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When Bad Things Happen to Good People

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  13,171 ratings  ·  745 reviews
When Harold Kushner’s three-year-old son was diagnosed with a degenerative disease and that he would only live until his early teens, he was faced with one of life’s most difficult questions: Why, God? Years later, Rabbi Kushner wrote this straightforward, elegant contemplation of the doubts and fears that arise when tragedy strikes. Kushner shares his wisdom as a rabbi, a ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published August 24th 2004 by Anchor (first published 1981)
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Courtney R. The candles in churches are out,
The stars have gone out in the sky.
Blow on the coal of the heart
And we'll see by and by. . . .

"J.B." by Archibald…more
The candles in churches are out,
The stars have gone out in the sky.
Blow on the coal of the heart
And we'll see by and by. . . .

"J.B." by Archibald MacLeish(less)

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4.04  · 
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 ·  13,171 ratings  ·  745 reviews

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Yet Another Anti-Semitic Trope

Recently another GR reader criticised Rabbi Kushner’s theodicy and called the contents of his well-known book “insulting to God” and “bad theology.” It is of course neither. In addition to being a highly edifying personal story about the suffering and death of his young son, it also has broader cultural significance in demonstrating the struggle that many have with the residue of our Western philosophical past.

Kushner, in his family’s crisis, was confronted by a dil
Heidi The Reader
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
When Bad Things Happen to Good People is Rabbi Harold Kushner's examination of life, why things happen and the role of God in all of it.

Kushner wrote the book because his son was born with progeria, a disease where his body aged much faster than it should, and he died young. It shook Kushner to his core. "Tragedies like this were supposed to happen to selfish, dishonest people whom I, as a rabbi, would then try to comfort by assuring them of God's forgiving love. How could it be happening to me,
Skylar Burris
Dec 24, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: judaism
Rabbi Kushner's position is that, because suffering exists in the world, only three options are possible: (1) God does not exist. (2) God exists but is not good, or (3) God exists and is good but is not all-powerful. He chooses explanation (3). Explanation (4), that God exists, is good, and is all-powerful, but for reasons we cannot now fully comprehend, chooses to allow suffering, is not an option.

Despite its unsatisfying theology, I was reminded of three very important things from this book,
K.D. Absolutely
Mar 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to K.D. by: Barbara
Yesterday, while I was trying to compose this review in my mind, I saw this headline in The Philippine Daily Inquirer: Corona Leaving Fate to God. For my foreigner friends, this impeachment trial of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines has been one of the favorite topics for discussion nowadays among us Filipinos. Our Chief Justice is facing 8 Articles of Impeachment. Among these are failure to disclose to the public his statement of assets and liabilities, partiality and su ...more
Jennifer Lane
Jul 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Savvy Spiritual Guidance

I often recommend this book to psychotherapy clients because it gives me peace of mind when struggling with the pain of life. Written by Rabbi Harold Kushner, this collection of philosophical wisdom is not tied to a particular religion.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does a loving father die of cancer when a murderer lives? How can a young, innocent child suffer a disfiguring injury? This book attempts to answer such questions.

Sometimes well-intentioned indiv
Oct 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
I wish I could say that this book answers the question posed by its title. Instead, it is more of lesson on how "God" doesn't cause bad things - humans do. If this a concept unfamiliar to you then you might find this book mind opening and perhaps relieving. On the other hand, if you already felt this way, then this book might seem a bit elementary and disappointing. However, I give this book four stars for two reasons. One, the author seems like the coolest rabbi around. He seems to "get" it - s ...more
Tom LA
Apr 14, 2016 rated it did not like it
Honest review: this is a book about the author, not about God. Kushner was crying out against God, just like Job, and - in a contrived way - he expressed his anger by presenting in this book a totally self-made theology, where God is not perfect and all-powerful.

In a nutshell, this book is Kushner insulting God for the death of his young son, while pretending to be rational about it. This means that, as a rabbi and a theologian, he comes up with a customized concept of God that, while valid on
Dec 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best I can do to explain this book is to quote it:

"But if Man is truly free to choose, if he can show himself as being virtuous by freely choosing the good when the bad is equally possible, then he has to be free to choose the bad also. If he were only free to do good, he would not really be choosing. If we are bound to do good, then we are not free to choose it." Harold Kushner, p. 79.

I think a lot of things come down to choice. And this book explains it really well. I really liked this bo
Mar 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
God is not all powerful. God does not inflict suffering. Suffering is not a divine means to punish, to test our faith, or to teach us a lesson. These ideas fly in the face of what most every believer has been taught, and the ideology that is embedded and reinforced by the Judeo-Christian folk religion of the larger society. And yet, read Rabbi Kusher's reasoning and you, too will gain a broader understanding of God and what it means to be human and to endure pain, suffering, and joy. I have come ...more
Elyse Walters
Oct 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this book when it came out! I heard the author speak.

