Why Do Good People Suffer?

This Nagging Question Never Dies

There’s been a lot going on here so I haven’t been writing in awhile. I recently called a good friend and said to her ‘I wish I could tell you my life is so happy and that everything is going really super.’ I feel bad because I usually call her with another tale of woe. She listens patiently and tries to give advice, which I very much appreciate. I know that G-d abundantly blesses my family and me and I thank Him for that. I thank Him even for the stuff I don’t even know about. I just wish I didn’t have to search for His blessings as if I have to look in every nook and cranny to find them.

My Trials and Tribulations

My husband contracted Covid and ended up in the hospital right before Yom Kippur. Thank G-d, he’s home and is doing extremely well. Over Sukkot, we had lots of rain with high winds. I heard water going drip, drip, drip in my living room. I followed the dripping sound, saw a puddle of water on the floor, and looked up at the ceiling. The roof was leaking. Then the sukkah fell over in the wind. Thankfully, it got set up again over Chol Hamoed. The roof eventually got fixed. I made the roofer very happy by giving him my business. 

During all this, I got a phone call from an acquaintance. This was a bad time for me and I was not in the mood for casual conversation. I said, ‘Look, I can’t talk now. My husband is in the hospital, my roof is leaking, and the sukkah fell down. Go ahead, ask me how my day is going.’ He promptly said goodbye. 

Why am I plagued by these annoyances? I sometimes ask myself what did I do to deserve my son dying on me? Why do troubles large and small never seem to end?

The Book Of Iyov Asks: Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

This question is really a very old one and is dealt with extensively in the book of Iyov (Job). I recently came across this book of Tanach and I had never read it before. I quickly fell in love with it. Written in a poetic style, it’s hard to understand without commentary. Rabbi Shimon Schwab (1908-1995) gave a series of lectures on Iyov and his commentaries were complied by his son, Rav Moshe Schwab in the book ‘Rav Schwab on Iyov’. It can be purchased online from Amazon or Artscroll.

Laws Of Mourning Derived From The Book Of Iyov

On a simple level, the story of Iyov is a source for some of the laws of mourning. Iyov tearing his robe teaches us about the custom of a mourner tearing one’s clothing over the death of a loved one.

Another law of mourning is derived from the fact that Iyov’s friends did not speak until after Iyov did. Therefore, it is customary not to extend greetings to a mourner. Rather, we let the mourner initiate the conversation.

Why Would G-d Cause A Person Pain and Suffering?

On a more complex level, the Book of Iyov deals with the question of ‘Can we ever understand how G-d thinks?’ In a nutshell, the story of Iyov is about a righteous man who is wealthy and has many children. Suddenly he loses his wealth and his children die. He then he suffers an extremely painful physical illness. In the end, Iyov is healed and his wealth and children are restored to him.

Iyov tries to figure out why this is happening to him. He knows he has not sinned. He therefore says it’s illogical for G-d to punish him for no reason. Hence, he feels that G-d created the world, then abandoned everything and everyone in it to the whims of chance. He later changes his position and acknowledges that hashgacha pratit (Divine providence) does exist. After that declaration, Iyov then becomes angry at G-d that He would make an innocent person suffer. Iyov is visited by three friends who, instead of consoling him, berate him for his seemingly lack of faith and tell him that he must have sinned because G-d does not punish without cause. G-d severely criticizes Iyov’s three friends for their lack of sensitivity to Iyov’s plight.

There is a debate as to whether Iyov was a real person and whether the events depicted really happened. Most Sages agree that Iyov did exist because the prophet Ezekiel mentions Iyov as an extremely righteous person together with Daniel and Noah. As to the actual events in Iyov’s life, there is some dispute. That being said, Iyov is the example of a good person who suffers greatly and is trying to find out why G-d would want this.

An Answer To Suffering That’s Hard To Understand

At the beginning of the book, we are told that G-d is testing Iyov’s faith. Still, what kind of answer is that? Why would G-d want to see him suffer, even for a test? We know that when we are in pain, G-d is in pain also. Although we don’t know what G-d’s ‘pain’ is, we do know that only goodness comes from Him and He wants us to be happy. So what was the purpose of Iyov’s pain?  

Most commentators agree that the purpose of Iyov’s suffering was for spiritual elevation. That being said, I could reply ‘I don’t want your honey, I don’t want your sting.’ Ok, so I won’t get the front row seat in Gan Eden. I’ll get some seat, although it may not be the best one.

Of course, I really don’t know what I’m talking about because, in this world, I don’t appreciate what I’ll be missing in the next. It’s like asking a small child to choose between a candy or a hundred dollar bill. The kid will choose the candy because the value of money is not yet understood or appreciated.

My human mind is just that, human and childlike. I can’t possibly fathom how G-d ‘thinks’. True, everything that happens to me in this world is for the purpose of the next. Still, as far as why I suffer physically or emotionally, I’ll never really ‘get it’. I just have to know that He has a plan. Rav Schwab called this the ‘akeida of the mind’. He says that just as Abraham sacrificed his feelings for his son Issac and offered him on the altar, so too, we must sacrifice our minds and give ourselves over to G-d even though we don’t see the whole picture.

Our Sages in the Gemara say the book of Iyov was written by Moses. Moses knew that G-d’s kindness would not always be apparent. He knew that G-d’s ways would sometimes be totally hidden. Moses wanted to leave us with a teaching that would help us get through life’s trials so we can maintain our faith in and closeness to G-d.

Right now, I’m living life in an art museum looking at one of those pointillist paintings. I’m standing up close to the picture and only see a few dots. I have yet to step back and look at the whole masterpiece. Only then will I see order out of chaos, beauty out of ugliness, and sense where before, there was no sense at all.

2 thoughts on “Why Do Good People Suffer?

  1. Here are a couple thoughts. We’re all human and have done good things as well as wrong. If I ask “you” (You refers to anyone) to think back, honestly, and ask yourself if you’ve even done anything wrong (This includes thinking wrong, hating or resenting someone, perhaps neglecting to do right when the opportunity was before you, and so forth.), being honest, what might “you” say. I have heard some of nicest people in the world would never tell you everything. But we’re not to judge. But I don’t know, when someone says why do good people, when they say “good”, if they really understand what they’re talking about. We can’t see inside other people. But we don’t judge. We do the best we can.

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