"When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Rabbi Harold Kushner


I have been hearing about this book for decades but never read it. I seem to recall hearing someplace that it wasn’t in line with Catholic teaching because it portrayed God as not involved in our lives.

I was therefore a bit surprised last week to hear a priest (I think it was the priest and not the deacon) use the book as the subject of part of a homily.

I’d like to hear some more opinions on this book, preferably from people who have read the book, but if you haven’t read the book and just want to share something your priest said about it, that’s okay too, just make sure you state that you haven’t read the book.

Would this book be a productive thing for a Catholic firm in their faith - not someone new to the faith or someone just considering whether to join the Church or trying to understand Catholic teaching - to read? Is it worth spending the time? Does it have any really good insights? If you read it, did you think it was helpful?



Haven’t read it, so can’t directly comment. However, I too have heard some good things about it. Remember that some good truths can come from surprising sources.

I just finished Pope Benedict Jesus series. He quotes many non-Catholic sources, extracting from them many very good points, and discarding the not so good points.

My internal view of you is that you could likewise extract the good from that book, while rejecting the errors. But that’s my own opinion, of course.



I read it, and I think the Rabbi means well, but his conclusion is that God is not omnipotent because bad things happen.

When I was in high school, one of my friends dad died, and our Religion teacher gave her this book. My friend is agnostic today. I don’t know if there’s a correlation. But it was definitely the wrong read for the wrong kid.



Ach, that doesn’t sound like a right thing for a Rabbi to say, that God is not omnipotent.

I wonder why our priest would mention such a book in his homily. :thinking:

Maybe he has not actually read it and just remembered the title.

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I don’t remember “God is not omnipotent.” It was many years ago but my take away was that there are somethings for which we simply will not have answers in this life. All we can do is trust, no matter what. So, no big new insights.



I read it about 30 years ago. I agree with you.



The choice that Rabbi Kushner had was either to say that Gd is not all loving or that Gd is not all powerful. He chose the latter, which is NOT in keeping with ANY branch of Judaism (Kushner himself is a Conservative Jew, midway between Orthodox and Reform), all of which believe that Gd is BOTH all-loving AND omnipotent. On the other hand, there are other things Rabbi Kushner talks about in the book that may be helpful for (some) people, including the first word of the title, which is “when” and not “why.” In other words, the book is not about searching for a definitive reason why bad things happen to people but rather the fact that bad things do happen to all people, no matter who they are, and how all of us can deal with this fact of life. The book itself was inspired by the death of his son, who suffered from the terrible genetic disease of rapid aging in children called progeria.



I purchased the book from a Catholic book shop in the late '80’s and thought it was very helpful. As far as I know, it’s considered an informal but orthodox exegesis of the Book of the long suffering Job.



Hi Bear, were you interested specifically in this book, or more generally, seeking out excellent books that address the meaning of human suffering?



Thanks, that’s what I thought the Jewish belief was, that God was both loving and omnipotent. I’m sure the Rabbi meant well in writing the book and it probably helped many people who read it, but what a bizarre conclusion to reach, nonetheless. I would not be able to wrap my mind around it.



I was primarily just wondering about this book because it came up in the homily when I thought it wasn’t supposed to be a great book for Catholics to read based on what I heard.

I don’t really sit around pondering human suffering like it’s a mystery, I just reckon we’re supposed to be learning lessons from it, offering it up and moving on. I’d also probably rather not read about it except in the context of the lives of the saints. Life is hard enough without dwelling on the bad parts, and bears aren’t very deep thinkers :no_mouth: From a practical standpoint my reading time is also very limited.

If you have a good book in mind you should post it though because other people read the threads and it might be of interest to someone other than me.

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The best book I’ve ever read about human suffering is Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering) by St. John Paul II: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris.html

And here’s a brief summary of the work from a back issue of the Rosary Confraternity’s newsletter: https://web.archive.org/web/20170905125537/http://www.rosary-center.org:80/ll49n2.htm

This work doesn’t talk about suffering in the context of the life of any individiual saint, but I do believe they’re both bite-sized for your average bear.



Thanks, Jerzy. I read the Rosary Confraternity newsletter link. (I’m actually in the Rosary Confraternity, but I don’t think they send newsletters any more.) It was pretty much what I was taught, primarily by my mom and a handful of older nuns and priests because the Catholic Church actively avoided this subject when I was growing up. It also seems similar to things I’ve read by/ about a number of saints and blesseds and other holy people. For example, Ven. Archbishop Sheen and his comment when passing a hospital about “All that wasted suffering”, and stuff by Mother Angelica, various “victim souls” and the Focolare movement (where you join your suffering to the Forgotten Jesus in the Garden).

