Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People/Part 4

By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1999
Dr. Geisler concludes his critique of the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, written by Rabbi Harold Kushner, and frequently recommended as a resource for grieving families. But is the message of the book really comforting?

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Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People – Part 4

VIII. Can God Intervene?

Can the Creator Intervene in His Creation?

At the bottom of Rabbi Kushner’s philosophical problems is his denial of supernatural intervention by God. Despite the fact he admits God occasionally does unusual things (pp. 47, 51, 53), Kushner denies the Creator can intervene in His own creation. He is “skepti­cal” of all miracle stories in the Bible because “in fact the laws of nature do not change” (p. 57). Kushner insists there is an “unchanging character of these laws….” (p. 57). Thus “God does not reach down to interrupt the workings of laws of nature to protect the righ­teous from harm” (p. 57). As a matter of fact, Kushner believes “God does not cause it [suffering] and cannot stop it” (p. 58).

Certainly Rabbi Kushner has overstated his anti-supernaturalism here. If God created the world, then surely He can intervene in it. The Creator’s hands cannot be tied by His creation. But if God cannot intervene in His own universe, then Nature is more powerful than God. Kushner has in effect deified Nature.

Why cannot God interpose himself in world affairs? According to Kushner it is be­cause “there would be no discernible rhyme or reason to His doing that” (pp. 116, 117). This is a strange explanation for Kushner, since he denied earlier that there needs to be a discernible reason for things (pp. 46, 48, 53). But here he is inconsistently suggesting that there must be a discernible purpose for these kinds of things. Waving this problem for the moment, Kushner has a deeper one: just because he cannot discern a purpose for God only performing select miracles does not mean that there is no such purpose. God has a purpose for what He chooses to do whether man knows it or not. If God is infinite then “His ways are unsearchable and His judgments past finding out” (Rom. 11:33). Again, “the secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us…” (Deut. 29:29).

Why God Does Not Intervene More

There are in fact good reasons why God does not perform miracles all the time in answer to every prayer. First of all, some of our prayers are selfish and self-destructive (Jas. 4:4). In short, they are not for our good and God knows it, even if we don’t. God is our heavenly Father. As such He will no more give us a stone if we ask for bread than He will give us a stone if we ask for a stone when what we need is bread (Matt. 7:9).

Further, miracles are by nature rare and unusual events which depend upon the back­ground of nature’s regularity for their very existence. And it is self-evident that the rare cannot happen regularly. If it did then it would no longer be rare.[1]

The question as to why God chooses to perform miracles at some times and not oth­ers is shrouded in mystery. But our finite inability to know God’s infinite purposes is by no means a telling argument against the possibility of miracles occurring. Otherwise, a child’s inability to understand why its parents would not give it everything it wanted would be a telling argument against parental love. In fact, if God is all-powerful, all-good, all-wise, then we know there is a good reason for His choice to perform miracles on some occasions and not on others. For:

  1. There are some miraculous events for which we have no explanation as to why God chose to do them as opposed to others He did not do.
  2. But an all-wise God has a sufficient reason for everything He does.
  3. And an all-good God has a good reason for whatever He does.
  4. Further, an all-powerful God can do anything possible He chooses to do.
  5. Therefore, God has a good and sufficient reason as to why He chooses to do some miracles (even if we do not know it).

Again, the only way to avoid this conclusion as to what an infinite God can do is to add a premise such as this:

1a. Whatever mortal man has no explanation for, there is no explanation for.

However, this is not only presumptuous, but it contradicts the self-evident truth (or 2 and 3) that an all-wise, all-good God must have a good purpose for everything He chooses to do. So, contrary to Kushner, it is possible to believe that God is all-good and all-powerful even if He did not choose to intervene and save Kushner’s son. After all, this same God chose not to intervene and save His own Son from suffering. For “God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all…” (Rom. 8:32). And as it turns out there was a very good purpose for this: our salvation!

VIII. Can God Be God And Be Limited?

Rabbi Kushner believes God is limited in both power and perfection. But nowhere does he indicate any awareness of the logical implications of holding such a view.

An Imperfect Implies a Perfect

The first implication of the concept of an imperfect god is that it implies a perfect God, a standard of ultimate perfection beyond this imperfect god by which he is measured. For one cannot know the im-perfect (not-perfect) unless he knows what is perfect. Without the perfect there would be no way to measure something as imperfect. But if there is some ultimate standard of perfection beyond a finitely perfect being (which falls short of it), then this ultimately perfect being is God. And the finitely imperfect being is not God but only a creature. Thus Kushner’s concept of a finite god turns out to be only an imperfect creature which implies a perfect Creator beyond it. At best the argument from an imperfect world only proves there is a devil, not that there is no perfect God.

