Living a Life That Matters

Book Reviews

life mattersKushner, Harold S., Living a Life That Matters. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, division of Random House, Inc., 2001.)

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner is best known as the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, but he has written several other books based on his experiences over forty years as a rabbi. They include How Good Do We Have to Be?, When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough, and When Children Ask About God.

Writing from a background of four decades of helping persons to weather the storms of life, Rabbi Kushner begins this book with a simple premise, that the greatest fear of many persons approaching the end is that their life will not have mattered. It is not death that these persons fear, the Rabbi says, for many have lived long and fulfilling lives and others yearn to be freed from pain and disease. Rather, it is the fear of having lived an insignificant life that strikes terror in the hearts of many.

Kushner suggests that we live in two worlds- the world of work and the world of faith. We face a dilemma in balancing the needs that are put upon us in these two worlds, needs that are basic to the human condition. We need to know that our lives matter to the world, and so we are driven to be successful. At the same time we need to know that we are good people, and that the world will be a better place for our having lived.

While we accept the message that God loves us in spite of our shortcomings, we want to believe that God loves us because we deserve to be loved. Kushner suggests that God speaks to us in two voices, one of which is stern and demanding, the other kind and forgiving. The first encourages us to be the best we can be, while the second assures us we are still loved in spite of our failures.

In addition to citing many stories from his years as a Rabbi, Kushner uses the biblical character of Jacob as an example of someone who continually faced the conflict between these two worlds. Perhaps the only person whom we see in the Bible as a child, a young man, a husband and father, and an old man near death, Jacob continually struggled to resolve the conflict between success and conscience in his life.

Kushner's latest book is easy to read and re-read because of his engaging style and use of many anecdotes. Much of what he says is common sense, but just as in Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, Living a Life That Matters draws common sense, new ideas, and scriptural truths together in a manner that provides comfort and sustenance to the reader.

I am fortunate to have been in the same ministerial position for over thirty years. But much of my professional life these three decades has consisted of tasks very "daily" and "weekly." It is fairly easy to look back and wonder how much of that has mattered. Reading Rabbi Kushner's latest book has been helpful to me in examining that question. I would suspect that it would be equally helpful to many who are interested in examining their lives, and being sure they are on the right path.

-James Richardson (2-11-02)

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