This type of thought process works fine for me and is why I don’t spend a huge amount of time thinking about human suffering and why God permits this or that. Also why I didn’t go rushing to read “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” which has been out forever.

Presenting this view to other people is really problematic though. We have had multiple threads on “suffering” right on this forum where non-Catholics and even some Catholics have been resistant to the traditional thinking. I remember one thread a few months back where somebody argued that this type of thinking encourages women to demean themselves and stay in abusive relationships, which is not how I understood it, ever. Other people just don’t understand why God doesn’t simply wave a magic wand and stop human suffering and death, or if they’re coming from some Protestant traditions they get hung up that we have to somehow do more when Jesus by dying was supposed to have done it all. Or they get mad that they’re expected to offer suffering of their own on behalf of other people who sin. That’s part of why I’m not a “deep thinker” on the subject. I’m fine with the teaching as shown in the Rosary Confraternity newsletter and I don’t understand how people can misinterpret it in the odd ways they seem to do.



I would not recommend it to people, in it’s place I would recommend Fr Groeschel’s “Tears of God”



“Tears of God” actually looks much more interesting than “When Bad Things Happen…”

Maybe it’s just because I am more comfortable with Fr. Groeschel as an author. I might read that one myself. Thanks!

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My Jewish wife (any my only wife, for the record) has the book, but I’ve not read it. Kushner is a “progressive conservative” which only makes sense in the context of the major Jewish denominations. He’s in the center of a venn diagram between conservative, reform and reconstructionist denominations. The Rabbi at my wife’s synagogue really likes Kushner’s writing.



What is wrong with or unproductive about reading non-catholic materials? You won’t be suddenly “converted” to someone else’s ideology just for thinking about what they have to say. It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it, is it not? Elements of the Truth can be found in everything: why else would our own Church draw from some of the philosophy of the Greek pagans? It doesn’t mean that they have the fullness of the Truth as our Faith does, but I usually find that only those who are insecure about what they believe are fearful to read materials outside of their own faith or mindset. Besides, how else will you know your enemy if you don’t read what he produces and see how he thinks?



I actually listen to a good bit of Christian (not Catholic) radio and have read books by/ about Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist and “new age” people.
However, someone who thinks God is not omnipotent because bad things happen on earth is not what I’d classify as “non-Catholic”, it’s such a weird concept to me that it’s more from outer space.

My reading time is also super limited. I would like to spend it on books that I am pretty sure will be productive.

I didn’t tell anyone else not to read the book, so any Catholic who wants to spend time on it can feel free. It’s likely a good many people here already read it because it has been a best seller. I myself will exercise my free choice to just skip the whole thing.

Edited to add, I’m not sure why you would equate not wanting to read something with being “fearful” about losing one’s faith. People are free to read stuff they like/ enjoy or find helpful to them on their faith journey, and one shouldn’t be forced to read something they don’t care for like you’d be forced to eat some vegetable you don’t like, just to prove that you’re strong in your faith. I would suggest that maybe you not jump to conclusions about people or be judgmental towards them based on their reading habits.



Maybe Rabbi means to say that God’s omnipotence is not (yet) manifested fully in this world? Like God here, from where we stand is not omnipotent or He’s not very nice. From what I understand Rabbis do not have a problem in presenting partial relative ideas that do answer it all.
Seeing God’s omnipotence through the most of fatalism (everything happening He does it) is also not a Christian idea and not enocouraged by the Church. Since He allows us free will He does not make His omnipotence present fully in our lives because what we do is what we do. He gave us His power. Here on Earth we probably don’t live in His full omnipotence. It said that after death we lose a lot of this freedom and then we are truly subjected completely to His power.



I never implied that people should be forced to read what they don’t care for :slight_smile: To each his own. I decide against reading many books simply because they are written poorly or are about a boring subject. Also, it is certainly profitable to read books about our own holy Faith as a means to build it up. I often find in my personal experience, however, that many a devout Catholic is hesitant to read anything outside their own Faith, which is a regrettable thing because it leads to a group who is unable to discuss/defend their Faith since they’ve only read about their own.


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