Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People/Part 3

By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1999
As he continues his critique of Rabbi Harold Kushner’s best-selling book, Dr. Geisler explains why Rabbi Kushner is not asking the right question.

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Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People – Part 3

VI.Is There a Purpose for Everything?

Is There Some Suffering Without a Purpose?

Kushner claims not to be a theologian or a philosopher (p. 5), but he engages in theol­ogy and philosophy nonetheless. Hence, he cannot escape philosophical criticism.

Kushner philosophizes that God is finite (limited) in His perfections. His reasoning flows like this:

  1. There is no good purpose for some suffering.
  2. An all-perfect God would have a good purpose for everything.
  3. Therefore, an all-perfect God does not exist.

Does Man Know Everything?

There is, however, a problem with this argument in the first statement. It can mean one of two things. It can mean either:

a. There is no good purpose known to man for some suffering.

Or else it can mean:

b. There is no good purpose known to God or man for some suffering.

If Kushner means only the first (1a), then his conclusion (that no perfect God exists) does not follow. On the other hand, if he is claiming that neither God nor man knows a good purpose for suffering, then his claim is arrogant. How does he know that God has no good purpose for suffering? Again, Kushner would have to be all-knowing (like God) in order to disprove that such a God exists.

Does God Have A Purpose for Suffering?

There is another point Kushner overlooks in this regard. If God is all-knowing and all-perfect, then there is automatically a good explanation for suffering—even if we do not know what it is. The reasoning can be summarized as follows:

  1. An all-knowing God knows everything.
  2. An all-good God has only good purposes.
  3. There is suffering for which we know of no good purpose.
  4. Therefore, God has a good purpose for everything (even the suffering for which we know of no good purpose).

Not only does God know a good purpose for all suffering, but if He is all-powerful He will accomplish that good purpose. For an all-powerful being can accomplish all that He wills. Hence, the very God Kushner rejects—an infinite one—is the only guarantee that there is an ultimate solution for evil.

William James once said the world is better for having the devil in it, provided we have our foot on his neck. But the only real guarantee that there is a stranglehold on evil is the existence of an infinitely good and infinitely powerful God. For if God isn’t infinitely power­ful, then He might be unable to defeat evil. And if He is not infinitely good, then He might be unwilling to defeat it. Hence, only an infinite God guarantees that evil will be defeated and that all injustices will be rewarded. The argument can be summarized this way:

  1. An all-powerful God can overcome all injustices.
  2. An all-good God will overcome all injustices.
  3. But injustices are not always overcome in this life.
  4. Therefore, all injustices will be overcome in another life after this one.

How do we know this will occur? Because an infinite God both can and wants to do it, and it is not yet done. Therefore, it will be yet done in the future. His infinite resources assure us it will be done.

VI.Asking the Right Question

There is another problem in Rabbi Kushner’s insistence that God is limited in perfec­tion and power. He asks the wrong question: why do bad things happen to good people? Putting the question this way assumes that people are essentially good and hence do not deserve the suffering which befalls them. But the very Scriptures from which the Rabbi quotes give quite a different view of mankind.

King David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother con­ceived me” (Psalm 51:5).

In the Law of Moses it is written, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continu­ally” (Gen. 6:5).

Jeremiah the Prophet added, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desper­ately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

Solomon in his wisdom observed that “there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Ecc. 7:20).

And the Psalmist concludes, “they have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3). So Kushner’s ques­tion wrongly assumes that people are good when his own Bible gives evidence to the contrary.

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?

So there is a biblical sense in which all men are sinners and deserve worse than they get. In this sense the question should not be: why do bad things happen to good people? It should be: why do good things happen to bad people? The answer to this question is the mercy of God. If all are sinners then there is no merit in man which places a demand on God to save us from undesired suffering. Rather, we should be grateful to His grace for not giving us what we really deserve, which is more suffering.

There is in Rabbi Kushner’s book a marked reluctance to accept the depravity of man and the deserved punishment which follows from this fact. It is because of this failure to understand that death, sickness, and suffering are the result of Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:16-19) that he confesses, “I don’t have a good answer to the question of why our bodies had to be made vulnerable to germs and viruses and malignant tumors in the first place” (p. 64). Further, he admits, “I don’t know why people are mortal and fated to die…” (p. 69). Surely he has read many times in the Torah God’s warning to Adam “in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

Do We Deserve Better?

Evidence of Kushner’s failure to understand human depravity are found in statements such as “I deserve better” (p. 5). And Kushner’s self-descriptions are reminiscent of Jesus’ statement about the Pharisee: “I had been a good person. I had tried to do what was right in the sight of God. More than that, I was living a more religiously committed life than most people I knew….” The Pharisee in Jesus’ story put it this way: “I thank God that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers….I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11,12).

At the root of Rabbi Kushner’s problem with God’s infinity is his failure to understand man’s depravity and, in the light of it, to bow before God in true humility. Jesus’ response to both of these self-appellations is appropriate. “Everyone that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:14)

Who Should Forgive Whom?

Indeed, Kushner reaches the pinnacle of arrogance when he concludes that in view of our suffering we need “to forgive God for not making a better world…” (p. 147)! Surely it would be more in keeping with the status of mortal man to confess with the Jewish psalm­ist: “What is man, that thou are mindful of him; and the son of man, that you visitest him?” (Ps. 8:4). David’s prayer in Psalm 19 would be even more apropos for the Rabbi: “Who can understand his errors. Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins” (v. 12,13).

Read Part 4

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