Is God good?

This is a very emotional post. I wrote it while feeling terribly sad about the pain I see in this world. And I was facing facts about how I feel about what I see. I hesitate sharing this post because it was written in a time of darkness for me but I think there is something to be gained from it so I am going to share it anyhow. I have since had a great, heated discussion about the topic of “God – good or bad?” with Rabbi Shmulik and my wise-beyond-his-years friend, Daniel. More on that to come but first I’m sharing my first, raw feelings regarding this question. Here you go:

I’m sorry. I really don’t want to upset anyone but I really feel the need to share this.

I am absolutely sick and tired of trying to pretend that I see anyway to view God, the Creator, whatever, as good. It is so lame! I feel like it’s one of those things where I’ve been trying to just force myself to think I think that it’s possible, when deep down, over and over again, my gut tells me that the facts show otherwise.

Stop giving excuses for God! There is death but it’s our fault? Come on. There is suffering but it’s for some great existential reason we cannot understand? Please.

We’re always taught to use God as an example in order to decide how to act in life. So, what do I learn from God? That I should hurt people? He hurts them in the most painful ways. Diseases that are worse than probably any human could ever think up. Mental disease, the inner torment that it is for the person sick with it and the nightmare for those close to them. Physical disease…

I’m sick of trying to force myself to believe something that to me seems totally unintuitive.

I know people who suffer so much in life and then when something goes sort of well for them, they thank God and talk about how wonderful He is. Um, what about when things are going bad? Why don’t you then say how terrible He is? Besides the fact that it seems to me that some of these people suffer more than not, so it doesn’t even make sense to be so grateful when finally something sort of good comes along. Only when it fits the picture then you mention Him as the cause?

My experiences this week have really shaken me up, big time. Seeing suffering up close. Seeing deterioration of humans, and hearing more stories of the same, it’s like a terrible horror movie.

Because I want to believe that God is good, I always open myself up to being swayed in that direction, but I’m sick of it because I’m not being intellectually honest with myself.

When I was speaking to a Holocaust survivor the other day, I said that rabbis, when asked why the Holocaust happened, say, “We cannot know.” This man said it’s a cop out because they aren’t saying the truth, that maybe God really just isn’t as merciful as they’d like to believe.

He is actually a believer, after everything he’s gone through. But he does not know how God can be merciful and let people create such horror.

Stop putting all the blame on the people. It is not fair to give God no credit. He’s the One who created the world as it is. He’s the One who chose to make humans humans. Please don’t give me that.

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19 thoughts on “Is God good?

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  1. I take issue with your statment “We’re always taught to use God as an example in order to decide how to act in life”. Since when are we taught that we should be as good (or evil) as God? I don’t recall such a moment in my Jewish education. I think the beauty in Judaism is that we learn from REAL people (ok, you can object to them being real) from our history. The Bible is FULL of people from whom we are supposed to learn, people who are human with actual human flaws. People who stand before decisions every single day and are forced to make that choice. Many times they make the “wrong” choice, like so many of us today. But they made the choice, and they took respobsibility for those choices (most of the time). We are not pitted against God in life. We are pitted against each other, against other people from past history as well as contemporary people. Our role model has never been God. If he were our role model then I wouldn’t be surprised if we would all kill ourselves. It is not humanly possible to be as good as God, as perfect as God, as whatever it is that people believe God is. I believe that the beauty in our religion is that God created us with the possibility to choose between right and wrong. I like the idea that we are allowed to have our flaws, make our mistakes, and then take responsibility for those if we choose to do so, and even be forgiven. Religion which places all responsibility on God is a dangerous religion. Doing things in the name of (a) God is extremely dangerous! We should take comfort in the fact that our patriarchs and matriarchs and all who came from them were people with human traits who made mistakes, did evil, but had the option to repent. We, the Jews, believe that we are able to repent until the minute we die. God forgives those who repent, no matter when.
    You end by saying “He’s the One who chose to make humans humans.” Yes! That is my point! He chose to create humans as humans, with everything that it entails, which makes us responsible for what it is we do. Would you prefer a God that didn’t give us that choice?

    1. Naomi, I have heard so many times: “God gives life, we should give life. God gives tzedaka, we should give tzedaka. God is merciful, we should be merciful.” It’s not that we are being compared to Him but that he is an example for us.

      Wow, you wrote a lot. OK, what else did I want to answer. :)

      You asked: Would you prefer a God that didn’t give us that choice?

      My answer: I cannot answer that question. We were created in a way which makes us cringe at the idea of not having freedom of choice. Robots always come to mind. But we feel that way because God created us to feel that way. If God is all powerful, he is capable of creating a being that has no freedom of choice but yet is very happy. Very, very happy. Do you see what I’m saying?

