Book Review – When Bad Things Happen to Good People – Harold S. Kushner

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Life is full of good and bad moments. We desire to be happy but sometimes few tragedies hurt us a lot. Life offers both pain and pleasure. When bad incidents happen and that too at a sudden, we are ruined from inside. Often there are many of us who might have done good to many but have faced bad moments. When we are good, we expect life to be good to us but when life hurt us despite of being good in life, few questions come in our mind: Why this happened to me and Why bad things happen to good people? In the classis book titled “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, the author, Harold S. Kushner provides some good insights about the general feeling of humans and also tries to figure out the answer to the above questions.

The Background: Harold Kushner wrote this book dedicated to his son, Aaron who was detected with the disease “Progeria”, rapid aging. Aaron was only three years old when he was diagnosed with Progeria and would maximum continue till his early teens. Aaron died two days after his 14th birthday. Kushner was a rabbi, and it was very difficult for him to digest this incident of knowing his son would die at early teens due to a rare disease, Progeria. All his life, Kushner did good, helped many people and was always ready to any social cause. The untimely demise of his son made him to think on the notion of God, whether this was the punishment given by God to good people and that too in the form of his son’s death. The author had brilliantly provided very argumentative analysis about God and his notions that most of us perceive. The choice of good and bad and whether it is the God who is responsible for all the happenings in this world including happening of bad things to good people. This makes the book a very interesting read.

About the Author

Harold Samuel Kushner is a prominent rabbi and author. Born on 3rd April 1935 in Brooklyn, New York, he graduated from Columbia University and have received six honorary doctorates. He is best known for his books, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1981) and When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough (1986).

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When Bad Things Happen to Good People is his best-selling book which he wrote following the premature death of his son, Aaron due to Progeria.  In 2007, Harold Kushner was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by Jewish Book Council.

About the Book

When Bad Things Happen to Good People was published in 1981. As mentioned earlier, Kushner wrote this book in memory of his son, Aaron. The book is a very good read which deals about human sufferings, God, Omnipotence and theodicy.

Throughout the book, the author has raised many questions about God and why bad things happen to good people. When good people suffer any turmoil which makes their life difficult to live, people starts asking below questions:

  • Why did this happen to me?
  • Do I deserve to be treated like this?
  • Is this a kind of punishment that God offers to his followers?
  • What did I do that I deserve this?
  • How God can be so cruel to give punishment to innocent people, for wrongdoing of others?

The book provides a very good discussion on the above questions. The initial chapters will make readers to think that what we have been taught about God and his doings including running of this universe will seems to be only an attractive answer. The author had brilliantly provided argumentative analysis about God and his limitations. Reader may think about the general perceived notion of “what we get is what we deserve”, if it is really the case.

The idea that God gives people what they deserve, that our misdeeds cause or misfortune, is neat and attractive solution of problem of evil at several levels, but it has a number of serious limitations. It teaches people to blame themselves. It creates guilt even when there is no basis for guilt. It makes people to hate God, even as it makes them hate themselves. And most disturbing of all, it does not even fit the facts.

There is good discussion on the sufferings of righteous person and a wicked person. There are so many examples from author’s life journey where he has given a good insights about the sufferings of many like, parents losing their children, living with multiple sclerosis, accidents, retarded children etc. It might be true that sometimes we have to do painful things to people we love for their benefit, but not every painful thing that happens to us is beneficial.

The author has provided a good argument on why God will create sufferings to the people in order to learn compassion and gratitude? Why should God distort someone else’s life to such a degree in order to enhance our spiritual sensitivity? Such kind of questions and arguments provided in response to those questions makes this book a beautiful read.

There are few incidents which happens accidently and blaming God for those is not a good thing, as per the author. According to Kushner, the accidents, plane crash, train accidents, falling off a bridge etc. are not the punishments provided by God. If that is so, then this mean God is selective. He is selective because if the plane crashed and killed many passengers and few only got injured and few got minor injuries, the outcome is not uniform and what about those passengers who missed the flight? So the person who missed the flight should thank God for not boarding the flight because his life was safe? And what about those who boarded the flight on time? Such kind of examples and arguments will make you think for a while, after reading the book. God is not selective, sometimes there is no reason. These events do not reflect God’s choices. They happen at random, and randomness is another name of chaos.

God has made this universe and the law of nature is uniform and there is no discrepancy in it. One of the things that makes the world livable is the fact that the laws of nature are precise and reliable and always work the same way. Everything has some pros and cons, and this has been discussed so well in this book. We cannot live without gravity but at the same need to live with its dangers. Harold Kushner provides answer to the cause of bad things happening to good people. God is the creature of universe and law of nature which is uniform, and God does not reach down to interrupt the workings of laws of nature to protect the righteous from harm: this is an area which causes bad things to happen to good people and God does not cause it and cannot stop it. One should read the book for such interesting discussion.

