Since young, we are often taught that we need to do good, because God/divine nature/karma will punish those who don’t. And what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow.

But in real life, things are always a little messy. Since when the good guy finishes first? How often you see cheating, corrupted politicians got punished? How often do you see a perfectly nice person being struck down by tragedy that he doesn’t deserve?

Even the author of Ecclesiastes confesses that he sees “a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness” ( Ecclesiastes 7:15)

If there is a God, where is he when a tragedy strikes? How can he look at all the injustice and suffering in the world and yet still not doing anything?! Why is he allowing bad things to happen to good people and at the same time, allowing good things to happen to bad people?

These are the questions that the author, a Judaism conservative rabbi, Harold Kushner , tries to answer in the book.

Harold Kushner was not preaching from his high altar to a congregation without having experience any of the life unfairness, unlike so many wise men who write volumes and volumes of exegesis on the problem of injustice and suffering. He wrote the book after his three-year-old son, Aaron, was diagnosed with a very rare form of degenerative disease that meant that the boy would at most live until his early teens. Harold had to live to see his son grew old before his own eyes, even before he himself did. It was definitely excruciatingly painful. It definitely will make one questions his belief and faith. What’s the point in believing God when his benevolent sign is pretty well hidden?

Either God is omnipotent, but he is not all loving ( maybe even has a masochist bend), or he is all loving but not omnipotent. It’s a classic theological conundrum ( Epicurus trilemma) that a lot of theologians have been debating for millennium, with no satisfactory outcome.

I can hear a lot of faithful shout in the background: who are you, a mere mortal to judge God?! God does things in his way and you don’t understand. You need to learn to accept that God is doing something good even as he allows tragedies to happen, just that we, human don’t know yet. So shut up and continue to have faith!

And this is the line of thought that Harold Kushner has problem in accepting. He couldn’t accept an all loving God would allow the infliction of such heavy tragedy on humans, all in the name of a future grandiose plan. This is not the God that he recognizes, and worships.

Neither can he accept that a tragedy happens always because the victim must have done some bad to incur God’s wrath. It’s the classic blaming the victim mentality, which projects God in a very bad image. Is God such a narrow minded deity that he would penalize frivolous offense with disproportionate tragedy? Again this is not the God that he recognizes, and worships.

No, says Harold, bad things happen not because you are bad, or not because God always has a higher purpose behind it. Bad things happen to good people, and God can do nothing about, is because — this is where it gets controversial– he is unable to stop it. When a tragedy strikes, God is in pain as much as you do. But he is powerless of stop it. In other words, he is not omnipotent in the face of calamities.

Harold prefers an all-loving, not omnipotent God over an omnipotent but a cruel God.

A God who is not all-powerful! So what is He good for? Harold thinks that although God can’t solve your problem, but he can definitely be with you, and give you the strength to cope with whatever the challenges that come may. So, we pray to God not necessarily because he can solve our problem, but because he will give us the strength to deal with the situation, the strength that we don’t even know that exists. Miracle happens not because God interfere the natural chains of events with supernatural ones, but because man and woman deal with difficult situation with supernatural wisdom, resilience and strength.

That, to him, is the miracle.

So, if you ask him: what is your response to bad things happen to good people? If your question is why bad things happen to good people, then he would not have an answer to that, and it’s not a fruitful question to ask. But if your question is what can we do, when bad things happen to good people, then yes, he does have an answer. What we can do as a community, is to sit together with the victim, support him and let him feels that God is with him via our presence.

As a victim to a tragedy not of your own doing, which one you hope to receive: a sermon on why bad things happen to you ( your fault, your fault, your fault!!), and why it’s good for you; or friends who come to you and offer you shoulders to cry on, sit silently with you as you vent out your frustration at life or even at God, without being judgemental with you?

When bad things happen to good people is a powerful book because it subverts how I think about tragedy and God. This doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree with the author, but it gives me an opportunity to rethink about how I should cope when disaster strikes ( believe me, everyone has to go through bad things whether you like it or not). There is at least, one conclusion that I can wholeheartedly agree with the author: asking why bad things happen is a futile question. A better question, a question that I should ask is how can I respond to it. How can I — with the strength of God– cope with the challenges and emerge victorious, so that others don’t have to cry for the same reason as I do, so that because of my sacrifice, I can see smiles and laughters at other people’s face?

If you are undergoing hard times, I encourage you to read this book, regardless of whether you believe in a God or not.