Why Do Good People Suffer?

Why Do Good People Suffer? Why did innocent people die in Hurricane Sandy? Could God have stopped it? Read More From Rabbi Moffic

The eternal question of religion is why do bad things happen to good people. Hundreds of thousands of volumes have addressed the questions. We still yearn for a satisfying answer.

The horrific and highly-visible impact of Hurricane Sandy raises this question anew. How can we come to grips with thousands of homeless families, a couple killed while walking a dog, a woman electrocuted in front of a fallen transformer, and other horrors?

The Bible offers two main answers. I will add a third articulated most popularly by Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

1. We did something to deserve it

The notion of reward and punishment is intrinsic to the Bible. God rewards us for good and punishes us for evil.

In the book of Job, Job’s friends offer this approach most clearly when they suggest that he must have done something to deserve his horrific condition.


The one advantage of this approach is that it can spur self-examination. It can lead us to draw upon what Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik calls reservoirs of “remedial energy.” We aim to fix something, even if we are not responsible for it. Consider parents whose child dies from a tragic illness, and who then decide to dedicate their lives to helping others suffering from it.


The problem with this approach is that it simply does not ring true. What did children murdered during the Holocaust do to “deserve” their fate? What did a random person hit by a car do to warrent such a punishment? What did their families do?

Religious leaders only make themselves look naive and simplistic when they try to establish moral causes for every human suffering. It offends our humanity to think in such a way.

2. God is a Mystery

God’s ways are mysterious and inscrutable. This approach is a variation on the first. It suggests that God has a reason for whatever happened, but we will never figure out what it is.

In the book of Job, God articulates this view when he tells Job to stop asking why he is suffering. He simply has no right to ask, because he was not there when God created the world. He is merely a human being, while God is the Sovereign of the Universe.


This approach can bring comfort to some, because it acknowledges that so much of what happens in the world is outside of our control. We are mere mortals who go, as Job puts it, “from dust to dust.”


While filling the heart, this approach can empty the mind. Why would God give us a conscience if we could not challenge or question what happens around us? We may never know all the answers, but we need not stop trying to find them.

3. God works through human hands

This view does not see God as all-powerful and all-knowing. God cannot supersede the laws of nature, and the laws of nature do not follow a logical or moral purpose. Hurricanes hurt good people. Illness does not discriminate between the righteous and wicked.

How then do respond? What role does God play? God becomes real when we act in Godly ways. When we comfort the sick, we express God’s caring. When we love each other, we illustrate God’s eternal love.

Harold Kushner put it well when he said that the core question of faith is not “Where is God?” Rather, it is “Where are we?”


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NS November 02, 2012 at 02:50 AM
And for those who do not believe in gods; forget all of your idols, think for yourself, and continue to help those around you who need it. We're still good people without religion.
Rabbi Evan Moffic November 02, 2012 at 02:59 AM
Thanks for the the reminder! It's not just what you believe. It's what you do.
Michael Ioffe November 02, 2012 at 02:43 PM
"God cannot supersede the laws of nature" CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL GHGs HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH CLIMATE CHANGE!!!!!!! 1. Government of Zimbabwe (1990-2005) order to cut 21% of forests for crop production RESULT: area with drought history, became SEVERE DROUGHT. 2. Killer beetles destroyed more than 100,000,000 acres of forests in USA and Canada from 2010 and 2012. RESULT: drought of 2010, 2011, 2012, hurricanes like Sandy. GHGs reliesed in both cases-by machinery in Zimbabwe, by wildfires and decay in USA and Canada. These GHGs distributed around the world during one week. DROUGHT IN ZIMBABWE AND USA, hurricanes like Sandy will stay till time, when nature or we are do not regrow dead forests. Why I am so sure: Absence of forests (Zimbabwe), dead forests in USA, Canada: 1. do not evaporate additional water from soil; 2. do not increase humidity in air; 3. do not increase probabilities of rains. These processes are real cooler factor for continent of North America and Zimbabwe. Imagine how many forests were cut in the world for crop production from 1800 and 2012. It is real reason for climate change-REDUCTION OF EVAPORATION FROM CONTINENTS with arable land. PREVENTION, PREVENTION, PREVENTION!!!! Prevention of disaster is always cheaper than emergency responce!!!!


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