When Bad Things Happen

When Bad Things Happen

Recently, a tragedy occurred within my family which left all of us very confused. My cousin died suddenly at the age of 47 without any warning. Unfortunately, I know that many of you have had some similar experience, someone who died too soon without any good answer as to “Why?” It leaves us agonizing, questioning, and even cursing God. We want to know why bad things happen to good people.
A few days later, I found myself in my car driving down to his funeral and by some happenstance, I had stopped at the library earlier that month and so I had some audiobooks in my car. I put one of them in and ended up listening to “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner, a very well renowned Jewish Rabbi.

First off, I would highly recommend the book to anyone who is struggling with the trials that life sometimes throws our way. As books about God go, it is honest, empathetic, and relevant. His own journey with tragedy was not sugar-coated in such a manner as to belittle or betray the suffering we experience as human beings. Rather it properly appropriated that anyone who suffers has a legitimate right to vocalize our despair to God.

Rabbi Kushner is very adept to point out that many people misread the title of his book. They want it to be a book about “Why bad things happen to good people.” Instead the book is about “When bad things happen…” Rabbi Kushner shares his faith experience of a God that is suffering with, crying with, struggling with us in the midst of pain and loss. It sounds a lot like the Second Reading today (Rom 8:26-27) in which “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”

It is that spirit that I most felt while listening to the audiobook and heading to my cousin’s funeral. Ouch! Argh! Gasp and *Sigh* falling to silence and helplessness. When I knew not how to pray. When I knew not what to say. It was God with me that was praying and speaking of the agony of loss on my behalf.

Still there is that nagging question that eludes us all. “Why?” “Why do we have to suffer?” Rabbi Kushner tries at great lengths to avoid the question. He even admits ignorance to the question but also points out that he does not believe that God would command or desire for suffering to occur. He denies that it is possible for such a God exists. Instead, he professes a God who walks with us in our experience of life and laughs in our joys and cries in our sorrows. He doesn’t believe in a God who controls things.

I think that is where we, as Christians, can join him and find the outline of an attempted answer to the question “why?” The teaching of the Church is that we don’t believe in a God that controls things even though He could. God is the nuance of compassion felt in the midst of life’s tragedies. Why did bad things happen? It is stochastic at best and the caustic action of evildoers at worst, but either way, it isn’t God that causes suffering.

Instead, we believe in the God profiled by Jesus in today’s Gospel MT 13:24-43. Jesus relays a parable about a farmer who knows that weeds are growing in this wheat field and is asked if the weeds should be pulled out. He replies “No, if you pull up the weeds, you might uproot the wheat along with them.”

In this simple reply, we can find a reason why God behaves the way God does even in the midst of the senselessness and insanity. God so entirely respects our freedom, that given the choice of violating our freedom or accompanying us, God has chosen the latter. God would rather groan with us, cry with us, bring us together, nurture us with the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood, forgive us, console us and inspire us towards justice and right action. He would sooner do all of these things before he would do violence to our freedom, to our bodies, and to our world.

I miss my cousin, even though I didn’t interact with him frequently. I miss his presence and I’m angry that I can’t expect God’s intervention to undo history in accordance with my own desire. I know you have felt the same at some point in your life. First off, may we unite together in prayer and be honest about our doubts during these moments of life. Secondly, I would highly recommend Howard Kushner’s book. But ultimately, may we find a path forward with God, that welcomes God as our companion “interceding with inexpressible groanings” on our behalf.

-David Heimann, Pastoral Associate

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