Why does God let people get sick?
What follows is not my work. There was an interesting thread on Twitter this week.
coffee thee spoonie @coffeespoonie asked:
@TheRaDR why does g-d let people get sick?
The reply to this question from @TheRaDR, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, is worth sharing here.
Theodicy thread. 1/x
I don’t believe that God “lets” people get sick.
That God has a set of dice and is going, OK, Bob down there is going to get MS now, Millie really deserves pneumonia. Nope.
Sometimes people get sick because our bodies are fragile and impermanent and cells don’t divide right or viruses that are real (science!) show up, or even that our free will that we used to invent antibiotics made, as an unintended consequence, really strong bacteria.
Sometimes people get sick because we have used our free will to poison the air and the water and there are consequences. The problem of the children in Flint, Michigan, is NOT that God doesn’t care about their safety. The problem is that PEOPLE don’t care about their safety.
Can individual acts of piety save us from earthquakes, car accidents, or persecution? No, they can not. Are more people going to die because of the “natural” disasters caused really by climate change, aka human negligence (not so natural after all)? Yes.
Will more people who die be those who are harmed by the massive and unjust unequal distribution of wealth in this country and worldwide? Yes.
Does God love people who are born impoverished, or in war zones, or fleeing persecution less than God loves billionaires?
Well, I’m kind of a Maimonidean, I don’t think God “loves” in the way human beings love, that’s anthropomorphism, but yeahhh my money is on humans doing wrong to other humans causing suffering, in the eg above examples and so many more.
Our highly individualistic American culture loves to talk about how if I do well, I will get a cookie from God, I will get money, be free from disease, safe, I will be OK, I, I, I, me me me me me. That’s not how this works.
There’s a reason Jews pray in the plural. Not I, but we. Heal us. Grant us peace. We are grateful. This is a collective project, people, the preventing of suffering, the alleviation of harm. (PS all people get sick at some point, but not all people have access to medical care.
Each of our culpability, each of our roles, each of our actions for good or for bad are tied inextricably with the actions of our community, with all people. For better or for worse, we’re all in this together.
It’s upon each of us, individually, to take responsibility for our role in everyone’s political, economic, environmental and social well-being—and to not pass the theological buck to a deity who has done nothing if not give us the power of free will…
The power to heal or to hurt, to recycle or to not even buy in the first place, to enter a war or to refrain from entering war, to build gas chambers, to dismantle them… or to stand idly by and do nothing.
Obviously, not everything that happens in this world is the fault of mere mortals. Nature has her part, and unfortunately, terrible tragedies happen every day that defy our ability to wrap up every “why?” in neat, tightly-ordered packages.
Unfortunately, we only have so much control. And we don’t have all the answers to Mystery down here (as God clapped back to Job at the end of the Book of Job, more or less). It might be that it all Makes Sense but we can’t know from down here.
Or it might be that part of being a person is having to hold fragility and loss, tragedy and pain as much as the joy and the connection and the ecstasy. It’s how we hold it that matters. It’s how we hold each other that matters.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel talks about “divine pathos,” the sense of pity or sorrow that the transcendent feels in the face of human suffering.
The nature of human volition means, inevitably, that we will experience pain, affliction—and divine pathos means that that pain reverberates through the cosmos. “What is the image of a person?” Heschel asks. “A person is a being whose anguish may reach the heart of God.”