Feb 25, 2011

When Bad Things Happen

The question concerning why bad things happen to us Rabbi Harold Kushner addresses in his 1981 book that stroked a receptive spot in our culture’s collective mind. Kushner titled his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Many people in our culture today do not turn to religion for answers to questions such as this—rather they turn to reason and logic for answers. Yet in my judgment, when a person ponders the imponderable, then reason and logic by definition will not because they cannot provide answers. For answers, we must turn elsewhere.

One of our biggest problems as a modern person is the idea that misfortune or hardship should never come our way because we are nice people and don’t deserve life’s tribulations. Perhaps it is our romantic notion of what life ought to be that offers no consideration to adversity being a customary part of life. And yet the book of Job reminds us that “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes” (Job 3:26).

Trouble is part of the bundle we call human existence. Nothing in human experience or in our religious understanding of life’s authentic truth promises us a trouble-free life. As I know all too well some troubles we bring upon ourselves, and some troubles happen beyond our control. As my friend Tommy Lane says: “Our margin of control in both cases is in what we do with what happens to us.”

The philosopher from South Alabama also quotes Lillian Smith, in Now Is the Time, who reminds us that “Every good thing the human race has experienced was trouble for somebody. Our birth was trouble for our mothers. To support us was trouble for our fathers. Books, paintings, music, great buildings, good food, ideas, and the nameless joys and excitements which add up to what we call ‘a good life’ came out of the travail of countless hearts and minds.”

During the coming season of Lent (which begins on Ash Wednesday: 9 March 2011) we will explore this and other questions which bedevil the human spirit and mind. Stay tuned.
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