.
I would like to know if what I am saying here helps you come to grips with bad things that happen to you, and good things as well. Let me know your take on this and other subjects you would like me to write about.
Dr. Rosmann is a Harlan Iowa psychologist and farmer. Readers can contact Dr. Rosmann at the website www.agbehavioralhealth.com.
By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.