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Why does G-d allow bad things to happen to good people?

by Rabbi Moshe Miller

  

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Many great minds, religious and not yet religious, Jewish and Gentile, have attempted to answer this troubling question, but the fact that it continues to be asked indicates that none of the answers have laid the question to rest.

In attempting to provide a response, it is worth examining the very first question we find in Scripture, the question G-d poses to Adam: “Where are you?”.1 Commentaries point out that Adam was not being prompted to reveal his geographic location, which was anyway known to G-d, but to enter into a dialogue with his Creator. The question G-d poses to man, “where are you?” – what are you doing? what have you accomplished? where are you headed? etc. – reverberates throughout history, and is posed to every person individually. And the response must of necessity be an individual one, for you are being asked to enter into a dialogue with your Creator.

As G-d says to Adam, “Go and plant. True, there are thorns and thistles, but you shall eat the herbs of the field when you plant and toil.”
Similarly, but in an inverse way, man poses the question to G-d – “why do You, G-d, who is just and merciful, allow bad things happen to good people?” In other words, “G-d, where are You?” The question may take the form of an accusation, a cry of pain, an expression of submission, a philosophical query, and even despair. But this question too, stems from a desire to enter into a dialogue with G-d, in one form or another.

“Why” may never become clear to us – we may never be able to answer the question why bad things happen, because the human mind cannot comprehend the Divine Mind. But a lengthy treatise explaining all the whys and wherefores is not the purpose of the question in any event. G-d’s answer to the cry of the suffering human soul is, “I am with you.” And the result of this is, as G-d says to Adam, “Go and plant. True, there are thorns and thistles, but you shall eat the herbs of the field when you plant and toil” – your suffering can bring benefit to you and to the world.

Let us not try and find the meaning of suffering, but rather make suffering meaningful.

Footnotes

  • 1. Genesis 3:9.

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COMMENTS

Do we elevate suffering, thus promoting apathy?

Posted by: m-and-c on Dec 31, 2005

Consider the contrast between the words of Rabbi Miller:
"Let us not try and find the meaning of suffering, but rather make suffering meaningful."
...and the words of Rabbi Freeman:
"I don’t think that’s what G-d wants from us—to explain why there is suffering and evil in the world. He put us here to change things, not to accept them as they are."
I hope this doesn't sound as if I'm playing a "gotcha" game. These were written by different people, in response to different questions. They involve different realms: what we do in the world vs. how we think.
But if one of our goals is to change the world--specifically, to reduce suffering--is this not (to some degree) incompatible with an intent to find meaning in suffering?
If it is important to learn the meaning of suffering, we may tend to regard suffering not as inevitable but beneficial. If so, we may be less inclined to reduce suffering, perhaps concluding that to heal or comfort is to oppose G-d.

Editor's Comment

Rabbi Miller responds: The difference between my response and Rabbi Freeman's is this: Rabbi Freeman refers to a situation where something can (and therefore should) be done to change the situation. I was referring to a situation where nothing can be done (e.g. the loss of a loved one). If one can change the situation, one should. If not, one can change one's attitude towards it.

Why bad things happen to good people

Posted by: Nehemia Ben Dov, Guatemala, Guatemala on Jan 20, 2006

The answer Rabbi Moshe Miller, gives to the question is a very spiritual one, it is more an advise than an explanation. Yes, we should find the meaning of suffering because, none the less things happen for a reason, but the real question is why do bad things happen to good people. What`s the use of being good if bad things happen any way, why not be a bad person, having so many examples of Rashas doing good... Well, I sure don`t have the answer, but as the Rabbi started saying, the answers given so far are not good enough because the question has not yet been put to rest..

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Posted by: Lucy on Apr 27, 2006

There is no such thing as a good (perfect) person. But I think bad things happen for a purpose and also the fact that consequences exist, sometimes we who have no fault in the choices our ancestor make yet somehow we have to pay the price. (Iniquity)

Editor's Comment

G-d does not punish people for the sins of their ancestors--unless they are following their parents' evil ways.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Posted by: Iris Pardo, Bronx, New York, USA on May 18, 2006

I think that the reason is not because G-d doesnt care, I believe it is our own fault because since the beginning of time man broke his relationship with G-d by dissobedience to Him. So therefore I believe all bad came into the world thru this dissobedience from Adam and of course Eva. G-d is merciful. Now why do good people suffer I guess because without the bad experiences in our lifes we cannot relate to others in the same need and help them. I believe that our bad can turn into good for the sake of others. I have been thru so much since birth but I am not a bitter person I always thank HSM fro another day of life and the opportunity to reach others in the same pain and give them encouragement.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Posted by: Ilmo, St. Louis, MO on Jun 06, 2006

Who defines good people? None of us are good enough. We must remember that all things that happen to us is working for our good if we love G-d & are fitting into his plans. It is not about us. We must be students and not victims.

Why bad things happen to good people

Posted by: Jim Babich, Camarillo, CA, USA on Dec 21, 2006

The explanation left me absolutely empty.
Adam
The first man, created by G-d on the sixth day of creation. He was banished from the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden knowledge. Died in 2830 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.