In the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold S. Kushner writes conversationally to the sufferer and establishes himself as someone who has “skin in the game” as he recounts how his son Aaron suffered from a disease called Progeria (“rapid aging”) which led to his premature death. Kushner knows suffering, his son knew suffering, and now he aims to share with his readers the answer to, as he calls it, the only question which really matters: “why do bad things happen to good people?” (9). Unfortunately, this “inspirational #1 bestseller” should not inspire most Christian sufferers, though they should leave having compassion for a man who lost his son and desperately wanted to make sense of his child’s pain and his loss. Since Kushner declares the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” as the only one that really matters, this book review will focus primarily on his answer to this question.
Harold S. Kushner is a Jewish Rabbi who wrote this book from a purely Jewish perspective, only using Old Testament Scripture, which limits its usefulness to the Christian sufferer. I suppose one shouldn’t go into an Italian restaurant and expect to find sushi on the menu, and a Christian shouldn’t read a secular book written by a Jewish Rabbi and expect to find New Testament Scripture used to support his propositions. However, the New Testament teaches that the Old Testament was written for the Christian’s learning (Rom. 15:4), so a Christian can hardly be blamed for thinking that there would be real value in reading a Rabbi’s understanding of Old Testament Scriptures pertaining to God and suffering. Yet even Kushner’s hermeneutical approach to the Old Testament will likely leave Christians scratching their heads, like when he questions the validity of several Old Testament accounts that involve miracles (64-65) and when he offers this critique of the Psalmist of the ninety-second Psalm:
If I could meet the author of the Ninety-second Psalm, I would first congratulate him on having composed a masterpiece of devotional literature. I would acknowledge that he has said something perceptive and important about the world we live in, that being dishonest and unscrupulous often gives people a head start, but justice catches up to them….But having said that, I would be obliged to point out that there is a lot of wishful thinking in his theology….I cannot say Amen to his claim that ‘the righteous flourish like the palm tree.’ (17)
It appears from these words and other statements found in his book that Kushner does not believe that all Scripture is inspired of God, a fact established in the Old and New Testament (2 Tim. 3:16). One could only assume if he believed in complete, verbal inspiration of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:21), he would be more reluctant to critique the Psalmist, knowing he is actually critiquing God. This undermines his creditability as someone who can deliver unbiased, hermeneutically sound conclusions concerning Scripture. If some accounts in Scripture are untrue and Psalm 92 is imperfect, what other Scriptures should be disregarded? Better yet, what other Scriptures has Kushner disregarded as he developed his answer to the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?”
Why do bad things happen to good people? Kushner concludes that God is not omnipotent