Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

That question has haunted religious people for thousands of years. I remember reading Rabbi Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People when I was in high school and I was disappointed by his conclusion. His answer to that question? Because God is limited. He’d like to help, but sometimes He can’t.

Seriously? That’s not an answer I can accept. God does not have limits.

There are many books on this subject, struggling to give an answer to this perplexing problem. We want to believe that if we do good things, good things come to us. If we do bad, bad will come to us.

And I do think that’s generally true, but it can’t usually be seen on the micro-level. If we’re looking at things that happen within, say, a 50 year span, that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the infinity of time. We can’t always see the threads of action and consequences because we’re limited to looking at where we are right now and a short space behind us. But the past no longer matters. We can create our future by acting in the present. Did you know that this poem is a translation from Sanskrit?

Yesterday is but a dream

Tomorrow a vision

But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness

and every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.

Really, though, I have a problem with the question itself. What is “bad”?

It’s not that easy to define. Something that makes you unhappy? You control how you feel. While one person might be upset about a thunder storm because it will mess up her hair, someone else is delighted because her grass needs water. As Hamlet said, “Things are neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” It is our perceptions that decide something is bad.

There are a few things that people tend to agree are bad. The big ones like rape, murder, children dying. If one of those things happens in your life, does it mean you deserve it? Your karma gave it to you? I don’t believe so.

I believe that there is something to be learned from the situation. It isn’t there to make you miserable or to punish you, but to guide you towards a Truth.

There are things that you go through to burn imperfections from you, allowing your True Self to shine through more clearly.

Rabbi Kushner was inspired to write his book because of the death of his son. Why would God allow a child to die? It’s incredibly difficult to figure that one out if you believe that the child just started from scratch the moment it was born. It dies at one year old, and it never had the chance to experience life. What’s the point in that? But if you realize that we all have always been and will always be, we have no beginning and no end, then you know that child’s soul will still have the chance to experience everything life has to offer in another embodiment  Bodies are just clothes and taking them off does not hurt us.

When something happens in my life that I think is bad, here is the process my mind goes through:

  • Why do I consider this bad? Is there another way to look at it? Is it my limited perspective that labels this as bad?
  • Does it have a clear root or cause? Does it seem to have happened because of something I did? If so, adjust that behavior and try to do differently next time.
  • If not, is there some insight that this experience can give me?

Life will keep guiding you sometimes gently and sometimes forcefully towards learning, so don’t worry if you’ve missed the lesson. You’ll have infinite chances to find Truth!

You may also enjoy my post on whether evil exists: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whitehindu/2013/01/is-there-evil/

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About Ambaa Choate

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • http://www.deafdrummer.org Stephanie Ellison

    The way I look at it is… From an email I wrote in 2007:

    “Amazing pictures! The man was just very lucky. The forces of travel, gravity, angle of entry, and obstructions all played a part in how it all worked out. All that was needed was for him to slow down, come in at a different angle, shift the weight by steering the wrong way, and he would have been more than “buggered to death.” In that case, nothing would have saved him.

    “There IS a reason that the world does not have supernatural intervention as I described above. If there was, there would be no way to predict with any certainty the consequences of a moving action.

    “Riding a bicycle – the bicycle flips over on a downhill grade, with no obstacles on the ground, pedaling at a reasonable speed, nothing wrong with the bike, and the brakes were not applied. Just happens. The rider is left with the feeling that he could experience this again without warning. No way to tell, because you can check the path of the trail, the mechanics of your bike, and you will still never know when it will happen again. This is no way to live, and it stifles the willingness to be creative and take risks.

    “There IS a reason this reality operates via autopilot on natural phenomena relationships that work together the way they do to make our world possible. Having the world runs the way it does makes you responsible for your actions and the consequences. It also makes you responsible for understanding how things work and why they do, at least enough to make those experiences predictable with a minimum of alternate results. How else would it be possible to build a building structure that takes advantage of building material characterstics and how gravity works on them? How else would you machine parts in the shop if copper were able to randomly become harder or softer than the metal used as a machining tip, in a moment’s notice without changing its temperature or chemical composition? It’s just, one minute, you can machine a valve thread, the next, it tears up your cutting bits. What are you going to do? “Just wait a minute, as it might decide to soften up again. … I guess I’ll have to go home and try again tomorrow.” Reality would not work like it does in that scenario.”

    The same goes for prayers to God for a safe camping trip on a weekend filled with flash-flood warnings in a particular area (cue in a bus full of Christian kids on a Church camping trip, which seems to happen a lot). Or, how about sports fans praying for their respective team’s win of the game?? Worse, soldiers praying for a successful battle and getting them back to the base safely at the end of the day?? What about the families of the deceased enemies, who had nothing to do with the conflict at hand?? This is why I believe that if there is something out there, like somehow the Universe responds, it doesn’t respond in matters of physical reality like altering how fast your bicycle rolls given the gear, tire size, inclination of the surface, type of surface, dry/wet surface, how you’re feeling that day, etc. Everything is on autopilot to provide a stable, reliable, trusting physical environment to function in. Otherwise, there is no point, as you couldn’t trust the world you live in and be afraid to do anything for risk of injury, especially in the beginning when you did not have technology and science to help you heal from what would be fatal injuries in a completely natural setting.

    My feeling is that while it may not be possible to manipulate physical factors from without (a deist view), it may be possible to affect social factors through asking for/desiring reasonable goals and things through the Universe.

  • Stephen Sponsler

    Someone is passing this book around in our ‘bible study’ in the U.S. and immediately became suspicious so did find a link that had even more critical things to say about the book. Will provide a link below. I agree, that is not a very good answer yet I’m surprised how ‘widely acclaimed’ the book is. From this review, and having just finished some study on the Book of JOB, Kushner’s “God” is not the one I’m aware of, at least not based on this review, and if this review is true as noted below…I have no idea why someone would be passing the book around.

    Unchanging and Perfect and, “His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts”, apparently in the book the author made some rather ‘rash’ assumptions and based on the link, he sounds a bit like what would have been considered 2000 years ago to be a “Saducee”

    “When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night— then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it” (Eccles. 8:16-17). God does not tell us everything about why we go through certain things. He is sovereign. He is working all things out in His own way. It is God’s prerogative to tell us what we need to know and withhold those things that are none of our business.


    • Guest

      It’s a loaded question from the very title, for “Only God is Good” … He is also Unchanging and Perfect and, “His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts”, apparently in the book the author made some rather ‘rash’ assumptions and based on the link, he sounds a bit like what would have been considered 2000 years ago to be a “Saducee”.

      • Ambaa

        Yes, I am also surprised by how acclaimed this book is. I’m amazed that anyone can find comfort in it.