God and tragedy

01/06/2013 4:00 PM

01/05/2013 7:42 PM

There are several possible reasons that people who believe in an all-powerful God will usually give to explain why tragedy sometimes strikes human beings. There are reasons given to explain an event like Hurricane Sandy or an event like the massacre in Newtown, Conn.

One reason given is that perhaps the victims did something wrong to deserve the punishment. So Hurricane Sandy and the massacre in Conn. have been explained as God’s punishment for the decadence of American society. But were all the victims of Hurricane Sandy decadent and were those little children murdered in Conn. decadent?

Another explanation given is that God has his own reasons for allowing these events to occur and God’s reasons are beyond human understanding. But can we really bring ourselves to believe this?

A similar explanation is that God is above our limited view of morality – that God’s morality can’t be understood by human beings – that God’s sense of justice can’t be understood by human beings. But God expects human beings to act in a moral, fair manner. So would a good God give human beings a system of morals that he himself doesn’t keep?

A further explanation sometimes given is that suffering makes someone a better person. But those who perished in Newtown, Conn., don’t become better persons as a result of being murdered.

And a final explanation given is that by causing us to suffer, God is testing our faith. But this makes God out to be a kind of sadist who punishes people just to see how loyal they are.

I think all these explanations are insufficient to explain why an all-powerful God would allow horrible things to happen to innocent people. So I think we have to conclude that a truly good all-powerful God wouldn’t allow horrible things to happen to good, innocent people. We have to conclude that God is good, but doesn’t control everything that happens. We have to conclude that God created a universe that operates according to the laws of nature and a world in which human beings have been granted free will. So this is a world in which there is pain as well as happiness. This is what the Bible means in Isaiah 4:6-7, where God says, “I am the Lord and there is none else. I form light and I create darkness. I create good and I create evil. I the Lord do all these things.”

Accidents happen all the time, creating random tragedy, as when a drunken driver hits one car rather than another, or one plane goes down over the sea while other planes nearby don’t. And it’s a world in which natural forces will cause a devastating hurricane to occur and a world in which a madman will enter a school building and murder innocent children and adults.

God created nature and God gave us free will. People get pain, not directly from God , but from the random workings of nature and from evil acts resulting from the exercise of free will. What God gives us is the strength to handle the pain. Prayer may not evoke a cure for pain or loss, but through prayer God can strengthen us and help us to deal with the pain and the loss. Prayer taps hidden reserves of faith and courage that weren’t there before.

So after suffering from pain or loss, we can deal with it by asking ourselves, “Now that it’s happened, what am I going to do about it? How am I going to go on with life? What can I do to help prevent future suffering and loss? What can I do to help make this a world in which this type of suffering and loss is minimized?”

And, as the force for good in the universe, God can inspire us to answer these questions in a positive way. We don’t have to believe in a God who controls everything that happens. We can have a relationship with the God of goodness and creativity, the God who created the universe and who will guide us on the path to a more-fulfilling existence and a better world – even if God doesn’t control everything that happens in the world. The Bible tells us that we are created in God’s image. So by helping to make this a better world by acting with love and compassion toward our fellow human beings, we live our lives in a godly manner.

The writer, rabbi of Temple Shalom, lives in Conway.

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