The following is a recording of an event that took place to me last Friday night:
I sit in the synagogue, my prayer book before me. It is open, but I do not read from it. Instead, I am reading a book by Viktor Frankl titled: Man's Search for Meaning. It begins with him describing his experience as a prisoner in the concentration camps. It is raw. His goal is not to sadden the heart -- it is to psychoanalyze the mental state of the prisoner -- yet my heart is weeping.
Along with the sadness, I feel rage. When confronted with the Holocaust I am usually left in rage. So incomprehensible is it's horror that I become enveloped in a childish anger which stems, I believe, from a sense of helplessness.
As I read the heart wrenching words, behind me I hear the congregation has begun singing the "kabalat shabbat," the prayer welcoming in the Sabbath eve.
"Come! -- Let us sing to God, let us call out to the Rock of our salvation."
The room is full of song.
I read how Viktor had to endure tortures beyond my wildest imaginations, and wave after wave of praise for the great Almighty God, wash over me.
"Sing to God a new song, sing to God -- everyone of earth. Sing to God bless his name, announce his salvation daily."
I feel as though I want to scream. "Salvation?" What of the children he let be gassed; what of the men and women who starved? Why didn't he save them?
"...righteousness and justice are his throne's foundation."
When babies are murdered can he who let it happen, can he who could have prevented it, be called just?
The songs wash over me, filled with devotion and love. The men sing with full hearts. They pour out their undying love for God. And I sit enraged.
I do not see why anyone would want to praise a being who although able to save lives, allows them to suffer and die? I do not believe in God, but even if I did, why is he deserving of my love? If he truly exists, and is the master of all things, surely I must fear him, perhaps obey him, but praise him?!
Ah yes, what of the goodness he supposedly bestows upon me? Perhaps for that I should praise him? Well, consider a doctor who saved my life, but who lets the man in the hospital bed beside me die in agony, even though he could have prevented it. Should I praise such a doctor?
Perhaps I do not understand his plan? Perhaps there is a great master plot of which I am ignorant? Perhaps. So over the murdered babies I should rejoice? Over death of the innocent I should be filled with glad song? If God is good, and his actions are all ultimately good, then why be sad over a Holocaust? It is all for a master plan of goodness.
Perhaps, he is punishing us. Perhaps the children were murdered because their parents didn't follow in-step with the will of God? I know you don't think that any just God would be guilty of such haphazard punishment, at least I hope you don't.
This post was written as a record of the emotional feelings that sprang to my mind as these two worlds -- the darkness of the Holocaust and the praising of God -- collided. I know that any religious person, who has ever considered the question of evil and God, has his own answers for the challenges mentioned above. I do not mean to come off as arrogant or as claiming that religious people are not sensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust or of any other human calamity. I know many of the faithful struggle in the face of evil, and that they have felt deep anger at God for his seeming complacency.
No, these are not new questions. They are not some great inpenetrable logic that erases the probability of God. Alas, they are but outpourings of a sensitive agnostic heart. Please read them, not as an offense to belief, but as a challenge. These are not the words of a hater of religion, but of a hater of suffering.
It is these questions and others written in this blog that distance me from the God that is worshiped today.
I will leave off with the question of God and evil, with the powerful challenge of the Greek philosopher Epicurus:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”