Harold S. Kushner: When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York 1981) 164 p.In 1963, Rabbi Harold Kushner had a son, Aaron, who suffered from progeria, "rapid aging". He was never to grow much beyond a metre in height, would be completely hairless, look like an old man already in childhood, and die in his early teens. Aaron Kushner did, in fact, die in 1977, two days after his fourteenth birthday.
Rabbi Kushner had grown up with a God who punishes bad people and makes good people prosper. Naturally, he asked himself what he had done to deserve this fate - he, a man of God, spending his days trying to help others. The answer he found was that his postulate was wrong. The suffering in this world is not caused by God, and it is not meant as a punishment for those who suffer. The suffering itself is amoral, void of meaning.
What is important for us who suffer is to create meaning out of the suffering. The question, "Why did this happen to me?", as natural and understandable as it is, is meaningless. The correct question, Rabbi Kushner writes, is "Now that this has happened, what shall I do about it?" We should not concentrate on the past and on the pain, but open doors into the future.
The facts of life and death are neutral. We, by our responses, give suffering either a positive or a negative meaning. [...] If suffering and death in someone close to us bring us to explore the limits of our capacity for strength and love and cheerfulness, if it leads us to discover sources of consolation we never knew before, then we make the person into a witness for the affirmation of life rather than its rejection.Kushner here refers to the German theologian Dorothee Sölle (1929-2003). I have been in ministry for over a decade now. I have seen sorrow and joy in close quarters. I myself have had to deal with the deaths of loved ones and with my own serious illnesses. Yet, this thin book has given me new insights and answers to questions that have tormented me. I read it with many tears and with much recognition. Rabbi Kushner is a Jew, of course, and not a Christian, but he has helped me, both personally and professionally, in ways that no Christian book has been able to - it's not that they were bad, but this is better.
On the cover of the paperback volume I'm holding (Anchor Books, 2004) it says that over 4 million copies of the book have been sold. Even that is too few. More people need to read this book, and it should be required reading in courses on pastoral theology and counseling.