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When Bad Things Happen….

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I was very saddened to learn that Rabbi Harold Kushner passed away on April 27th at the age of 88. 

Rabbi Kushner was the author of 14 books, including “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” “When All You Ever Wanted Was Never Enough,” and “Who Needs God”. 

His “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” sold over 4 million copies. Over the last 40 years I have recommended this book to hundreds of people who were distraught and in need of help and hope. Through my reading and reflecting on Rabbi Kushner’s many books I felt very close to him although I never met him in person.

Rabbi Kushner’s opening words in Chapter Two of his book, “Who Needs God” are these……

Religion is not primarily a set of beliefs, a collection of prayers, or a series of rituals. Religion is first and foremost a way of seeing. It can’t change the facts about the world we live in, but it can change the way we see those facts, and that in itself can often make a real difference.

You and I visit the same hospital. We walk down the same corridor and we see the same things – elderly patients for whom length of days has become a curse instead of a blessing; young people whose lives have been shattered by vicious criminals or drunk-driving accidents; innocent children who are victims of genetic tragedy and will never really have a chance to live.

The facts are the same for each of us, but do we really see the same things? One person will see an endless chronicle of pain and suffering, and conclude that the world is a mess and life is Somebody’s idea of a nasty joke. 

For him, it is a mistake to care too much about anything in this world; you just set yourself up to have your heart broken. (A friend of mine who used to be a nurse tells me of going into a hospital room where a teenage girl sat by the bedside of her boyfriend, who was dying of cancer, and asking, “Is there anything I can do for you?” 

The girl answered, “Yeah, remind me to never love anybody this much again.”)

Another person, seeing the same situation, will come away having learned something about human courage and resiliency. Her conclusion will be that incurable illnesses are a painful outrage precisely because life is good and holy. Otherwise why would it grieve us so much when a life is cut short? For her, the courage to love in the face of the world’s unfairness is the most profoundly human response. 

For the doctor, illness and trauma are a challenge to practice the healing skills. For the chaplain, they represent opportunities to make the real presence of God as a God who loves all of His creatures, not a God of judgement and detachment. 

For both these people, the facts, the medical diagnoses are the same. But the eyes with which  they see those facts determine how they will act, not only within  the walls of the hospital but when they leave and encounter the world outside…..

Thank you, Rabbi Kushner for touching my mind and heart and for opening my eyes and the eyes of millions of others around the world for so many years. May you have Eternal Joy with the God who created you and loves you so very much. 

Thanks to Noelle Otto for the photo.

During a time of YOUR illness or a time when YOU were in the hospital, how were YOU able to see YOUR life differently and the world around YOU in a whole new way?


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