I was asked this morning why God would allow people to grow up believing untruths about Him. Some people discover later in life that they’ve been on a wrong path and feel tremendous bitterness towards God. Here’s my response:
I’m never comfortable trying to explain the ways of the Almighty, because who am I? We have an entire book of the Bible where Job’s three friends try to explain to him why he is undergoing such incredible suffering. Job can’t understand why a benevolent God would allow him to be tortured so horribly. His friends, though, “understand”. Finally, God interrupts these wise men and says, “Excuse me. What do you know about running a world? Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Did you ever in your life command forth the morning or teach the dawn its place? (Job 37-39) He had Isaiah convey similarly, “My thoughts are not your thoughts…” (55:8)
But let’s think a little more about your question.
Not only does God prohibit idolatry, He prohibits murder, rape and kidnapping. But we know these terrible sins are committed. Why does God allow people to violate His will? Let’s be clear however. We want to know why God allows people to do these things. He doesn’t do these things.
As you know, Jews like to answer a question with a question. (It seems even God does as well. That’s the “answer” in the book of Job. God answers Job and his friends by posing a series of questions to them). Yes, God allows us to do horrible things and make terrible mistakes in life. Why did God allow that person to smoke for 35 years and bring such misery upon himself and his family? Why does God allow ISIS to commit acts of outrageous brutality? So here is my question: Would you rather live in a world where we never had the ability to do wrong?
The most precious thing that God gave human beings was free will. He can’t force us to do good, to help others, to be kind. These would not be virtuous behaviors if we were merely puppets in His hands. Sure. God could have created human beings programmed like robots who never violate His will. God could have created beings that never lied or cheated or murdered. But He must have had a good reason for not creating us like that. And I suspect that most of us, when thinking soberly about this, would also not prefer to live a life without the ability to choose.
When a drug dealer tries to sell a high school student some pills or a swindling con artist tries to get someone to ‘invest’ with her, or a preacher tries to convince others to follow his ridiculous fantasies – should God just veto all of this? Would we really prefer living in a world where we could never do wrong. Where it would be impossible to make mistakes?
When I was growing up, there was an episode of the Twilight Zone where some miserable low life dies and finds himself in this palatial casino. All around, all he can see are cute waitresses offering drinks and craps tables, roulette wheels and black jack games. He starts to play and he wins. He wins again, again, again and again. After a few days of this he finally realizes the place he’s in is not heaven.
The price of admission of being a human is free will. If God forced us to love Him, it wouldn’t really be love. If God forced me to give charity, I would not be a generous person.
If I discovered after years of believing something that wasn’t true that I was misled, I would not be upset with God for allowing me to persist in that error. I’d be upset with the people who led me in that direction. But usually, the people who misled me were themselves misled. (God, of course, takes this into consideration when judging us. Our sages speak about the case of a Jew who was kidnapped as a child and raised without knowledge of Torah law. Clearly, s/he will not be held accountable by God for not following the Torah.) The real fault lies with those who originally knew the truth and chose to go off in their own direction.
I know I’ve intellectualized a very emotional issue. Even if you can explain to a child why they were punished severely by their parents, and the child understood – it’s still painful. I’m sure that even if people can come to a place where they don’t hold God responsible for their mistakes, it doesn’t make the pain of dealing with the feeling of having wasted years of their life go away. But the other great gift that God gave us is the ability to change. In the Torah this is called Teshuvah.
Repentance can help us not live a life of bitterness and depression after realizing we were wrong. Our sages say that if we repent out of love, then our past mistakes become merits. This is similar to the idea that after a bone breaks and heals – it gets stronger. I once heard a beautiful story from someone who grew up totally disconnected from truth. He met someone later in life who said that he actually had a great advantage. “What could that be?” He was told that we are all connected to the Almighty. That’s how we come off the conveyor belt. But if that connection is ever cut or broken, and we retie it – it gets shorter. Or, as our sages teach: In the place where a repentant person stands, even the perfectly righteous cannot stand. (Reposted from 2016)