The God Squad: Questions from the final exam of the theology class at Mercy High School in Middletown, Conn., Part 3
Q: From P: Why did God give us free will knowing that some of us would make bad choices?
A: The one trait that separates us from all other living things is freedom of the will. It is the choice to be able to decide what we will do next based upon our own beliefs about what is good and what is bad. Animals make decisions but they have no free will. Their decisions are forced upon them by instinct, not moral principles. They follow their impulses not their moral consciences. This type of life is fine for animals, but God had something higher in mind for human beings.
The biblical name for this gift is that we are made in the image of God. God has free will and so do we. That is what it means to be made in God’s image. Of course, we are not God and so our application of our free will to our lives is never perfect.
Sometimes we choose to do evil either because we want to hurt others out of our anger; or sometimes we do evil because we mistakenly think that evil is good or are misinformed. That is why we need God’s teachings to help tutor us on the path of righteousness. Even our bad choices do not make the gift of free will a mistake or a sin. Our divinity is rooted in our free will because our free will is the key to choosing the good and choosing the good is the key to loving God and loving each other.
Q: From P: What happens in purgatory? And how long can you be there for?
A: There are three possibilities for what happens to our souls after they separate from our bodies at our physical death. The first is that the worms eat us up and that is that. This would be true if there is no soul or God or Heaven or Hell as the atheists believe. I cannot live my life believing that we are just a bunch of genetic goo that rots in the ground at our death, but it may be true. The second spiritual option is purgatory where our souls are punished for our sins until they have been purified by that punishment. Then, after whatever time that punishment takes, their souls are released into Heaven. A third possibility is that we are not punished but taught in some form of soul school where our soul is debriefed by the angels who have accompanied us throughout our life. Our souls are asked why we were afraid, and they are taught that such fears were an unnecessary obstacle to their spiritual fulfillment. I vote for soul school. So let me just say that your theology class at Mercy High School will not be your last.
Q: From S: How do you know if praying works if you do not see results of what you are praying about?
A: The point of prayer is to change you, not the world. If prayer was judged on whether God delivered to you what you prayed for, then prayer would be just a form of magic and God would be just a magician or some divine gumball machine that delivered a gumball after we inserted a prayer.
Of the four types of prayers: Thanks, Gimmie, Oops and Wow, only one of them is a petition. The other three are prayers that remind us to give grateful thanks for blessings already bestowed upon us and a world given to us that is so full of majesty and fruitfulness. Even the Gimmie prayers, which are petitions, only work if we are asking for something for someone else. You may think that seeing the results of your prayers means getting a big divine “Yes.” Sometimes a real answer to prayer can also be a big divine “No,” or I hope, “Not yet.”
Q: From S: How come God puts us through difficult challenges that will just make us sad and could initially make us give up?
A: If God knew that we would give up, God would never test us. The point is that God does not know how we will react to the bumps and burdens of our lives. This is because we have free will (see the answer above to P’s question) and with free will, God cannot know what we will do next. Ask yourself, is there anyone you know and admire who has not gone through trials and tests in life? Our muscles are strengthened by resistance during exercise. Our souls are strengthened by resistance in life’s journey.
(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.)
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