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Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

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Question:

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is this world so unfair? Please don't tell me "We can't understand G‑d's ways." I am sick of hearing that. I want an explanation.

Answer:

Are you sure you want an explanation? Do you really want to know why the innocent suffer? I think not. You are far better off with the question than with an answer.

You are bothered by the fact that people suffer undeservedly. As you should be. Any person with an ounce of moral sensitivity is outraged by the injustices of our world. Abraham, the first Jew, asked G-d, "Should the Judge of the whole world not act fairly?" Moses asked, "Why have You treated this people badly?" And today we still ask, "Why G‑d, why?"

But what if we found the answer? What if someone came along and gave us a satisfying explanation? What if the mystery were finally solved? What if we asked why, and actually got an answer?

If this ultimate question were answered, then we would be able to make peace with the suffering of innocents. And that is unthinkable. Worse than innocent people suffering is others watching their suffering unmoved. And that's exactly what would happen if we were to understand why innocents suffer. We would no longer be bothered by their cry, we would no longer feel their pain, because we would understand why it is happening.

Imagine you are in a hospital and you hear a woman screaming with pain. Outside her room, her family is standing around chatting, all smiling and happy. You scream at them, "What's wrong with you? Can't you hear how much pain she is in?" They answer, "This is the delivery ward. She is having a baby. Of course we are happy."

When you have an explanation, pain doesn't seem so bad anymore. We can tolerate suffering when we know why it is happening.

And so, if we could make sense of innocent people suffering, if we could rationalise tragedy, then we could live with it. We would be able to hear the cry of sweet children in pain and not be horrified. We would tolerate seeing broken hearts and shattered lives, for we would be able to neatly explain them away. Our question would be answered, and we could move on.

But as long as the pain of innocents remains a burning question, we are bothered by its existence. And as long as we can't explain pain, we must alleviate it. If innocent people suffering does not fit into our worldview, we must eradicate it. Rather than justifying their pain, we need to get rid of it.

So keep asking the question, why do bad things happen to good people. But stop looking for answers. Start formulating a response. Take your righteous anger and turn it into a force for doing good. Redirect your frustration with injustice and unfairness and channel it into a drive to fight injustice and unfairness. Let your outrage propel you into action. When you see innocent people suffering, help them. Combat the pain in the world with goodness. Alleviate suffering wherever you can.

We don't want answers, we don't want explanations, and we don't want closure. We want an end to suffering. And we dare not leave it up to G-d to alleviate suffering. He is waiting for us to do it. That's what we are here for.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Discussion (282)
January 22, 2015
Even karma requires compasion
I think this response is really not satisfactory. It may be that someone suffers because their soul needs to grow (as some who believe in re-incarnation will say) but to say that this will minimise sensitivity to their suffering is almost an insult. Some people enjoy to see others suffer they are sadistics but the majority of us if we understand we can ten time fold support the person who suffers. I knew when my daughters gave birth that the pain is part of giving birth but I can assure you that by no mean did I stood there indifferent! I felt each of her pain and my heart was praying for it to be over! Why do you guys have airy fairy answer to everything???
Rachel Sussman
Australia
January 16, 2015
A number of years ago a bumper sticker became popular saying, "practice random acts of kindness." It seems it was in response to a spree of random acts of violence. So we see that randomness comes in the positive as well as the negative(that is, somewhere there is a victim). Suppose though everyone decided to follow the advice of the bumper sticker. Would that be a restriction or abandonment of free will? Free will is more of a matter of the ability to choose rather than the choices made. A familiar appropriate verse is Deut. 30: 19.20. Here God himself pleads with us to "choose life." That is to practice random acts of kindness. To use our gift of free will in a way that makes our Heavenly Father happy.-proverbs 27:11.
John
January 14, 2015
Why did the writer of this article not spell GOD out?
There are two reasons for this that I know of.
1) We use G-d when writing so that should the paper that we are writing on be destroyed the name (God) will not be destroyed.
2) Are we (mere mortals) in a position to use the name God? Are we sinless? - saintly? - totally innocent of all misdeeds? No! Because of this we are in no position to use the full word - "GOD."
J Levy
Johannesburg
January 14, 2015
@John in New York is apparently not familiar with the fact that the 'golden rule' preceded Biblical texts. It can be found in every culture. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, it's highly unlikely that (if considered a true story) the children of Israel would ever have made it to Mt. Sinai (never proven to exist) thinking it was "OK" to steal from and kill each other. As for the bible being a source of moral values, have you ever read it? The old testament is replete with admonishments to kill or enslave almost everyone in other tribes! Sounds highly immoral to most atheists.

@Geza in Hungary: The bible makes much more sense when interpreted as a compilation of legends created by patriarchal societies. It even makes more sense if you realize it is exactly what these societies would create if there were no god.

@anonymous in El Paso - if there is a supernatural being that created this universe full of randomness, how is it different from a godless universe?
Dell Anderson
Fairfield, CA
January 14, 2015
I like your answer very much! I still have a question, which others have posed to me, and I haven't been able to answer it satisfactorily. Why does the Almighty (directly) cause suffering to innocents? For example, many of the Egyptian firstborns were innocent in Pharaoh's sin, yet G-d brought calamity on them. I know G-d is good, and He had a reason, but for unbelievers that is not enough of an explanation.
Geza
Hungary
January 6, 2015
For this world (this life) to be ours or even partly ours in any meaningful sense, all cannot unfold in a perfectly measured and metered way -- if it did, we would have no ownership at all -- this would be G-d's world only and free will would have no meaning. The randomness that was designed into creation is what gives us a stake in our own existence.
Anonymous
El Paso
October 27, 2014
The Bible's morality is perfect. Personally I find the Scriptures to be interesting and refreshing. The UN's stated position no doubt echos much of what the bible has been encouraging humanity to do for centuries. Both the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian Scriptures put the love of people as one of the highest commandments. For example:(Leviticus 19:18) 18 “‘You must not take vengeance nor hold a grudge against the sons of your people, and you must love your fellow man as yourself.
(Deuteronomy 10:19) 19 You too must love the foreign resident, for you became foreign residents in the land of Egypt.
And we are all familiar with 'loving our neighbor ourselves'
We are all responsible to our creator to listen to Him. Sadly most of us(those who profess and those who don't) do not listen. The result is this world (UN and all).
(Isaiah 48:18) 18 If only you would pay attention to my commandments! Then your peace would become just like a river And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.
John
new york
October 23, 2014
GOD
Why did the writer of this article not spell GOD out?
Anonymous
October 13, 2014
Matan is correct in deducing that I was referring to Epicurus' logic. Except Matan added an unsupportable non sequitur:
"since none (sic) is neither good or bad, and by extension pain and suffering become just an extension of existence. In Dell's world crime does not merit punishment, since crime does not exist......"

Really? Societies throughout time have arrived at some arbitrary consensus of what is considered acceptable behavior, usually that it's not OK to hurt other people. This has nothing to do with supernatural gods. Just one example is the secular United Nations Agreements on Human Rights which if anything is more moral than the bible (UN forbids slavery for example). Twisted logic says that things are moral because a mythical god said so. Atheists say if anything, it is the other way around. If a god told you to fly a plane into a building, would you say that was moral?
Dell Anderson
Fairfield, CA
October 12, 2014
God answered this to Job in chapters 38 through 41. Job responded by basically withdrawing the question in awe of God's unfathonable power
Anonymous
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