It’s been many years since I last read When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner, and I think I’m due to read it again. The words will be the same, but my perspective as a reader this time around will be vastly different. Perhaps the worst thing I’d experienced when I last read this book was the crushing disappointment of liking a boy who didn’t like me back.
Interestingly, many of the 1 and 2-star reviews on Goodreads complain about Kushner’s portrayal of a God who seems to sit with us in suffering, but doesn’t promise to make it mean something. Few reviews (at least not the dozen or so I read, there are hundreds of them) complained about the issue of a good God allowing suffering, period. No, it seems many readers of this book were hoping to be assured that none of life’s pains and disappointments would be wasted or pointless. Then again, many reviewers identified as Christians, which explains a lot.
The Christian idea of redemption is what ultimately won me over. It doesn’t comfort me very much to think that God might be too weak or otherwise unable to stop my suffering, but it does comfort me to think that perhaps my suffering can be used for a greater purpose. In fact, that is precisely what the Christian God promises to do.
I can see how the Christian readers of this book were left feeling bereft at the end, because to them, Kushner is only telling half the story. Clearly, a book of this genre written by a rabbi is not going to end with the hope of resurrection and defeat of the cross.
But even then, there is suffering this side of heaven that feels pointless. I don’t expect Kushner or any theologian to come up with a convincing reason for that. Yet I pick up books like this one not to be convinced or promised of anything, but to be reminded that life after loss is possible. And Kushner, CS Lewis, and all great scholars of every religious stripe, are just as human as I am.
What books do you read for comfort rather than for answers?