Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Dear Reb Shohama,

I recently lost my mother, who was not only a wonderful mother, but also my best friend. She had a very hard life, but always prayed to God and did good things for everybody. I don’t understand why God didn’t let her live longer. Sincerely, Joe

Dear Joe,

I am so sorry about your loss. It has left a big hole in your life, and you, understandably are very angry with God. God can deal with your anger. Tell God how you feel, and ask God to heal your pain.

We don’t know why bad things happen to good people. It is the most difficult question religion has to answer. The Jewish tradition offers many possible answers, ranging from “we can’t know God’s plan,” to “justice will be done in the world-to-come and in a future life.”

I don’t want to pretend that I understand, but I offer you this thought from Rabbi Harold Kushner, who lost a son at a young age to a terrible genetic disease.

Rabbi Kushner says that God’s promise was never that life would be fair. God’s promise was that we won’t have to confront the unfairness alone.

The 23rd psalm, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” is the psalm most people turn to for spiritual comfort. It doesn’t say, “In the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil because there is no evil in the world.” It doesn’t say, “I will fear no evil because people get what they deserve and I’m a good person.” It says, “I will fear no evil because Thou art with me.”

God is always with us, in our joy and in our pain. Our sages taught that God weeps when we weep.

May you find comfort in your memories of your beloved mother, and in the presence of God and those who care about you. One of the reasons for saying kaddish with a minyan of worshippers is to surround yourself with community. Little by little, you will feel less alone.

My prayers are with you.

Blessings, Reb Shohama

PS. Rabbi Milgram provides a section on Jewish views on the afterlife in Living Jewish LIfe Cycle.