Often it is said that it is the environment, upbringing and people suffering which makes them cruel and futile. Some becomes criminal and some kills many innocent people. People become like that because they are the victims of circumstances. Kushner had provided a very crucial point on this notion in the below excerpt:

To say of Hitler, to say of any criminal, that he did not choose to be bad but was a victim of his upbringing, is to make all morality, all discussion of right and wrong, impossible. It leaves unanswered the question of why people in similar circumstances did not all become Hitlers. But worse, to say “It is not his fault, he was not free to choose” is to rob a person of his humanity, and reduce him to the level of an animal who is similarly not free to choose between right and wrong.

Why people in similar circumstances did not all become Hitlers? An unanswered question. Read the book for more such mind blogging discussions. The author has given a good insights on sufferings in the book and he recommends not to compound the damage which one got because of sufferings by hurting oneself one more time or several times.

Instead of asking the questions, “why this happened to me? What did I do to deserve this?” The better question would be, “Now this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?”

As mentioned earlier, the initial chapters would make readers to question about God and what he does to us in the form of sufferings and punishments. But the concluding chapters takes the readers to know about God and what religion should be. This journey has been presented beautifully by Harold Kushner in this book. The book is a journey from asking the question, “Why this happened to me? “ to asking the question , “Now this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?”

A good book which deserves to be read, if not read so far.

-Ashish Kumar

35 thoughts on “Book Review – When Bad Things Happen to Good People – Harold S. Kushner

  1. KK

    This is a beautiful book and equally good review. Certainly sufferings make us learn compassion and gratitude. Being a Jewish rabbi, his reference to Hitler is superb. I liked his talk on gravity and that God doesn’t interfere with the functioning of nature. In all, a book worth reading. Congratulations Ashish🎉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, the book is worth reading… The reference to Hitler is outstanding as it gives a different way of thinking… There are many other examples in the book but I have picked only few for the review post…
      Thank you so much sir for reading the review post and sharing your good insights… Glad you liked the post… Means a lot… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I joined a workshop with Neale Donald Walsch (Conversations with God). One question was: Why does God let bad things happen? Neale said, he asked God this question too (and even wrote a book about it). God said: You got me all wrong! What people don’t understand is, that it is our free will to be here and play a role. That who we really are can never be harmed (our soul). We wanted to experience what we experience by our own ability to create. God’s love is so big that he would never override that plan. Nothing that happens is a punishment but a consequence of actions and reactions, or simply happenings to achieve our to fulfill the curriculum for this incarnation.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. This is a very good insight which you shared. Life is a journey of our role which we play on earth and how we choose it matters. Some become good because of their deeds and some becomes criminals as well…
      Thanks you so much Mam for reading the review post and providing a good insight… Really humbled, you took the time to read the post and shared your valuable feedback… Always a pleasure to hear from you… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, we all play so many different roles. And what loving souls there must be who take the role of the criminal to give others the chance to be the good one.
        I thank you, Ashish. You always have something inportant and inspiring to tell.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Indeed, the book is inspiring and good for self-help… Those questions are natural which comes in our bad times and the author had given a good argumentative analysis in the book…
      Thank you so much for reading the review post and sharing your valuable feedback… Glad you liked the review post… Humbled… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Elise

    Interesting post, well written. Thank you.
    No man can fully explain God, but if a believer has a Holy Spirit, He warns against going to a plane that is about to crash.
    The Holy Spirit guides, warns, and comforts, according to God’s will and love. God is always with us in all situations and seeks to protect us. Whether we can listen to the voice of the Holy Ghost and obey it, is another matter.
    I’ve had hundreds of prayer responses in my life and found that God is very creative in finding ways He can help. If you want protection in your life, pray in the mornings and evenings every day. Have a nice day.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading the review post and sharing your thoughts… Appreciate you taking time to provide a good insights from your perspective… Indeed, we should pray and pay gratitude as well to God for this universe and world….

      Welcome to my world of writing… Keep visiting… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for reading the review post and liking it… Glad you appreciated the post…

    Welcome to my world of writing… Keep visiting… 🙂 Will be visiting your blog shortly… 🙂


  5. That’s a great subject for discussion. I’m sure we’ve all asked these questions sometimes for ourselves and sometimes for people who we feel don’t deserve certain bad experiences. I’m guessing it’s because that’s how we’ve been conditioned. We’ve been told good things happen to good people (SO BE GOOD! 😀 ).

    I’m sure its a great book; ones that make us think and ask a lot of questions always are. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the book is a good read as it discusses these questions which often keep coming in our mind…
      Thank you so much for reading the review post and sharing your insights… Glad to have your visit and views… 🙂


  6. prasannaraghck

    You have a beautiful book review. The book is interesting; the author, at a time of excruciating pain and loss, looks for God not with the question of why he did it to him, but as an explanation to the idea of God. That is interesting and insightful. That is a moment of truth; the Rabbi embracing the idea that God has limitations. A good message to those takes consolation that they are better off than others for doing good things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the author had beautifully explained the idea of God in the book,, starting from the question “why this happens to me” and taking to a journey of the limitations of God, including the law of nature…

      I am glad to have your visit here… thanks a lot for reading the review post and sharing your insights on these topics….
      Welcome to my world of writing… Keep visiting… 🙂


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