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).

PC: Google

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

Losing the viability…


Germs of wrong deeds accumulate over time.
Necessary to introspect and rectify the same on time.
Distinction between “Mistakes” and “Crime” should be understood.
Benchmark must be established to maintain the livelihood.
Deeds are important part of life as it determines destiny.
What is right or wrong should be understood primarily.
Mistakes can be forgiven and but not the crimes.
Do the mistakes to learn and stay away from crimes.
Learn from the natural resources about their contribution.
They never praise themselves for their immense contribution.
Human beings are present everywhere in this world.
Getting difficult to find “humanity” in this crowded and cruel world.
People forget their acts which are sinful in nature.
At the end, destroying the beauty of nature.
People are running in an unknown race.
What they will achieve with such a pace?
Love and gratitude are losing its place.
Unnecessary aggression and criticism are taking its place.
Pretending and self- praising are gaining popularity.
Introspection and self-realization are losing their viability.
Losing their viability….

– Ashish Kumar

Suicide – Right or wrong?


Suicide, the word seems to be little awkward and is generally considered to be a crime. There can be many reasons to commit suicide. This article highlights one of the major problems i.e suicide which is rarely discussed.

India reported 1,33,623 suicidal deaths in the year 2015 as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. This figure is strange as more than a lakh people committed suicide. Out of the total suicide, female suicide accounted to 42088 and male suicide were 91528 and rest 7 were transgender. Let us look at some statistics of suicides in India as illustrated in the following table which highlights the top 10 suicidal states.

Table 1: Suicidal deaths in top 10 states in the year 2015
State Suicidal Deaths
Maharashtra 16970
Tamil Nadu 15777
West Bengal 14602
Karnataka 10786
Madhya Pradesh 10293
Telangana 10140
Kerela 7692
Gujarat 7246
Chattisgarh 7118
Andhra Pradesh 6226
Source: National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

As it can be interpreted from the above table, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are leading in suicidal deaths. The above table also states that the problem of suicide is present throughout India from north to south, west to east which is an alarming situation. Let us look at the top 10 major cities in India having a wide number of suicidal deaths which is illustrated in the following table.

Table 2: 10 major cities with suicidal deaths in the year 2015
City Suicidal deaths
Chennai 2274
Bengaluru 1855
Delhi 1553
Mumbai 1122
Pune 873
Ahmedabad 869
Hyderabad 728
Surat 663
Indore 528
Nagpur 483
Source: National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

From the above table, Chennai is the leading city with highest number of suicidal deaths and can be said as the suicidal capital of India. The five major cities of India namely Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad are in the list of top 10 cities having suicidal deaths.

There can be many reasons for suicide. Some of the reasons can be work pressure, extra marital affairs, love failure, household atrocities, depression, stress, no hope for survival, examination pressure of failure, hunger, lack of basic amenities to live, poverty etc. However, the exact reason behind people committing suicide is difficult to find. Some people say that it is the state of mind which allows people to take such step. Yes, it is the mind who decides what to do and what not to do and it is ultimately the decision of people who go to end their life. This is startling but is the harsh reality.

Life is precious and should be lived and enjoyed while facing the bad moments. Nothing lasts forever, whether it is good or bad. Approach should be to fight and not to quit and end up one’s life. One needs to be strong enough to tackle the situation. It’s amazing to know that there are cases where people come to end up their life if failed in some activities which they have desired most. But is committing suicide is right? Life doesn’t end if you fail.

Please share your views on suicide. Those who commit suicide, is it right or wrong? What according to you is the reason behind committing suicide and what steps can be taken in order to curb suicidal deaths? Please share your thoughts.

– Ashish Kumar