Project Genesis

Basics of Judaism

Reward and Punishment

Understanding G-d and Evil

Question: My 14-year-old son has very negative feelings about G-d because He doesn’t intervene to prevent little kids from being abducted and murdered. My son says he no longer believes in G-d because he has no use for a G-d who stands by and watches while horrible things happen to innocent people daily. He says that the standard response of “we can’t understand God’s ways” isn’t good enough and is just a cop-out. What do you suggest?

I can certainly appreciate that your son isn’t satisfied by our admissions that we don’t completely understand the Divine plan. For one thing, this answer (while it certainly has a lot of truth to it) is really only appropriate after a person is comfortable with the concept of a personal and living God. But if your son is like the vast majority of kids his age (even many of those belonging to religious communities), then he probably hasn’t yet formulated his own mature and intelligent belief. In other words, deep down inside, he might not yet even believe in God.

You should assess this yourself, but I suspect that it might be worthwhile discussing this issue with your son, perhaps encouraging him to think or read about the fundamental questions of faith for himself. Now, it’s obvious that he’s probably not ready to investigate Kant, Kierkegaard, Russel and various Aristotelian and Eastern philosophies of faith (nor will any of us likely live long enough to try it ourselves). But that doesn’t mean that he can’t talk about the God of the Torah and about how we can prove his existence.

There is some kosher material available that could help you and your son with this discussion and there might well be outreach professionals in your community trained to deal with these questions (although, usually from far older searchers). More and more, the observant community is learning that many of the outreach tools developed by organizations like Aish HaTorah and Ohr Someach are remarkably useful and needed within the observant community itself.

If you’d like information on finding some local resources, please let me know.

In answer to your son’s question: the existence of evil in this world is only a philosophical problem if you can prove that this world is all there really is. But if your G-d controls His world, is just and kind, and sets all accounts straight in the next (through punishment and reward where appropriate), then things that happen here (no matter how tragic and horrible) are really only half of the story. Who’s to know that the “pay-off”? in the next world isn’t many times greater than the suffering here? Don’t people willingly suffer years of privation and pain on the hope of getting a fancy house and car? Can we say for sure that G-d’s next world is any less “fancy?” and useful than those toys?

See this really intelligent application of the “we mortals can’t know G-d’s ways” argument…but this time with the important twist: “but we do know enough to trust that whatever G-d does is for the best.

With best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

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