God never promised us a world without pain
Q: In a recent column, you responded to a question about why God would allow the corona virus. Your initial response was that you are a rabbi, not a prophet, and that you are in sales, not management. That was an excellent response, and you should have stuck with it. Instead, you went on to say that the coronavirus has spiritual implications, is not evil, and is part of God's plan for the world. With all due respect, that is absurd, and does not comport with an all-loving, omnipotent God. You go on to say that viruses are "just part of the natural functioning of the earth." That's true, but according to your faith, God is responsible for the natural functioning, so why would he choose pain and suffering? Clearly, an all-loving God would not. Again, you cannot explain away pain and suffering as a good and necessary evil, because God, if he exists, would be able to create a world without pain and suffering. If you disagree with that, then you must admit that God is not all-loving and omnipotent. You can't have it both ways. So please, when you receive questions like this, just say: I don't know. -- F from Guilford, CT
A: The anger at God over this virus is the result of a widespread theological virus. That virus is the belief that only good comes from God and every instance of pain or suffering must therefore be a betrayal by God. This is not true and believing it causes us to lose faith. Nothing in the Bible and nothing in the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam teaches us that God must create a world with no evil in order to be God.
Last week I brought forth the most well-known Psalm which is Psalm 23. The key verse for the frightening times at hand is verse four, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." The promise from God is that when we confront the evil in the world we will not have to confront it alone.
Despite the widespread misunderstanding of what faith promises us, you yearn, Dear F, for a world with no pain and suffering. Please pray over this question: is such a world compatible with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God? The answer is clearly no. A world without pain would not allow lions to eat antelope. A world without pain would not allow humans over thousands of years to suffer and die of diseases until gradually we evolve antibodies and medicines to combat those predatory illnesses. A world without pain would never allow any creature in the world to die and thus make room for new births. A world without pain would not allow humanity to make bad choices and suffer for them and then learn from them and reach higher forms of freedom and justice and support for the common good. There are many things an all-powerful and good God cannot do, and those limitations provide for the triumph of the greater good over time.
There is a biblical verse that does tell the real truth about God and God's relationship with the world and that verse is in the Book of Isaiah (45:7).
"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things."
If Isaiah had the courage of faith to believe in a God who creates everything and challenges us to solve the problems we can solve, and to hope in God's love that in time we will solve more problems and find greater love and health and justice among us, all the while knowing that God is with us in our growth to higher virtues -- if Isaiah can believe in such a God then we can too.
Last week, I began to articulate my belief that the biblical vaccine against panic is the most important vaccine we need right now while we await the medical vaccine that is still many months away. Just as God made Adam alive with the breath of life, let us remain alive with the breath of hope that comes from the same source.
Note: Some readers were offended with my speculation that the origins of the virus might possibly have been in a careless laboratory. I agree with their criticism. Those were reckless words on my part. I do not know, and we do not know how this virus was loosed upon us. Perhaps this virus is the result of human error. Perhaps it has more natural causes. We just don't know. If I can claim, as I do, that we ought not to jump to blame God, then certainly we ought not to jump to blame each other.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)(c) 2020 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.