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Meaning and Suffering
Posted: 2/22/2011 | Guest Bloggers Comments
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Tomorrow, Wednesday at 4 PM, I interview Rabbi Rami Shapiro, an award winning author, poet, essayist, and educator whose poems have been anthologized in over a dozen volumes, and whose prayers are used in prayer books around the world. Please join me by registering here.

Until then, please enjoy this special post from Rabbi Rami Shapiro.

Meaning and Suffering

Last Friday I attended a lecture by New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. During the talk he mentioned that he had abandoned his fundamentalist Christian faith because he was unable to reconcile its belief in a good and interventionist God, with all the suffering he saw in the world. I understand Dr. Ehrman’s problem, but opt for a different solution.

My own position is simple: God is not good. Neither is God bad. God is just God, Reality. We humans invent the categories of good and bad: good is what we like, bad is what we don’t like. Different people have different lists of likes and dislikes, and some among us insist that their lists come from God. God never says otherwise, so their claim can be ignored or denied, but never refuted.

As a student of the Bible I have trouble believing that God is opposed to suffering. God drowns almost all humanity in Genesis, terrorizes the Egyptian people, and murders their first born sons in Exodus, and then goes on to order the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Promised Land.

Causing suffering is God’s MO: look what He is willing to put His Son through just to keep Himself from condemning all of humanity once again. God could have simply forgiven humanity, he didn’t need the torture and death of Jesus. Or did He? The Jewish and Christian Bibles make it clear that God needs the death of innocents (animals, babies, Jesus, etc.) to assuage His wrath. So who says God is anti-suffering?

I find the Book of Job to be the most honest book in the Bible. Job suffers because God wants him to suffer. In his conversation with Job God makes it clear that suffering is part of life, and there is nothing anyone (including God) can do about it. That insight was enough for Job, and he found comfort in the chaos of life. I accept the truth of Job, but I want something more: I want the chutzpah of Abraham.

When God tells Abraham of the coming destruction of Sodom, Abraham demands that the Judge of all the world should himself act justly (Genesis 18:25) . Killing the innocent along with the guilty is wrong. God agrees, though both he and Abe are willing to let the city die if ten good people can’t be found within its gates.

Dr. Ehrman left Christianity because its loving God seemed false. I have yet to leave Judaism because its God—Job’s God—seems all too true.

Judaism is (for me) a blending of Abraham and Job. Like Job I know that suffering and injustice are inescapable, and like Abraham (and the Prophets) I fight against them anyway. Judaism is a rebellion against reality: making meaning in a universe that transcends meaning. It is a rebellion that cannot be won, yet cannot be abandoned (It is not for us to complete the task, but neither are we free to abandon it—Rabbi Tarfon,Avot 2:21) . Our messiah is always coming and never arrives because our vision of a perfect world is always a hope and never a reality.

Suffering does not drive me from Judaism, it confirms the need for it.


terri hoagland       Posted: 2/24/2011 1:27:30 PM

Thank you for sharing Dr. Howard. G_d Most High grieves daily, because he loves beings too much, he has deeper feelings than us. He loves us more than animals. Animals are miracles unto beings, but we are more of a miracle unto G_d Most High. Animals are used for research, companionship, food, money, and too much more for beings. Knowing that G_d Most High grieves daily helps me let go of my deep grief however I still have trigger moments especiall during holidays, birthdays, and so much more. Alot of people think G_d Most High has no feelings, they disregard the ancient old testament, because they just read the new testament. The ancient old testament was adopted by all faiths, but many faiths inserted their new testaments, but yet the Jews are hated more than any faith on this earth. Not all people dislike Jews, but too many do.
The distress of sincere christians at the thought of Jews rejecting Jesus is understandable. After all, in their system of beliefs, the eternal fate of a person''s soul hinges on the relationship he or she has formed with the Christian Messiah. I think it is pure arrogance for anyone religion to assume that they hold the truth. Presumably this would apply to Judaism. Jews had nothing to do with Jesus''s death. I love the Torah or five books of Moses, I love ancient Jewish history too.G_d has allowed Christianity to flourish-a religion that grew from the root of Judaism. What if anything, did he intend to accomplish by this? I think he did this because he loves all beings and all faiths.
Nazis were Christians, but they were all the children of Christians. They were the fruit of 19 centuries of Christianity, the logical fruit of violence and militancy, oppression and intolerance, hatred and persecution, which dominated European history for the 16 centuries since Constantine the Great. Jews feel an emotional attachment to Judaism. There were many miracles in the ancient Hebrew Bible/G_d''s miraculously splitting the sea of reeds when the Jews fled Egypt. The ancient Rabbinic sources are enriched with so much knownledge. Torah is a code and a locked text-(key) Rabbi Akiva made the Torah so precious, he formulated it. G_ds blue print(Torah)how the world works. It is a Blue Print, if you understand Torah, you understand the World. Judaism of the First Century 1. That scripture is cryptic 2. That G_d is One 3. That religious Commandments are the eternal essence of Judaism 4. That Davidic Messiah may be expected. Torah is the basic source of Judaism, the five books of Moses or Pentateuch. Oral Torah was a special bond between G_d and the Jewish people, a secret link untrammeled by outsiders. Jews believe "G_d''s Oneness, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our G_d, the Lord is the One and Only." I thought I would share this with you, because you are an opened minded Lady who likes all faiths.
Thank you Dr. Howard, I hope your day is nice.
Terri/your fan.

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