IF GOD IS GOOD, RIGHTEOUS AND ALMIGHTY, WHY DOES SUFFERING EXIST?
By Henrique Lima *
This is a question that “has always been hammering” in the mind of the human being and for which, many have tried to give explanations, some of them, reasonable, but some, not so much.
In the bible there are several passages that address the question of the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. In fact, there is even a book in which his main character is described as “one who is” upright and upright, God-fearing, and one who used to turn away from evil “(Job 1: 1), but who still suffered greatly.
In philosophy this theme has also aroused interests. The Polymath (an individual who knows or studies many sciences) and German philosopher, GW Leibniz, from 1710, wrote his Essays on Theodicy, on God’s Goodness, Man’s Freedom and the Origin of Evil, and under the rationalist perspective of philosophical thought attempted to unravel some of the mysteries of the Creator.
Another great thinker to dwell on the subject was C. S. Lewis. In his work “The Problem of Suffering” (1940) he deals with subjects such as divine omnipotence, divine goodness, human wickedness, man’s fall, human suffering, all with the intention of bringing a little bit of encouragement to this very old question.
A more current and of great repercussion book on the subject is “When Bad Things happen to Good People” (1981), from Rabbi Harold Kushner’s, which starts from the premise (which I believe is false) that God is not omnipotent. He tries to give us comfort with the fact that the Creator gives us the strength to face any situation.
However, with all due respect to these colossal figures in our history, none of them could bring so much light to the subject as Rabbi Benjamin Blech, in the work “If God is good, why the world is so bad?”. He starts from the idea that we cannot simplify the subject, reducing it to just one or the other answer. But we must analyze suffering under various prisms, so that we may understand why this is happening.
They are part of his teachings that I intend to describe hereafter in this text, in order to bring understanding to those who suffer, especially in the present day so marked by routine tragedies.
2. The suffering in others, do not judge. The suffering in yourself, reflect
The rabbi begins the journey in search of answers to such deep questions explaining that in the face of suffering we should basically have two attitudes.
If it is someone else who is suffering, we should not judge nor point out mistakes, but act with compassion and give him the benefit of the doubt, because perhaps, that pain does not have any transgression that he has practiced, but for other reasons that only the Creator knows.
On the other hand, if we are the ones who suffer, we must act with introspection and sincerely and intimately evaluate our attitudes, lifestyle, way of thinking, of believing, finally, everything in us needs to undergo self-reflection in order to seek why we are going through that.
Sometimes, because of the principle of measure by measure (where crime and punishment correspond), there may be a clear relationship between a wrongdoing that we practiced against someone and a wrongdoing that someone is practicing against us, like this: I have deceived people in business, I am being deceived.
However, if nothing is found, we should not attribute guilt where it does not exist, for there may be several other reasons for that suffering.
3. The actions, we choose; the consequences are automatic
In creating man, God has established that man would have free will and for this attribute to be respected, God has decided not to interfere in our choices and actions. From then on, it is as if He “hovered” over men, seeking only to influence them to act according to His commandments. However, the decision is always of the man.
Once the chosen attitude is practiced, the consequences are inevitable. That is, He has established principles that imply unfolding according to the choices we make.
It is evident that in some cases, according to His exclusive will, He may interfere in certain situations by performing what we know as “miracle.” This is even one of the reasons why we should at all times persevere in prayer.
So, sometimes bad things happen simply because the human being misused his free will and God, in advance, decided that He would not interfere. Despite this, the consequences are inevitable, although they seem to be delayed.
4. He alone knows the whole and the truth about each of us
When we see bad things happening to people who we believe to be “good” or the reverse, that is, “good” things for “bad” people, we should beware of judging what is apparently happening.
Only God knows who is really good and who is truly evil. We judge according to appearances, while He (only He) knows the true intentions of hearts. Sometimes we are sure that a person is good and God-fearing, but no one can be completely sure about what he/she does when he/she is alone, when he/she is not being observed, or even what kind of thoughts and feelings he/she feeds on his/her interior.
On the other hand, we must also consider that a particular event that seems to be bad sometimes is not. Our vision is too limited and only He, who knows the whole, both the past and the future, is in a position to make this assessment.
