Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

Today’s topic will upset some people; some, probably most, will agree. It has been in the forefront of my mind for some time as I am reminded of past friends who had not completed their lives peaceably, and recently met some new ones with debilitating ailments.

From time to time I read on Facebook comments made by a, seemingly, young woman who is suffering from cancer. I do not know her but I know about her, as I have known many under such circumstances. When I read her comments and those of others, I ask myself why is this happening? Why does this young woman, who I believe has young children, and my many friends and acquaintances have to suffer before they die?

I had always thought the reason for pain was to inform the body there was something wrong, so it could be fixed. But what is the reason for ongoing pain, which is what most of us experience?

The woman on Facebook’s words echo the pain she suffers from cancer every day, long after she is aware of the condition. Her words are pleas for a release of her suffering. She must know, as we all know, there is only One with power to help her. All of us in pain, all who suffer some sort of grief, pray that He will response in a kind and gentle way. After all, is He not kind and gentle?

Why is it then I’ve never seen an instance where He has shown a suffering person His mercy? Suffering people continue to suffer. Family and friends stricken by the tragedy wait for their prayers to be answered, but they never are. They must come to terms in whatever way they can. It’s best not to wait for God’s help.

Throughout our formative years, listening to sermons or homilies, we are reminded of God’s promise to reward those people who behave well and do good things and to punish those who stray and do evil. But is this really the way it works? Looked at with an objective eye, God’s system of reward and punishment seems arbitrary, or more appropriately, totally unfair. By all accounts Lou Gehrig was a nice man, but he ended his days suffering from the horribly debilitating disease that bears his name. One of the greatest Yankee hitters of all time is remembered more for the disease God would not take away than for his accomplishments on the baseball diamond. Where’s the justice in that? Pointless suffering seems more the rule than the exception.

There are thoseand I’m acquainted with severalwho believe those that suffer are being punished for some foul deed committed either as an adult or as a child, in this life or a previous one.

I don’t know about you, but I would have a terrible time attending services sponsored by a god who caused a tiny child to bear the ravages of leukemia or would lay the burden of cancer on a young mother for a morally wrong deed committed in a previous life.

If this belief were not a part of the fiber of some religious ideal and thought of as sacrosanct, it would be considered ludicrous.  Yet when you tell these people that it cannot be, that a kind and sensible God doesn’t work that way, they look at you with wide, round eyes that say, “That’s what we believe. Nothing you say (no matter how much sense you make) is going to change that. So there!” They stop a bit short of sticking their tongues out at you.

I’ve wondered if the severity of the punishment is intended to reflect the degree of naughtiness committed. If so, the poor soul on Facebook must have been a monster. But somehow I don’t believe that to be the case. She doesn’r come across as a Stalin or a Hitler or a Ma Barker, for that matter.

My friend Don Terry, a truly wonderful man, died of Alsheimers at age 56. Don suffered the ravages of dementia , as did his family and friends, from age 51. Suffered, died, and was buried in only five years. I’m not aware of any offense that deserves that fate.

Sometimes it’s not the afflicted who suffer. By wife’s brother John drown in Long Island Sound at age 19. No one knows the exact circumstances, he was found in the water by his cousin (who, by the way, is currently dying from a brain tumor). The “compassion” of some members of the NYC police department was on full display when John’s parents returned home from work to find a note stuck to their front door. The note said, “Your son DOA, Bronx Hospital.” That’s it. Nothing more. The shock to these two kind and gentle souls, and John’s two brothers and his sister, was profound. John was a really good kid and surely didn’t deserve to die at such a young age.

As an additional kick in the teeth, the priest, during the funeral, spoke of how God does not lay heavier burdens on us than we can bear.  My father-in-law responded to this hoi polloi by saying, “I wish He hadn’t thought we were so tough.”

It’s odd, isn’t it, that so many people who have had burdens laid on them, burdens they were supposed to be able to bear, thought the burdens were almost too much. Many lives were ruined by such burdens.

I once heard a homily in which the priest did his best to make a case for pain and suffering as educational. I paraphrase his closing remark: “The purpose of suffering is to repair that which is faulty in a man’s personality.”


He was saying that just as a parent must punish a child whom he loves, for the child’s sake, so the child will learn an important lesson, God must punish us for being “bad men and women.” When God’s in a good mood he gives us a bad cold or the flu. When He’s feeling a bit crotchety, he hits us with cancer or Lou Gehrig’s disease or MS in place of a slap on the butt for being naughty.

I don’t buy it, not a bit of it.

How can a kind and merciful god belabor good folks with unbearable suffering (never offering a bit of relief) and allow those who bring unspeakable misery to the rest of us to live long lives unscathed?  It makes no sense. And if it makes sense to God, he’s wrong

I don’t believe God has anything to do with any of this. He doesn’t prevent and he doesn’t promote.  I’m not even sure He can make suffering disappear. Keeping track of hundreds of trillions of chemical reactions wouldn’t be possible for even God. He’d have to goof up someplace.

The conundrum is this: If God is all-powerful then he should be able to cure our suffering; if he can’t (or won’t) then he’s not the kind and merciful God he’s made out to be. What are we going to do about that?

I haven’t the faintest idea.

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