Its an old book. It was one of the books marked for a new friend here on Goodreads.

I 'think' the author has a more recent book out --(I'll have to check)

About this book: It can be valuable to read if a person is going through a loss -a death of somebody close -(any tragic situation) --

Personal tragedy is the context of this book --then the reader can look at different perspectives and beliefs.

The topic of GOD is examined (not pushed dow
Josephine (Jo)
I did find parts of this book useful but, because I am a Christian, I had the constant feeling that the Rabbi was only looking at half of the picture. He bases his arguments entirely upon the God of the Old Testament because of course he does not recognise Jesus as the Son of God. Rabbi Kushner comes to the conclusion that God is not perfect, (a little presumptuous I think for a mere mortal) and says that it is no use praying to God to take away our suffering as He cannot do so. In the New Testa ...more
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is not a book written by a preacher who decides just to get up one Sunday and preach on Suffering and give you all the blah blah that you have got memorized by now too well... No, this is a man who had to lose his beloved dear son to a genetic disorder and had to wrestle with the issue as a Jewish believing rabbi. I can hear Rabbi Kushner's voice on every page of the book and he is so compassionate. What is beautiful about him is that he is real and honest and never claims to have the ultim ...more
Yassin Omar يس
May 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
The most important thing that rabbi Kushner really did is breaking the taboos of bad fate and destiny being all directly from God, and the silly ridiculous consequent statements it entails.
-You must have done something horribly wrong and that's your just punishment, even we are pretty sure of one's goodness. Blaming the victim attitude!

-God sends tragedies only to those who can bear them!
“Does God "temper the wind to the shorn lamb"? Does He never ask more of us than we can endure? My experi
Jul 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: religious
I only finished this book by Rabi Kushner because I truly wanted to understand the author's position and therefore that of thousands in this world. I enjoyed his logical methodical manner of understanding trials and God's role, there are some points I agree with.
1. God follows the rules and laws of nature.
2. Many bad things happen because of the nature of the world.
3. God is deeply saddened by the pain and cruelty of the world.

However, I heartily disagree with a few main points. Here are some o
I wasn't all that keen to read this book. I read it because my friend (who picked the book for our bookclub) is struggling with the question of why her husband is having to fight ALS, as well as the millions of other questions that impact her and her family.

I realized that I have been asking myself those same questions, but about my mother. Let me tell you about her. My mother is truly a wonderful person, and I'm not saying that just because I am her daughter. Her many friends who have not aband
Apr 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book has been in my personal library for many years, but I do not forget it. Although it is written by a rabbi, it is well suited for people of any faith. Rabbi Kushner, whom I have met, has had his own share of personal tragedy, so it is fitting to state that he is not just sermonizing. His words help in many ways to make sense of loss, grieving and turmoil. An important feature of his writing is that he enables a traumatized individual to shed guilt or fault-finding related to the problem ...more
Jun 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book has a religious structure, but it’s absent the kind of proselytizing that not only is of no interest to me but often makes me bristle with antagonism. In fact, the author takes a number of well deserved potshots at conventional religious pretense. With religion, Kushner says one question really matters: why do good people suffer? Actually, this is a question that has plagued not only theologians, but philosophers and regular folks throughout history. You don’t have to be a theologian o ...more
Kaethe Douglas
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
When Bad Things Happen to Good People - Harold S. Kushner I've no desire to deprive the grieving of anything that might help: get through this unimaginable horror, and then later on you can deal with whatever problems your coping mechanism has created. Kushner chooses to believe in an imperfect god, which allows him to maintain his belief while at the same time exonerating his god for all the pain, suffering, and death which befall the most innocent of bystanders. It doesn't work for me. Either ...more
Apr 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read this book when I was greiving the death of my husband. I was hurt, angry and was all alone - feeling abandoned by everyone, including God. A therapist jotted down "When Bad Things Happen to Good People", and I bought and read the book. I was still angry and said, but I want to know, "why"!

It wasn't until several years later that I could accept Rabbi Kushner's message that bad things will happen to all of us at some time in our lives, but it's how we receive and process that event that wil
Czarny Pies
Nov 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone. You can load it on your Kobo if you do not want to be seen reading a religious book.
Recommended to Czarny by: Father Keenan and Sister Elizabeth.
Shelves: religion
In this short book, Rabbi Kushner gives his reader a very simple message. When something bad happens to you, don' blame yourself. There was nothing you could have done. Don't blame God, there was nothing he could have done.

When you see something bad happen to someone else, rush to comfort them. Do not judge and do not offer advice.

Kushner cites as an authority the great sociologist Emile Durkheim who argued that the basic purpose of religion was to put people in touch with each other not God.

Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
An old book that I never read until my friend Maureen Stemmelen lent it to me last weekend. She had just come from the Unitarian Meeting House and checked out some books, because Walter's dad, Irving, was dying. She said she had read it when she was a Speech Pathology student and found it enriching.

I had avoided reading it in the past, fearing it was "preachy". It is a bit, but in a good way. He speaks from sad personal experience. His 14 year old son died from progeria, a disease of premature a
Aug 09, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book against my better judgement as it is the selection of the library book club and I found it lacking in so many ways that it would be impossible to enumerate them all.

Kushner has experienced suffering, without a doubt, but his approach to suffering in this book is not authentic and rational in terms of theology. He humanizes God to the point that he is more like a concerned neighbor than an almighty creator. He effectively incapacitates God by stating that God has no control over
Jan 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
It did not bring me the comfort that I was looking for, but did have some pearls of wisdom to impart and food for thought.
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: borrowed, jewish, loved
I borrowed this book from a friend, she seemed to think I would enjoy it, and I really did.
I enjoyed this book dearly but I have a lot of feelings about it.

I found the book extremely insightful and enjoyed the emotion that Rabbi Kushner managed to pack into such a small book.

Second off though, this book is written by a rabbi. Remember this. The book goes into detail on Judaism and attempts to deal with the title's question from a Jewish perspective. I don't think that it's bad for a non-Jewish
Karen Field
Mar 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The byline of this book is “for everyone who has been hurt by life...”

The author, a rabbi by the name of Harold S Kushner, wrote this book because he had been hurt by life. His only son was born with progeria, “rapid aging”. His son died two days after his fourteenth birthday and When Bad Things Happen to Good People was the result of the pain and hurt the author felt. But, more importantly, it was the sharing of how his faith was tested to the extreme and the conclusions he made in the end that
Shari Johnson
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Someone recommended this book to me after my younger sister (age 33) was killed by a car that no-one was driving. The 18 year old owner of the car had forgotten to put her car in park, left it in neutral and ran in to her house. My sister, who had never hurt a flea, mother of 2 young children never saw or heard the car coming. The day before this tragedy she had qualified for the Boston Marathon. Needless to say, I was completely devastated by these events. And I was ANGRY! Not at the girl who's ...more
Jul 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
So maybe I missed the point here but the logic of this book doesn't seem to make sense to me.
Kushner says in the last chapter (to sum up his answer to the question that the title poses), "God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal, living in a world of inflexible and natural laws. The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehavior, nor
Aug 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Shelves: faith-spirit, own
Rediscovered on my book shelves. This is not my first copy which had been a library book when it was first published in 1981. This copy was used as assigned reading to classes of high school juniors studying morality and the nature of good and evil. It was a springboard for some incredible discussions about the meaning of life, responsibility and other questions which fascinate soul searching teenagers.
But it wasn't till 10 years after my first reading when my life fell apart that I really valu
Mar 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
I am disappointed to say that I was disappointed by this book. I have known it for decades as a classic, yet had not read it. Upon discovering the 20th anniversary edition, I took the plunge. It was like diving into an unheated pool ... not in a refreshing way, more like a bracing one. Although several parts of the book were quite moving, I found it to be quite uneven and its author prone to what I call relativism (by which I mean that he so often prescribes the scope of the divine as to bleed o ...more
Mar 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality
Excellently written and compelling. Managed, in my opinion, for a much more convincing and believable explanation for why bad things happen to good people that C. S. Lewis's "The Problem of Pain," which I thought was good at the time, but after more reflection, found to be relatively disappointing. It also contains some brilliant insight into the Book of Job, and a fantastic exegesis of said book. I really enjoyed the Jewish perspective on things. I look forward to reading more books by Harold K ...more
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Harold S. Kushner is rabbi laureate of Temple Israel in the Boston suburb of Natick, Massachusetts. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he is the author of more than a dozen books on coping with life’s challenges, including, most recently, the best-selling Conquering Fear and Overcoming Life’s Disappointments.
“Pain is the price we pay for being alive. Dead cells—our hair, our fingernails—can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from, “Why do we have to feel pain?” to “What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?” 28 likes
“I don’t know why one person gets sick, and another does not, but I can only assume that some natural laws which we don’t understand are at work. I cannot believe that God “sends” illness to a specific person for a specific reason. I don’t believe in a God who has a weekly quota of malignant tumors to distribute, and consults His computer to find out who deserves one most or who could handle it best. “What did I do to deserve this?” is an understandable outcry from a sick and suffering person, but it is really the wrong question. Being sick or being healthy is not a matter of what God decides that we deserve. The better question is “If this has happened to me, what do I do now, and who is there to help me do it?” As we saw in the previous chapter, it becomes much easier to take God seriously as the source of moral values if we don’t hold Him responsible for all the unfair things that happen in the world.” 16 likes
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