Often, some facts that initially appear to be very bad, over the years show us that something better could not have happened. Moreover, there are also events that we will understand only in Eternity.
We need to rely on His wisdom, as painful as that may be, and it often is.
5. This world is just a period of time to decide what the eternal abode will be like.
In dealing with the subject of death, Rabbi Benjamin Blech enters into a Jewish theme that differs greatly from the dominant Christian view.
Before we come into this world, we are all spirits together with the Father. Yet, even though we are in a full place, we long to come down to this world to do good works (turning away from evil and doing good, according to the parameters of the Divine Commandments), in order to accumulate merit (reward), and thus, effectively merit a place and a position in the Celestial Kingdom.
The problem is that when we arrive on this earthly plane, most simply misses the great opportunity of earthly existence and devotes much time to things that will have no real value when we will have the works (attitudes) judged.
6. Death as a Divine Decree
Sometimes death occurs simply because the person has already fulfilled what he came to do. It may even be that this person had a purpose that was not related to his coming, instead of that, he had the function of influencing other people, the relatives, a community, and so on.
It may also be that God has gathered the person out for mercy of that person, since, anticipating the future, He knows that in the exercise of his free will, the path he/she is taking, will lead to very bad places. It is even reported that Enoch was taken justly for that, because his generation was so corrupt that even he would eventually commit sin.
At other times, an innocent life is prematurely reaped not by a decree of God, but by the wickedness or even by the mere recklessness of man himself, which does not mean, however, that justice will cease.
In short, death can still be the relief of suffering.
7. Aging, pain and illness
According to the usual way of thinking of the West, old age, pain and disease are curses and should not exist. However, from the Jewish conceptions, Rabbi Benjamin Blech presents a quite different view and teaches that these three conditions of human life are “gifts” from God in response to prayers made by the three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
To better understand what will be explained, it is important to know that the sages of the Talmud teach a principle according to which the first appearance of something in the bible is of paramount importance. It means that, before it was reported in the bible it did not happen. Therefore, analyzing the circumstances of the first time something is described , is of great importance.
According to these sages, Abraham asked God to distinguish the mature men from the young, so that people would know who they should pay the most honor (remember: in Eastern culture they think very differently from Western). Abraham did not ask for the diseases and limitations of old age, but only the outward signs that demonstrate that the person is maturing. Then God realized that it was a good thing and granted, starting with Abraham.
Up to Isaac, all the suffering described in the bible happened as some punishment, and it was only from him, that, that has changed. The sages said that Isaac asked God to suffer because as we are all imperfect, we would have many ” accounts to settle” in the World to Come, so if we could advance payments here in this world, it would reduce the torment to which we will be submitted in Eternit. Faced with this, Isaac was the first to go through this, when he became blind.
Jacob questioned with God the fact that people died suddenly, without time to say goodbye to their families, to ask for forgiveness, to fix some things that might be pending. God agreed to the request and Jacob was the first to suffer from an illness that would soon lead to his death.
Thus, both, old age and terminal illness serve to make us aware that our time on this earthly journey is ending and we should prepare ourselves for the encounter with the Eternal, who will evaluate each of our attitudes, thoughts, words and motivations.
The sages teach us that proper and sincere repentance can undo a lifetime of transgressions, that is, there is an opportunity to make up for sins against God and against the others that could forgive, only while here on Earth. There is time, in those last moments before death, to rectify many things that could have gone uncorrected had the person suddenly died. (Rabbi Benjamin Blech – If God is good, why is the world so bad? Publisher Sêfer. Pag. 120)
In my view, these explanations about old age and the disease that announce death are reasonable. However, perhaps our greatest difficulty is to understand the function of human suffering, especially when it seems to us unmotivated and unjust, and this is the theme that Rabbi Benjamin Blech tries most to explore.
8. Why the suffering
It was no wonder that the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar, once said that “it is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those willing to endure pain with patience.”
Even in the context of judicial processes, the distinction between suffering and death is perceived. Many judges attribute greater compensation to victims of permanent injuries than to heirs who lose a loved one, precisely on the assumption that permanent pain is worse than death.
