Reflecting on the book “How Good Do We Have to Be” by Harold S. Kushner reminded me of a concept my high school religion teacher taught me. He would say that most people see God in the same way that they see Santa, SantaGod. Kushner’s book really emphasized and opened up my eyes to this concept even more. I appreciated Kushner’s approach to the book may be far better than I did in “Living a Life That Matters.” Kushner wrote this book for people who have suffered a great tragedy that may be unexpected in hopes of reminding them of their faith.
Kushner starts this book with chapters discussing much of why people suffer. Many of the ideas and concepts of suffering were related to similar ideas and concepts in other religions. I believe suffering is universal and people feel it in a multitude of ways. Most of the ways are explained in even Buddhism which reminded me of Hinduism. How you may ask? It is because Hinduism states that other religions exist to fit people’s lives and cultures. All religions are related to the same God but just different approaches to getting to God.
Kusher discusses how God should essentially allow humans to suffer. Although Kushner does not believe that God causes suffering, God also does not prevent it either. In most instances, we create our own suffering whether directly or indirectly. Much of what we do has a cause and an effect, which can create suffering in our present or future. Then Kushner talks about the idea that some suffering is simply inevitable. That the suffering is not caused but is simply happening because it may be meant to happen. Sometimes there is no reason for the suffering at hand, yet we face the suffering regardless.
Here is where the idea of SantaGod comes into play. Kushner talks about the idea that there are no exceptions for nice people. My high school religion teacher would say that people treated God like Santa, that if they were good all year, they would receive gifts, and if they were bad, they would receive coal. He compared the Christmas concept to God as most people believe they should be a good person to receive blessings from God and that if they or other people are not good people God will not bless them. This concept is completely false and Kushner talks about this same idea because good people are not exempt from suffering. Much like Buddhists believe suffering is part of human life and what makes us human. If God constantly intervened in whether or not there were exceptions made for good people, humanity would not be what it is today.
Kushner also talked about the idea that humanity is rooted in free will. The ability to choose between good and evil allows us to be human. Kushner related this to the story of Adam and Eve. That this story was not just a story of disobedience but a story of humanity. Adam and Eve were both allowed the opportunity to choose, regardless of what they chose God would love them but they’re being able to choose made them human. If God were to intervene in our choices and our ability to do evil versus good, would we still be human? No. The answer is simple which is why Kushner made it a point to discuss the purity of being human lies in the ability to choose between doing good and evil.
Kushner went on to discuss why we should still pray or rely on God even when he does not cause or prevent our problems. Praying and having faith in God despite facing suffering connects us to other people which can help in our suffering in the long. Kushner explains that we do not face our problems alone. Additionally, he talks about the strength we receive through God to press forward regardless of whether God fixes our problem or not.
Overall Kushner wrote a great book about what or how we should be in the face of bad things happening to us. It is important to note that bad things happen for a couple of reasons; one being self-inflicted whether it is direct or indirect and because they are inevitable. I believe the reasonings behind suffering are taught to us in Buddhism. That we will suffer regardless of how good or faithful we are. According to Buddhism suffering will come into our lives at certain points because it is inevitable. As suffering comes into our lives we should not beat ourselves up about it and think that we should be better people because suffering will happen to the best of people. I think Kushner wrote a book that everyone can relate to at some point in their lives.
Kushner was able to take an idea about why bad things happen to good people and provide peace and comfort to his readers. I believe every person should read this book. This would be a great addition to anyone’s reading since it talks about a concept that so many of us think about. I am almost certain that everyone has thought to themselves “Why did this happen to me?” “Why did this happen to this good person?” or even simply “Why did this happen?” We have all asked at least one of these questions and Kushner does a phenomenal job at addressing the overarching theme between these questions. In addition to those questions, this book helped us find an answer as to how good we must be in order to live a happy life. In order to be good, we must not be good simply to receive blessings, such as the SantaGod concept explains. We must be good for the sake of being good regardless of what good could bring. Based on both of the books I have read by Kushner for this class, I am eager to read other books by him. He does not overthink or overwrite his content but spends a lot of his time using religious or biblical examples that support his ideas. Additionally, Kushner makes the information whether his thoughts and ideas or biblical examples easy to read and understand.