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Who should combat evil – us, or God?

Rabbi Mordechai Becher makes an interesting point about freedom, good, and evil. He basically says that for life to be meaningful, we need freedom to think and act; but given that freedom, we can think and act in ways that are either good or bad. So we have to accept that bad can come, as well as good.

True. That explains why people do really bad things, and God does not stop them. But I would add something to this idea.

Evil does not exist only because individual people do bad things. It exists also because other people let them get away with it. You could be an absolute saint, but what if the guy across the street is doing bad stuff? Perhaps you could use your saintliness to get him to see the error of his ways. And if he can’t, maybe you could still stop him.

I think that many times, it is not a question of “why does God allow evil in this world?” It is more like, “why do we allow it?” We have tools ranging from moral persuasion, to criminal courts, to self-defense. If we used them all to combat evil, a lot of it would be vanquished.

What do you think?

From Rabbi Becher:

Jews, and indeed all monotheists, believe that God is perfect, complete in every manner, and totally independent. The 20th-century Jewish scholar Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan expressed that “God had absolutely no need to create the world. God Himself is absolute perfection, and He has no need for anything, even creation. Thus, to the best of our understanding, we can say that God created the universe for the purpose of bestowing good upon people. God Himself calls His creation an act of goodness. It is for this reason that, at the end of the first six days of creation, after making Adam, the Book of Genesis says, ‘And God saw all that He had made and behold it was very good.’ We are being told that the creation of the universe was an expression of His goodness.” (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Innerspace, pg. 9)

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Italy, 18th century) explains that since God is perfect, His gift must also be perfect. The ultimate gift is, therefore, to be “God.” Since it is a logical impossibility for the creature to be the Creator, God enabled the creature to become as God-like as possible. Since God is independent and self-actualizing, so too God created the human being with God-like qualities, one of which is self-actualization or self-creation. Through the power of free will, the human creates herself and is truly a creator, not merely a creature. (Luzzatto, The Way of God, Section 1, Ch. 2)

So free will is essential for the fulfillment of God’s goal. However, free will ability is not enough; there must also be an environment that enables the exercising of free will decisions. Imagine a world where every good decision was rewarded, and every bad decision punished; honest businesspeople succeeded, and every crook failed; the good guy always finished first, and the bad guy last. Such a world would be like a maze in a psychology lab, and we would be the rats. In a world like that, free will would be replaced by conditioned responses, and instead of creating ourselves, we would be products of God’s intervention. The more God intervenes, the less free will we have.

God wants us to have a meaningful life and be God-like creators, and he therefore interferes only when absolutely necessary. However, if God minimizes his intervention, the righteous will often suffer, and evildoers will often prosper. (There will be justice served in the afterlife, but that is a subject of another discussion) To ask that God always intervene when there is injustice is to ask that humanity no longer exists as human, but rather as lab rats responding to stimuli and conditioned by immediate Divine intervention. And if God does intervene, where do we draw the line – Murders only? Children only? If we want a world where a saint is possible, then it must be a world in which a Stalin is also possible.

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