In From the Vine

By Lucy Johnson

Untitled by Quinn Kampschroer via Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons


In the early 1980s, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, as a reaction to a personal tragedy.  It became immensely popular not only because of its catchy title but because it addressed a subject that we have struggled with for years and continue to struggle with: Why do righteous people suffer?

In an attempt to navigate his own painful journey, Rabbi Kushner’s book was written for anyone “who has been hurt by life.”  In the book, he introduces the secular world to Job, our hero in today’s First Reading.

Job is a faithful man who has prospered.  He has wealth, a loving large family, and is healthy.  God allows all this to be taken from Job in response to a challenge by Satan.

As in ancient times, Job’s contemporaries thought that only sinners suffered.  So when Job, a righteous man, begins to suffer, his friends plead with him to confess and repent whatever sins he has committed in order to be restored to health.  Today’s reading is part of Job’s response to his friends, describing his suffering.

One of the main reasons that I like Job is that I think people today sometimes fall into habits of old.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and it’s not because of anything they did or didn’t do.  Yet, we question.  For example, a friend’s daughter was having difficulty getting pregnant and thought that it might be because she and her husband had lived together before marriage.  She questioned whether God was punishing her.  The reality is that God is not vengeful or punishing.  He is a loving Father.  As Rabbi Kushner writes about different causes of human suffering, he ends with the idea that God allows us to be human.  God does not cause suffering and could not prevent it, according to Rabbi Kushner.

Neither the Book of Job nor When Bad Things Happen to Good People give a final answer as to why righteous people suffer. Both make it clear that (1) good people do suffer and (2) their suffering is not a punishment by God.

Sometimes, when we are faced with trials and tribulations, we may question, “why me?” or “why you?”  Thinking of Job helps me to think of suffering in a different way.  When I was young and something bad happened, my mother would say “offer it up.”  This was a concept I didn’t really understand then, but I do now.  Job is a great role model if you or someone you know is suffering.   You may want to read more about Job and learn how he remained faithful to God through all of his trials.  

About the Author:

Lucy Johnson lives in St. Paul, MN with her husband, Jeff.  She has 7 children, and 8 grandchildren.  Past-President of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women. (ACCW 2013-2015), Pharmacist, A “Martha” working on her “Mary”.

Showing 3 comments
  • Lindalee A. Miller-Nelson

    Thank you for your insight in writing on suffering. I know each of us ask this question sometime, if not lots of time in life. I remember my mother also saying “offer it up.” Thank you for sharing about Job. You are correct he is a good role model. God’s Blessings to you

  • Kathy

    Such a challenging concept–I hear it all the time: “Where did I go wrong?! (And sometimes I’m hearing it from myself!!) or “Can this really be part of the Master Plan?!” It all goes back to faith and really believing that our God’s understanding and brilliance is so beyond our’s, right? Dear God, thank you for sharing your brilliance with us and allowing us to be part of your glorious plan. Please help us as we muddle through or doubt or feel far away from Your love. We know you carry us and walk with us, just as you walked along with Jesus’ every step to His crucifixion.

  • Kathy Eubanks

    Rabbi Kushner’s book was recommended to me following the death of our son. It is so easy for us to want to blame God for our pain. It really is a part of our grieving process to want to blame some one for our losses or suffering. When I was so angry at God for not saving our son, I was so glad that many, many people were praying for me. I am sure their prayers made a huge difference in my coming to understand that God was not to blame for our loss.

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