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

Corona Virus Contribution…



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As the world is facing the serious issue of Corona virus and most of the countries have imposed nationwide lock down, the number of cases of this pandemic seems unstoppable. The total number of cases of Covid-19 had surpassed 4.5 million and is inching towards 5 million mark. No body knows, when this will come to a halt. Total number of deaths due to Covid-19 is 313,759 (at the time of writing this article) and it may not be unprecedented if deaths increases in near future. It’s rare to see any country free from Corona virus pandemic at this point of time. United States had suffered the most, both in terms of number of cases and deaths. In fact, the total number of cases in US had surpassed 1.5 million and number of deaths had crossed 90,000 mark. Every country is working on in their capacity to have some cure in near future, including the vaccine.

Needless to say, be it small or big county (in terms of population), Covid-19 has compelled the world to “Stand-still, and India is no more exception. India, the 2nd largest country of the world (in terms of population), has been also hit badly due to this Corona virus pandemic. The country is in lock down for almost two months now and it may continue. Lock down 4.0 has been imposed as well and has been extended to 31st May, 2020. Due to large population and population density, the risk of community spread is very high in India, especially in major cities where population density is highest.  Mumbai has the largest number of cases in India and the city which never slept and stopped, came to halt. This is the case with all the major cities in India. Most of the services has stopped functioning in India except the essential services due to Covid-19. As of now, the total number of Covid-19 cases in India is over 91,000. The increase in number of cases in recent days is a matter to worry. The first case in India was reported on 30th January, 2020 from Kerala. There were 62 cases on 10th March and 1251 cases on 30th March. The current tally stands at 91,449 (at the time of writing this article). Let’s look at the number of cases and deaths in India.

Table: Total No of Corona Cases and deaths in India as on selective dates
Date Total No of Cases Total No of deaths
26th Feb 2020 3 0
10th Mar 2020 62 0
30th Mar 2020 1,251 32
10th Apr 2020 7,600 249
25th April 2020 26,283 825
1st May 2020 37,257 1,223
5th May 2020 49,400 1,693
10th May 2020 67,161 2,212
15th May 2020 85,784 2,753
16th May 2020 90,648 2,871
Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/india/

Look at the above figures carefully, the number of cases and deaths have more than doubled from 1st May to 16th May 2020. There were 4,864 new cases reported on 16th May, the highest number of cases reported in a day so far. Although, India has a good recovery rate so far as compared to other countries, due to proactive lock down and other steps taken by the government. But, the above figures are matter of concern as the total number of cases in inching towards 100,000.

Testing of Covid-19 should be also taken into consideration. As of now (at the time of writing this article), there are 22,27,642 tests have been conducted. The total number of Corona cases comes out to be 4.1% of the total tests conducted. India with over 1.3 billion population, the number of tests conducted so far is not even 0.5% of the total population. Now consider the testing conducted on at least 1% of the total population which comes out to be around 1,30,00,000 and applying the same assumption, the total number of Corona cases comes out to be around 533,000 (4.1% of 1,30,00,000 = 533,000). Similarly, if the tests are conducted for at least 10% of the country’s population, you can imagine the number of cases which comes out to be over 1 million. That’s why it is a matter of concern, considering the fact, India lacks well and proper health infrastructure.

Since this is a pandemic situation and the country had suffered and may suffer serious economic loss post the Covid-19 era. But we don’t know when this will end. As most of the economic activities had stopped, the country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will fall drastically. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) too had predicted the same. Most of the population of India works in unorganized sector and this sector has been hit the worst. Daily wages labours have no work and they are migrating to their home-town and the saddest part is, they are losing their lives. I am amazed and saddened to hear accidents are happening in this lock down situation (God knows how and why during lock down), killing innocent people.  People are dying due to hunger and accidents. Kids are crying in front of dead bodies of their parents and our so-called intellectual leaders are leaving no stone unturned to do politics on it… Sorry to say but that’s the fact…

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There are also information coming from many companies that they are doing salary deduction due to Covid-19 situation, be it big corporates or small companies. The salary deduction ranges from 5% to 50%. This is shocking. Employees main source of income is their salary and work from home is in practice right now, then why salary deduction? It is shocking to see that some of the big names who used to give lectures on crisis management doesn’t have enough reserves to pay their employees. It may not be shocking to see high number of lay-offs and termination during or post Corona era.

The other contribution of this Covid-19 is on Stock market. Both Nifty 50 and Sensex fell. Currently, Nifty 50 is trading below 10,000 mark and it is important to note that it touched 7600 mark on 23rd March 2020. Same is the case with Sensex. Sensex is trading below 40,000 and it was trading just below 26,000 on 23rd March 2020 and currently trading just above 30,000. Nifty 50 and Sensex are the two most important stock indexes of India, traded on National Stock Exchange (NSE) and Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) respectively.

To summarize, some of the Corona Virus contribution includes:

  • Pandemic situation across the country and world.
  • Large number of deaths.
  • Unorganized sector worst hit in India.
  • Economic activities stopped.
  • Daily wages labours and their families are badly affected.
  • Innocent deaths due to accidents and hunger.
  • Illogical politics.
  • Salary deductions.
  • Phase-wise lock down.
  • Stock market down.

It is hard time and we must unite to tackle this situation. Please share your views on what you think on the current Covid-19 situation and what according to you is the contribution of Covid-19 apart from what is mentioned above.

– Ashish Kumar