A New Spin on Why Bad Things Happen to Good People
I am about to embark on a road that billions of people before me have probably contemplated. I am neither a spiritual leader nor a scholar of religion. I am merely a person in search of life’s meaning and hidden truths.
My existential question came back to me upon the news of the tragic death of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks last week: why do bad things happen to good people? Surely many others will have an opinion on this matter, but none of us will know the answer for certain.
Examples of bad things happening to good people are numerous. They don’t discriminate among religions, races, or cultures. In the human quandary, there is equity in disappointment. We are one and the same in our humanity.
Like other admirable faith leaders, Rabbi Sacks was the personification of goodness. He had an uncanny ability to theorize and philosophize about life, ethics, morals, and values. He was a bridge builder among faiths and a pillar of strength in the pro-Israel movement. His light shone everywhere he went, including the British parliament, where he stood in strength and conviction to profusely condemn antisemitism as the pernicious evil that it is.
His sudden passing at the age of 72 to cancer left more questions than answers. Tributes poured in from world leaders, the monarchy, the Vatican, and hundreds of thousands of believers around the planet. How could such a good person who had so much to give be taken away from us? Why do bad things seem to happen to good people?
Then, a few days following his death, someone circulated an old video of Rabbi Sacks himself answering this very question. The question was posed to him by a member of the community. His answer was:
G-d does not want us to understand why bad things happen to good people, because if we understood, we would be forced to accept that bad things happen to good people. And G-d does not want us to accept those bad things. He wants us not to understand so that we will fight against the bad, and the injustices of this world. And that is why there is no answer to that question because G-d has arranged it that we shall never have an answer for it.
This, of course, was a roundabout way of saying there are things in this universe we simply cannot and should not understand. The not understanding forces not only this contemplation, but the action that results from the notion that there is injustice in our world. True to form, Rabbi Sacks’ overarching message was not to excuse evil. Rather, humanity’s obligation is to fight evil in pursuit of justice.
Bad things do happen to good people. Moses never got to see the Promised Land. But from this, and from other positive contributors to society like Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and more — we learn that good people leave a positive imprint in the sands of time.
Maybe that’s why bad things happen to good people.
Avi Benlolo is a human rights activist and expert on Holocaust studies, antisemitism, and Israel affairs.