Friday, April 4, 2014

"When Bad Things Happen To Good People" by Harold Kushner: A Review

Perhaps the most asked question in life is "why?" Why did my loved one have to die? Why do I have to suffer with this disease? Why does my child have that disorder? Why can't I get out of this financial difficulty? Why do the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer? Why is there so much injustice in the world? Why is there so much greed, despair, depression, poverty, war, and anger? Why do bad things happen to good people?

We've all asked it before and it causes us all to run toward comfort. Christians have always affirmed that God is good, but how can we say that God is good if He allows so much evil, suffering, and injustice in the world? To many, the answer comes down to two options. Either God is All-Powerful and not good (because He refuses to intervene) or God is good and not All-Powerful. This is a riddle that many Christians have struggle to answer.

In the best selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People Jewish rabbi Harold Kushner seeks to answer that question. Is God good? Is He All-Powerful? Can He be both? After the lost of his own teenage son and after decades of ministry to hundreds of families suffering through lost and injustice, Kushner concludes that God is good, but He is not omniscient.

I could do an entire series of posts debunking and interacting with his argument, but Kushner's argument is not new. He is unwilling to do away with the goodness of God and thus sacrifices the power of God. The reader is left with a God who is nice, but weak.

My biggest concern with the book (especially as a pastor) is how Kushner's answer affects the gospel. Grant it, Kushner is a Jewish Rabbi, not a Christian, but the popularity of the book means that a lot of Christians and semi-Christians have read the book. There was no greater injustice, no one suffered more, and no evil was ever committed than against Jesus Christ at Calvary. The climax of evil and suffering is the heart of the Christian message. Christians believe that God was at His greatest when the world was at its darkest. It is because man is so dark (so evil) that a good and just God had to intervene. This all-powerful and good God intervened by turning our evil into the greatest act of good. Calvary is beautiful and it is good because we know that there was an empty tomb.

Kushner implies that at that moment of the cross, God was doing the best He could to stop the murder of His only begotten son but couldn't. Kushner turns Calvary into yet another injustice committed in an evil world. If only God could have stopped it. But that's the point of the passion in the Gospels. God could have stopped it. Repeatedly, Jesus and the Evangelists assure us that at any moment Christ could have come down the cross, defeated His foes, and ascended to His rightful throne. But the fact that He didn't proves that God is good.

Though Kushner seeks to give his readers who presumably are suffering and mourning he fails miserably. Does bringing God down to our level make up feel better? And by pointing people away from the cross (again, I am aware that he is a Jew) takes us away from the truth that even though the world is fallen and evil and injustice surrounds us, God is still on His throne in complete and universal power, and this all-power God is also good. At the cross the two clearly collide.

For those who may be reading these words hurting I assure you, Kushner and modern psychology will not help you. Your only hope is in the assurance that though the world is evil, the God who is good remains on His throne. He is aware of your situation and assures you that you are not alone. None of us have suffered as Christ suffered. None of us were treated more unjustly than Christ. And yet, while hanging on the cross on our behalf Christ graphically showed us how we too can suffer with patience and full trust in God. Jesus remained hanging; remained dying, not because it was easy, but because He knew that God, in the midst of evil, was working a good work.

As Joseph in the Old Testament told his brothers who sold him into slavery, "what you meant for evil, God meant for good." Denying God's omnipotence does not solve the problem, it only makes it worse.

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