      1. Nope, not really. Just want to reply by saying that I’m happy that I never heard people say that because God does so and so I should do it as well. I wonder if I can create Man?!?

      2. Ah, but that’s the point, Naomi. We’re supposed to have children, to “create” because God does.

        Um, didn’t we have the same education? I feel like I’ve heard this my whole life. Oh well, such is life. :) Now I need to try to get over it.

  2. Hi Deena,
    Your post really touched my heart.
    What you have written on the post is your anger and your frustration about God that why can’t He stop all this.
    From your post i can surely make one thing that you are a firm believer in God.
    I have one thing to tell you that let’s not blame God when something wrong is happening to the innocent people.
    We first need to understand what the God is all about, who is He , what can He do and how can He do; these all questions need to be understand first.
    i think if you understand the answers of all these questions, you will surely not blame God, the creator.
    Waiting for your response !!
    Thanking you

    1. Chandon, thanks so much for reading and commenting! OK, you said you understand from my post that I’m a firm believer in God. This is not actually true. I question God’s existence but choose to put the question aside in order to discuss or think about other issues. Otherwise I won’t ever be able to think about anything else.

      I am not sure we are capable of understanding the things you mentioned: What He’s about, who He is, what can He do and how can He do it. As Avrum said, how can we understand a thing far greater than ourselves when we cannot even understand ourselves?

      Also, even if one were to decide that they believe God is good (or not not good, in mTp’s way of thinking: ), it would still be OK to turn to him with questions like, “How could You let this happen?” He is, after all, the great and powerful God.

  3. Any debate that begins “Is God…” is a conversation stopper. I can barely figure out the Modus operandi of people, let alone a supposedly omnipotent being. Suffice it to say, we will project our moods onto our lovers, friends and spiritual practices. As Adin Steinzaltz is fond of saying: It’s more often a question of psychology than theology.

  4. For years I have struggled with this. I sway between – G-d may not be all good and G-d may not be all powerful…

  5. Try this as a challenge. Instead of putting G-d in a box by what you expect, describe what G-d is not. List ten things G-d is not.
    1) not omnipotent
    2) not omniscient
    3) not male
    4) not evil
    5) not good
    6) not meddling
    7) not controlling
    8) not everything
    9) not nothing
    10) not female

    This leaves an infinite amount of things he is but in my own personal theology you can see what he is not and imagine what he is.

    There are the 10 off of the top of my head. G-d is not good or bad. G-d is. Nature is. People are good and bad. Things that “are” are beautiful (snow storm) and disturbing (hurricane). Neither are bad or good they just are.

    I hope this is good.

    mTp

  6. lol (about your last sentence)

    mTp, it’s a really interesting idea to think about what He’s not. I don’t know why right now it’s not speaking to me. Maybe I’m just distracted at this moment but I need to try to feel this idea.

    Melissa, it’s such a tough issue to deal with because of the implications it has on this world. But I suppose it’s important to keep asking questions and hopefully one day we’ll have an answer. (Like, for example, mTp giving us an idea of how to approach God.)

    Shavua tov!

  7. i was wrong this time (You question God’s existence).
    But i can not understand the two contradicting statements of yours—
    1. I question God’s existence and Is god good.
    2. how can we understand a thing far greater than ourselves when we cannot even understand ourselves

    the above two statements are very much contradicting.
    The second one, if we can not understand ourselves in whole life how can we comment whether He exists or not AND is He good or bad.

    To understand anything about god is pretty simple if it is done with the clear mind and with devotion to the Almighty.
    AND
    He can not be even known to greatest intellectuals, if it is done with the logic; trying to prove Him or disprove Him.

    One more thing, a creature can not know anything about god without His grace AND a foolish person can know him, see him, take help from him with His grace.
    But to all this pure devotion is must.

    Thanking you !

    1. Hey Chandan. Wow. You wrote a lot… It’s cool, just I apologize in advance if I cannot answer it all.

      Regarding the contradiction you saw, it is because I do not have a firm opinion on this matter and I’m writing about different ideas. So I quoted someone who said “Don’t even go there” when it comes to trying to understand God, and at the same time, I am trying to understand God. Whether or not that is futile, I still have no opinion.