Every Finite Needs a Cause

Another problem with a finite (limited) god is that every finite being is really a creature. And every creature needs a Creator. One of the fundamental principles of all thought is that every finite needs a cause. This is called the principle of causality. Whatever is lim­ited, temporal, or has a beginning, must have a cause. This being the case, there would have to be a cause of any finite god. But if there is a cause of this finite god, then this Cause would be God, not the finite being which it caused.

This point can be made clear by the fact that a finite god would be limited in its dura­tion. That is, it would be temporal. But if he had a temporal beginning, then he would need a Beginner (or Cause). But whatever has a Cause beyond it cannot be the ultimate which God by definition is. Hence, no finite being can be God.

A Finite God Cannot Guarantee Victory Over Evil

On a given Sunday afternoon any NFL football team can beat any other team, no matter how strong the latter is. This is so because all teams are finite and therefore are not invincible. Likewise, a finite god cannot guarantee victory over evil. He cannot guarantee that good will never be rewarded or evil punished. This cannot help but be a negative factor in one’s motivation to do good. Why sacrifice one’s whole life for good when evil may eventually win?

There are numerous other problems with a finite god of which Rabbi Kushner shows no awareness.[2] How can one make an ultimate commitment, which is of the essence of religion, when that to which he is making this ultimate commitment is not even Ultimate. Is this not the essence of idolatry to worship a finite being? Is it not contrary to the essence of Judaism (and Christianity) to worship any being that is limited or imperfect? Does not worship involve worth-ship, that is, attributing ultimate worth to the object? But if God is so unworthy in His actions that we must forgive Him for His imperfections, then such a God surely lacks anything approaching ultimate worth. In short, Rabbi Kushner’s god is not the infinite, Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob (see Job 42:2). Rather, he is the puny, finite god of modern man. A finite god is not the God who made man in His own image (Gen. 1:27); he is the god whom man has made in his own image (Rom. 1:21-23).

IX.The Value of Suffering

Job cried out, “When he has tried me I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). At times Kushner evidences an awareness of the redemptive value of suffering. He admitted that as a result of the suffering he underwent with his child that others accepted his consolation because now “I was their brother in suffering, and they were able to let me help them” (p. 112).

Kushner acknowledges another purpose for undesired suffering when he confessed, “I am a more sensitive person, a more effective pastor, a more sympathetic counselor be­cause of Aaron’s life and death than I would ever have been without it.” (p. 133). In this connection perhaps he unconsciously provides insight into why pain and suffering is be­yond our control. For he added, “I would give up all of those gains in a second if I could have my son back. If I could choose, I would forego all the spiritual growth and depth which has come my way….But I cannot choose” (pp. 133, 134).

Perhaps in the infinite wisdom of God this is precisely why suffering is beyond our control. Maybe God is more interested in our spiritual character than our personal content­ment. Perhaps He knows we will be helped more by helping others than by seeking to be helped by them. Maybe the Creator knows that our true happiness comes as a byproduct of holiness, not as a replacement for it with so-called happiness. Perchance true happi­ness results from making others happy and not as a result of seeking to be made happy by them.

Answering His Own Question

Kushner unwittingly answers his own question as to a purpose for suffering when he quotes a survivor of Auschwitz who said:

It never occurred to me to question God’s doings or lack of doings while I was an inmate of Auschwitz….I was no less or no more religious because of what the Nazis did to us; and I believe my faith in God was not undermined in the least. It never occurred to me to associate the calamity we were experiencing with God, to blame Him, or to believe in Him less or cease believing in Him at all because He didn’t come to our aid. God doesn’t owe us that, or anything. We owe our lives to Him. If someone believes God is responsible for the death of six million because he didn’t somehow do something to save them, he’s got his thinking reversed. We owe God our lives for the few or many years we live, and we have the duty to worship Him and do as he commands us. That’s what we’re here on earth for, to be in God’s service, to do God’s bidding.

Certainly no one can impugn the credentials of this sufferer to speak to the point of suffering and to suggest an appropriate response of man to God in view of it. One thing seems clear. It is an inverted reasoning which suggests that man needs to forgive God. In view of man’s initial and continual rebellion against God, it is God who needs to forgive man for such pride and not man who needs to forgive God! Indeed, God has provided forgiveness for all proud and rebellious creatures who will confess their sin and trust the Savior. For “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Notes:

  1. A more complete response to naturalism is found in Norman L. Geisler, Miracles and Modern Thought, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982.
  2. For a more comprehensive critique of the view that evil argues against the infinitely powerful and perfect God of the Bible see Norman L. Geisler, The Roots of Evil, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981.

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