The idea here is not to deal with pain and suffering that have motive/cause (for example, a punishment for something wrong that has been done), but deal to those that are considered unjust and with no reason. This is what intrigues us.
Nietzsche asserted that “what really raises a person’s indignation about suffering is not suffering itself but its lack of meaning.” Knowing reason or purpose, we can bear almost any pain.
In the face of seemingly causeless suffering, many questions arise, especially with regard to God’s presence during all the time of pain, his omnipotence, his goodness, his justice. Anyway, in a world governed by a good, just and all-powerful God it does not make sense for an innocent person to suffer.
Rabbi Benjamin Blech warns of the absence of a single answer to the enormity of questions arising from suffering. What is intended is to approach the subject by some points so that each one makes a reflection over the matter.
9. Some aspects of suffering
9.1 Educational suffering
Suffering may have been sent by God not as a punishment, but only and only as a lesson that He understands necessary we pass through while our earthly existence. We never know the infinite developments that every situation can cause, so we should never judge Him or accuse Him of being unjust. In short, it can be just Him who wants to teach us, from something simple – as learn how to value His blessings – to something more complex that He alone understands.
We must be clear that believing and trusting in God does not mean that we will have a quiet, trouble-free life, instead of that, the problems can sometimes be very serious. We need to trust that at some point all the equations will make sense and that we will understand how He has taken care of every detail, although this is very difficult to understand when we are going through the phase of the anguish, especially when facing some suffering that we can hardly bear, for example, a young child with a serious and incurable illness.
Perhaps the lesson is not for ourselves, but for other people, who may be near, distant, or even in other generations. The biblical characters had no idea that their stories would be told thousands of years later and would inspire billions over the centuries. I believe that this is the case of the thousands (or millions) of innocent children suffering from hunger, severe and incurable diseases, wars and violence. they have come into this world with the noble and miserable mission of awakening something (compassion?) In other people (or in society in general) and will receive enormous reward when they return to the Father. In fact, it is only from this perspective that I can reconcile belief in a God Almighty, Fair and Good, having the knowledge that there is so much suffering, especially among the children.
9.2 Suffering strengthen
From another perspective, suffering can also have a strengthening function for some difficulty that we may have to go through in the future.
It is the story that “from the bitter comes the sweet”. In the Israel history, He turned bitter waters into sweet waters, to show us that He can turn any adverse situation on our behalf. It is the same principle of action of vaccines. The virus that is wanted to be fighted is applied to make the body suffer and generate the necessary antibodies for the immunization, being strengthened.
Let’s remember the butterfly, which needs to suffer to get out of the cocoon and so strengthen itself to be able to fly.
9.3 Suffering as concretization of the potential.
Although God is omniscient, He does not create reality, He only foresees it. Reality is created from the attitudes arising from our choices, according to our free will.
Therefore, even the Eternal knowing that we are capable of bearing a certain situation and being approved (that is, without murmuring, etc.), it is necessary for this to become a reality. That is, we really need to face that, because only after we win or lose we will have that credited or debited in our “account”.
God had great things to do with Abraham. He knew it was a man of faith. Yet Abraham had to go through several tests, so that what was already known beforehand, since it was already “written”, would actually come true. Moreover, it all contributed to forging his character.
When a potter is making a vase, he gives several beats in it to see if it is intact. Likewise, the heavens test us in various areas to check our integrity and whether we are a reliable vessel.
9.4 Suffering as an invitation to repentance
When one cannot read the signs that God leaves to us during our earth journey so that we turn to Him and His Commandments, a dose of suffering may be absolutely necessary for the person awakening and a change of course of life. In these cases, one is said to have sought God “through pain.” In the words of Rabbi Benjamin Blech:
“So suffering – according to this idea, which is just one of several approaches that we must keep in mind – fulfills this role. It serves as an educational experience sent by God to bring the person back into a reality with which he has lost contact when things were going too well. “(Ob. Cit., page 153)
In the words of C. S. Lewis: “Pain is God’s megaphone to awaken a deaf world.”
Finally, it does not matter the motive that has led the approach to the Eternal, the important thing is to seek Him. Any earthly suffering will not be more than 120 years, which is very much to those who are suffering, but it is still derisory near what can be enjoyed in (or suffer) eternity.
