One of the toughest parts of being a rabbi is that people sometimes turn to me looking for an answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
I know the answer to this question, by the way. The answer is that bad things happen to all people–it’s part of being human. That, however, is not really the question being asked.
The question being asked is why does it seem that more than my fair share of bad stuff is happening to me? For that, I truly don’t have a satisfying answer, except to listen to the questioner’s troubles. And that is what they need, nine times out of ten.
Learning that the best thing I can do for someone who is having a hard time is to listen–really hear what they are saying–to them, without trying to “fix” the problem, without trying to make them feel better, just to listen, was tremendously hard. We are taught that value comes from doing, from fixing. Yet the person with the problems knows we cannot fix them. They aren’t asking me to fix them. They want to unburden. Simply telling me about their problems, sharing them with me, lightens the load on them.
The corrolary of this, of course, is that I do take some of the load. Not as much as they give up, but I need some time to recover from their sadness or anguish. But it is important, and work I love–even if not work I enjoy.
The question “why do bad things happen to good people” is not so much about theology, as it is a request for listening and help. It is a request that we validate the questioner’s experience of life as hard. It is a request that we be there for the person asking the question.
When bad things happen to good people, good people are given the opportunity to be better people to those experiencing bad things. But in the end, bad things happen because we are human, and that’s what life is about. It’s also why good things happen to good people. It’s how we share these things with each other that really matters.