Monday, October 10, 2011


Sometimes . . . okay, often . . . someone will come up to me, knowing that I'm an ordained minister, and ask me "Why?"

Why did this bad thing happen?

Why didn't this good thing happen?

Why is life the way it is?  (Why is MY life the way it is?)

Usually I try to refrain from giving any kind of answer.  It's my experience that most people, when asking the question, are not really looking for some kind of answer.  The question is a way of giving voice to grief, or anger, or confusion.  So instead of providing some kind of answer that's not really wanted anyway, I try to find out what other thing is embedded in those words that seem like a question.

But every once in a while I do answer.  And when I do, I usually go to the place that Rabbi Harold Kushner went in his classic book When Bad Things Happen To Good People.  This is my interpretation, of course, but what I took away from that book is that the reason bad things happen to good people is . . . well . . . because.

There's a story told about a man who was living a really miserable life.  It had been miserable for some time and seemed like it was only going to get more miserable as time went on.  He sought help from psychiatrists and psychologists.  He talked to ministers, priests, rabbis, and imams.  He sought out philosophers and poets.  And then one day, after seeking for years the answer to why his life was so miserable and what he could do about it, the man found himself in a remote wilderness area where there was rumored to be an incredibly wise guru.  He found this guru and said to her:

"My life has been filled with disappointments for as long as I can remember.  One thing after another seemed to go wrong or didn't live up to my expectations.  There has been pain and suffering -- both physical and mental. Things I wanted I wouldn't get; things I had I'd lose.  Why, oh why, is my life like this?"

The guru paused for a moment.  She looked on the man with eyes filled with compassion.  And then she said, simply, "because everyone's life is like that."

That's what I remember Rabbi Kushner as saying -- bad things happen to good people because bad things happen sometimes.  There is no "why" to it.

At the same time as I was reading Harold Kushner's book I was also reading James Gleick's book Chaos:  making of a new science.  I remember thinking that there was a connection to be made between the two.  Chaos theory holds that what at first might appear to be chaotic randomness in fact contains at a deep level a tremendous amount of order and that, at the same time, what might seem orderly and structured has within it incredible levels of chaos.

I thought of all of this because, this evening, someone asked of me the question "why?"  And also because I came across this video.  I think that there's a connection to be made:

In Gassho,

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