From M: I simply must ask why you never find fault with God, and why you continue to perpetuate the myth that God cares about people. I submit for your consideration a few brief examples from a recent column on Catholic girls asking you about God. I respectfully challenge you to try to support your contentions. One girl asked why God allows the innocent ones of this world to suffer. You replied that good people suffer because of bad luck and bad behavior. You referenced the destruction caused by hurricanes as an example of people suffering due to having the misfortune of living in the path of a hurricane. However, you made no mention of why God does nothing to help people. Does He not have power over nature? What about parting the Red Sea or filling the discouraged apostles' fishing nets with fish, or changing water into wine, or calming the wind and the water when they threatened to capsize the disciples boat? And what about bad behavior? God allows good people to suffer and die because of the bad behavior of others? How is this not insane? How can you observe all of the bad things that occur each and every day in this world and not conclude that God is evil, a monster, criminally insane? I really do want to know. I am desperately trying to find a reason — any reason — to believe in a loving and caring God. Everything I see in this world illustrates exactly the opposite. Thank you.
A: Dear M. Thank you for your respectful but urgent dissent from my responses to the girls of Ms. Peppitone’s theology class at Mercy High School in Middeltown, Connecticut. For some reason you were taught that the only proper role for God is to protect us from our bad decisions and from natural catastrophes. Who taught you this? The view that every bump in the road is God’s fault is not taught in the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Testament or the Quran. There is a good reason for this. A God who protects us from everything must inevitably produce people who are not prepared to protect themselves from anything. Why should we struggle to make good choices or help those in need or devote our intelligence to finding cures for diseases if God is supposed to do all that for us? As a parent you would never make all the decisions for your child. That is exactly what God did and does for all humanity. We believe in a God who accompanies us as in Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me.”
All this is visualized in a beautiful and rarely understood image from Exodus 19:4, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.” Eagles, you see, nest on cliffs to protect the nest from predators but this means that the fledgling eagles have no safe places to learn to fly. So, when they are ready, the mother eagle pushes a baby out of the nest. The chick flaps furiously but basically plummets. However, before it hits the ground the parent swoops down and catches the eaglet on its huge pin feathers and swats it back up into the air. After a few episodes of falling and swatting, the baby eagle learns to fly on its own. That, I believe, is in the Bible because that is exactly how God trains us to use our free will to fly through our lives. We fall and are caught, but eventually we do not need to be caught any more.
You can ask, and you have asked, “What about all the eagle chicks that are not caught?” What about people who fall and hit the ground before God has a chance to save them? My answer is that most everyone can choose to be caught. We can choose to believe that God is with us even when we are falling, and that choice produces a catch.
I do want to say that people with addictions are not making free will bad choices. They are suffering from an illness that has crippled their ability to freely choose the good. Not all suffering is caused by moral weakness and that must be understood clearly.
For those who do not choose or cannot choose and miss God’s wings and hit the ground, this tragedy is softened by our belief that their souls, which were missed in this life, are caught in the life to come in heaven after death. I believe that about eagles and I believe that about people. I hope you can find a way to believe that too.
(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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