9.5 Sufferance as atonement
It may still be that a particular pain situation is occurring to pay for a sin committed, that is, an atonement. It is a fact that we are all sinners and that no man can live in absolute holiness. Therefore, there are always transgressions to be paid and it is worth remembering that sin does not prescribe. Even when something bad happens, some Jews have a habit of pronouncing the Yiddish phrase: May this be for atonement! (“Oy, zol zein a capure!”). It’s almost a form of thanking because something worse could have happened. Undoubtedly, it is a demonstration of surrender to the absolute sovereignty of the Eternal.
It is only the Creator, in his absolute power, who knows whether something needs to be resolved soon or whether it is convenient to wait for the World to Come.
Here it worths a parenthesis: just as no one is completely holy, neither there is anyone totally evil. Even in the most despicable people, there is some trace of goodness, whether it is in a different environment, with other people, or even when it is absorbed in their thoughts.
According to the Principle of Interchange, it is better to be punished for our faults here on Earth than in the World to Come. In the same sense, but inversely, it is better to receive the reward (award) for our good deeds in the World to Come than in this fleeting existence.
This notion of “interchange” is even used to explain why some bad people enjoy a good life here on Earth, while good people suffer. According to this principle, the bad ones are enjoying the credits for their few “good deeds” (because no one is completely evil), being that in the World to come they will settle the accounts for the bad attitudes. On the other hand, since no one is absolutely good, good people suffer temporarily here in this world because of their transgressions, though few, but infinite rewards are reserved for them in the Eternal World.
Obviously that are not bad all the people who enjoy blessings in this world, because this principle of interchange entails exceptions.
The Jewish philosopher Maimonides makes an interesting approach over this. He uses the Deuteronomy passage11: 13-14 as a basis and he explains that good people who are prosperous are not receiving “reward” properly said, but only “sustenance,” “provision,” “seed,” because God perceives in them a Trusted “partner” for His purposes. The “reward” for good works remains guarded to the Eternity.
10. Final considerations
As I have warned in the beginning of this text, to understand why the good ones suffer even though God is good, righteous and all-mighty is a philosophical and religious questioning that persecutes men since always.
Much of what I have shared here is drawn from the lessons of Rabbi Benjamin Blech, who was able to explain in a didactic and lucid way about this very complex subject.
It is worth noting that he himself acknowledges that “none of the individual explanations is intended to solve all our experiences similar to Job’s. However, each of them applies to a situation and to some people “(cit., Page 159).
The intention was to bring some facets about the suffering, the pain, the grief, so that in those sad moments of our lives, we can reflect and, maybe, find a little solace and encouragement and to get even closer to the Eternal.
Rabbi lanai once said that “it is not in our hands to understand why the wicked ones are ease or why the good ones suffer” (Ethics to the parents, Mishnah 4:19). By this he meant that only the Eternal has these answers, and if we decide to engage in that reflection, we must do so with “intellectual and spiritual humility” (Blech. Ob. Cit., page 175).
We must remember that when Job was at the height of his suffering, raising many questions about the Almighty justice, in short, He simply stated: It is beyond you (thee) to understand My Ways.
Thus, Rabbi Benjamin Blech concludes that above all we must have “the faith of a child who only vaguely understands where he is going but who is absolutely certain that his father loves him even when he releases his hand for an instant “(Ob. Cit., page 177).
The apostle Peter advised that “… it is better to suffer for doing good, if it be of God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17). And while in this world the Anointed One of God, Jesus, left us the following message of alertness and hope: “In this world you will have afflictions; however, be of good cheer! I have overcome the world. “(John 16:33). It is in this faith that we must persevere at all times, especially while in pain and suffering.
HENRIQUE LIMA. Lawyer (www.henriquelima.com.br). Master in Law from the University of Girona – Spain and postgraduate in Constitutional, Civil, Consumer, Work and Family Law. Author of books and legal articles and on various subjects. Member of the National Consumer Law Commission of the Federal Council of the OAB (2019/2021) Curriculum Lattes: http://lattes.cnpq.br/5217644664058408