“Why does God allow bad things to happen?” I felt like finding the answer to this would allow everything else to fall into place. It was the key to making some semblance of sense out of the senselessness of incest.
So, what is the ‘right’ answer? Where is the definitive text that establishes the nature of evil in the Universe, and which religion lays claim to it? For many struggling years, my life was consumed in a quest to find the answer to the Big “WHY???”
I decided that the people who really understood the nature of evil were those who have had to face it down, not those who simply stood on a pulpit. So I looked for meaning from the people who, in my opinion, experienced the worst of the worst and yet have managed to pull through. I turned to those who survived what should have been unbearable grief and loss, and most of those people were Holocaust survivors.
I submerged myself in Holocaust studies reading the fascinating story of Simon Wiesenthal, a man with nine lives who witnessed soul-crushing horrors, narrowly escaped death multiple times, and went on to hear the bedside confession of a young, dying Nazi soldier who begged his forgiveness – a forgiveness Simon chose to withhold. Later in life, he questioned the “rightness” of his decision to deny forgiveness, and in his book, The Sunflower, he asked world religious leaders from all faiths if he should have offered forgiveness. The responses were deeply split.
From Mr. Wiesenthal’s bravery, I learned that there is no universal “right” answer to tough questions. The right answer is the one that affords you peace.
The second amazing Holocaust story came from Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor survived life in a brutal camp where he watched some of his fellow inmates succumb to less honorable tactics to simply stay alive (and who can blame them?), such as stealing food, starting fights, etc. Viktor found his meaning in maintaining his humanity, dignity, and values while in the throngs of chaos.
Viktor’s story proved to me that God is not outside of bad situations, but is ever-present and available. How else could he have been prepared to walk in the gas chamber with his head held high?
Lastly, the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold Kushner, a Jewish rabbi who lost a beloved 14 year-old son to a rare disease, struck a deep chord with me. Rabbi Kushner surmised that God must allow us to grow and make our own choices, and this includes giving us freewill to do both right and wrong. God is not an all powerful demigod, but a loving parent allowing us to learn along the way.
This remarkable book helped me to see that God is not the bad one involved in destruction, but rather the good one involved in supporting us during our necessary trials. And what human being escapes life without trials?
After emerging from my studies and ponderings, what became clear to me was that while I had learned many valuable things that I could apply to my own theology, ultimately my answer to the Big “WHY??” had to be found within myself. The answer had to incorporate what I had learned from the “masters”, bring me to a place of serenity, and allow me to remain open to other ideas in the future.
My current answer to the Big “WHY???” is as follows:
God is all-loving, but not all-powerful
God is with me every moment
People make bad choices to do bad things, but they are not born bad
I am here to learn certain lessons over multiple life times
I ultimately chose my own lessons, therefore God is not punishing me with trials
As to the existence of a dark force or “lower” power, I have not whole-heartedly embraced this concept because I think it relinquishes personal responsibility by saying there is a devil out there causing all the problems. However, there are times when I read about a simply heinous act and I say to myself….“how could someone possibly stoop so low?” Then I truly wonder if there is not a dark force involved.
The jury is still out for me, but I think evil is simply rooted in the animal-side of our humanity. This was explained to me one day by a wise Jewish woman who said, “We all have the tendencies of the lion or the lamb… it just depends on which one you feed.”