Harold Krushner wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People, a 1981 book that focuses on answering the oft-puzzling question of why there is so much pain and suffering in a world that was created and is ruled by a God who is kind and loving. He wrote this book after he saw his son Aaron, who was diagnosed with progeria when he was just 4 years old, deal with life and die as his condition got worse. The unavoidable question is, “Why,” it is often asked, “did God let this or that happen to me?” (p. 6). In this book, however, Krushner not only deals with this question but also the more profound question of, “Now that bad things have happened to me, how will I respond?” (p. 147).
We will write a custom Term Paper on Religious Studies. Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” and Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” specifically for you
807 certified writers online
Man’s Search for Meaning is a 1946 book written by Viktor Frankl, in which he has used his horrific experiences as an inmate in Nazi concentration camps and derived from these experiences a psychotherapeutic method of fulfilling the need for meaning in life. The book is divided into two parts, in the first one he recounts and analyses his experiences in the concentration camps while in Part Two he discusses logotherapy, a form of therapy based on the premise that the fundamental driver behind man’s actions is his search for meaning.
Both books can be compared in the ways they are similar as well as different because both discuss human suffering, Krushner does so from the point of view of the reasons people ask for when they experience suffering and then goes on to tell them how they can overcome suffering by having the right attitude towards it. Frankl on the other hand talks about his horrifying experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, and how it was only when he and the other survivors sought a meaning to their life were they able to cope with the despair around them. While the approach can be contrasted, the point both authors try to drive home is the same, as will be discussed now.
Krushner openly dismisses the commonly held belief that when humans endure suffering, it is God’s way of punishing them for their misdeeds. He also rejects the notion that putting people through suffering is His way of teaching people how to be humble and gather strength through spiritual means. Instead, Krushner, as he learned through years of pastoral counseling and from his personal experience of losing his son to a disease, believes that while God always wants good things for people, he can not control everything and bad things happen for many reasons, beyond his power. Human suffering is an inevitable part of the universe God has created and the people who undergo it are not chosen by God, in fact, it is the nature of the element of randomness in the universe that bad things happen to them. Their suffering is not willed by God. God did not choose to inflict them with pain and suffering, according to Krushner, this is the way of the world. People suffer, not because they are good or bad, but because of several reasons, which can not be controlled by God: “Fate, not God, sends us the problem” (p. 129).
He also discusses how suffering is caused by the “misuse of human freedom” (p. 81). Human beings are given the choice of doing good or bad, and that is what makes up their uniqueness. When humans go for the tragic choice of doing evil, this is what results in events such as the Jewish holocaust and American slavery. When humans choose to do wrong, even though God doesn’t will it, bad things happen to people and they suffer as a consequence of this misuse of human freedom.
Since Krushner removes God as being the recipient of blame when humans suffer, he also removes the emphasis from the why of human suffering. He then turns the discussion to what people can do which is in their power to deal with the suffering they face, and what will their attitude be towards it. This is where the similarity between the two books is evident. While the method of suffering differs in both, when Krushner asks “How will I respond to suffering and pain?” (p. 147), this idea is very similar to when Frankl quotes Nietzsche, “If a man has a why to live for, he can stand almost any how.” Frankl says is the “last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” (p. 104). Hence while both authors have described different forms of suffering and chosen to tackle the subject via different approaches, their core remains the same: how human beings can endure suffering, even the most inescapable of it, and overcome it simply by their attitude towards it.
In his book, Frankl elaborates upon the suffering inmates go through by sharing with us stories of the horrifying events which he and others like him underwent. One story he shared was about how he wore rags and shoes which did not have soles and performed grueling labor with many other starving men. But in this situation his young wife was a source of inspiration for him, he would converse with her silently, in his mind, and carry on conversations with her imagining her responses. He had no clue if she was even alive, but he clung on to hope which was what gave him strength eventually.
Frank’s book tells us, just like Krushner’s, that we can’t control fate. A lot of what happens to us is not directed by God, but we have to allow for fate to guide us, and never lose hope, because that is how we control our own fate. He gives the example of how he was a psychiatrist trying to finish his book when the Nazis arrested him, but he secretly brought his manuscript with him into the concentration camp. However, after some time when he lost it, he started losing hope as well. But he found a way out, he started to arrange the manuscript just like it actually was, in his mind, and when he did so, he regained his strength and was better equipped to deal with the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and the misery around him.
He talks about how there are two important experiences that prisoners go through which have the potential to severely damage their mental stability. One is bitterness at how the external world is completely unresponsive to their plight: a “superficiality and lack of feeling…so disgusting that one finally felt like creeping into a hole and neither hearing nor seeing a human being anymore” (p. 113). And the other which was even worse than the bitterness is the disillusionment which follows when they discover that the happiness they so desperately want will not come, as their suffering is never-ending: “A man who for years had thought he had reached the absolute limit of all possible suffering now found that suffering had no limits, and that he could suffer still more, and more intensely” (p. 146) This happened with prisoners who had hoped to be reunited with their loves ones upon returning home, but when they come back, they find out that there is no waiting for them. This is a very difficult experience to go through and emerge out of, but this is exactly what Frankl aims to help people cope with through his form of psychotherapy.
Frankl says “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing a something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering” (p. 115). This is the way inmates in concentration camps found a sense of purpose in their lives, despite living in miserable conditions and going through various forms of torture.
Both books attempt to help people who are experiencing suffering cope better. Frankl does so by looking at ways in which they can find meaning in their lives and the people who cling on to the hope of a pleasant future, despite the suffering they are going through at present, who do not give in to depression and believe that their life does hold some meaning are the ones who survive whatever terrible conditions fate throws their way. As he says, “Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent” (p. 69). Krushner also suggests that we must accept that our lives will involve suffering and while we would not want to accept suffering willingly when we give it a meaning, we this suffering is meaningless unless we accept it and “we can redeem these tragedies from senselessness by imposing meaning on them” (p. 136). He talks about prayer, which “redeems people from isolation” and “lets them know that they are a part of a greater reality, with more depth, more hope, more courage and more of a future than any individual could have by himself” (p. 121). When people don’t deal with their suffering through prayer and focus on negative emotions instead, they are in essence hurting themselves a second time.
Both books offer people ways to change their personal tragedies into triumphs through a change in attitude, and this is the greatest similarity between both. They deliver this message in different ways, as can be inferred from the discussion above, but in the end, both aim to help people cope with unavoidable suffering by finding a meaning to their life, because as Krushner says, “We could bear nearly any pain or disappointment if there was a reason behind it, a purpose to it” (p. 135).
Frankl, Viktor. Man’s search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. New York: Pocket Books, 1959.
Krushner, Harold. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Great Britain: Simon & Schuster, 1981.