      Even if it IS possible to understand anything about God, I would not tend to think it is simple to do so.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  8. “If God is God He is not good,
    If God is good He is not God;”
    Archibald MacLeish, J.B.
    (modern dramatic retelling of the book of Job)

    I think there is tremendous wisdom in your thoughts, Deena, and I think the original authors of Job meant to agree with you. I’ll lend you Jack Miles’ God: A Biography. The chapter entitled “Fiend” (describing the God of the book of Job) offered an entirely new perspective for me on the subject of theodicy – reconciling God and the presence of evil, and inspired the crux of my master’s work at the Seminary, as well as musical renderings of Job’s God.

    A few of my feelings on the subject are on the web at http://www.uploadyourmind.com. If you go to the area under essays and look at “Divine plan or free will,” there are a few somewhat coherent thoughts I tried putting together.

    I hope to be able to talk further with you about this issue, which I feel is of optimal importance for all of us in this world.

    Thank you for your willingness to share such personal thoughts so openly.

    – Mike

    1. Mike,

      Thanks for giving us the link to your piece. I just finished it. It’s very good and I like your little amusing parts, especially with your use of Vancouver examples. :) Did you write this for something specific?

      Anyway, thanks for sharing. I’m trying to think what to answer but I really don’t know what to say because I don’t know what to think or believe. I can definitely say, though, that the sidewalks should have been cleared. No, that’s not what I wanted to say.

      I definitely agree that to say that the suffering is on purpose feels very wrong.

      OK, now to answer your next comment…

      I think it is quite strange to say that something omnipotent could make a mistake. I mean, He could, because He can do anything, but it would have to be a mistake done on purpose, no? And wow, these are quite the humongous “mistakes” don’t you think? That is definitely starting to sound weird to me.

      This is where I’ve come to at 10:14pm with almost no sleep last night.

  9. Deena,

    One other thought, if you’ll indulge my cantorial soap box…

    Dr. Steven Brown, the former dean of the Davidson School of Education at JTS, taught that it is impossible for all three of the following statements to be true:

    1. God is omnipotent
    2. God is just and fair
    3. Job was a good person

    If God is omnipotent and just/fair, then Job must not have been good (despite evidence to the contrary throughout the text). If God is just/fair and Job was a good person, then God must not be omnipotent (i.e. God made an error and is fallible). Finally, and more to the point you raise, if God is omnipotent and Job was a good person, then God is not just/fair.

    As for me, I can only reconcile the Job paradox and God’s “dealings with the Devil” and “rolling the dice with Job’s life” if I think that God made a mistake in dealing with Job and HaSatan. Like us, however, I feel that God, too, can learn from his mistakes, and just as we must ask for God’s forgiveness for any of our misdeeds, so do I feel in agreement with Rabbi Harold Kushner – and feel that we must forgive God, as well. The world is by no means perfect, and it is through tikkun olam – repairing the world – that humans truly can be partners in creation and act b’tzelem Elokim, in God’s image.

    This is where I’ve come to as of 12:45am on a Tuesday morning. May change tomorrow…

    Cheers,

    Mike

  10. Deena,

    I only have a list of questions.

    Where were you studying?
    What event or experience of suffering led to this out pour of emotion?
    What would it mean for you to direct your anger at G-d over this issue? Have you ever poured out these feelings to G-d, or just your blog post?

    Thank you for writing this. I admire your courage to honestly say your thoughts and feelings. Now I wonder what it would mean to apply that honesty with the Steinsatlz quote Avrum Nadigel wrote in the process of understanding what is your personal truth which creates these emotions and thoughts?

    1. ariehdavid, how exciting for you to bring this blog post back to life. :) Interesting that it’s exactly a year old and I still have similar questions come up over and over again. For example, after Haiti I was in that mode again.

      Where did I study? Not sure what you’re referring to…

      What event brought up those feelings? If I remember correctly, at least one of the things was that I was working with elderly people at the time and I think we were dealing with a particularly difficult situation which made me feel very, very sad. I am not 100% sure, though…

      I am quite sure I do direct these questions (or, to be honest, accusations) towards God. I suppose I am yet to find that very useful.

      As for the Steinsaltz quote, I am not sure where it gets me. I am aware of the fact that our opinions are very much based on our experiences (aka, our psychology) but in the end I can’t see how that helps me. From my perspective, basically that quote is saying to me that I cannot have any truly honest, objective theological opinions. And how does that help me? Whether legit or not, I have thoughts and opinions…

      Ideas that totally take away the legitimacy of us having opinions (for example, the idea that until we analyze something to death, it’s not intellectually honest of us to have an opinion on the matter) don’t help me much. Yes, it’s good to be aware of the fact that we are very subjective beings, and it’s good to consider how subjective we’re being… But it doesn’t take away from what we do think and feel at any given moment.

      (I’m not sure I agree fully with my last paragraph. :) )

      Thanks for your comment!

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