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The God Squad: The still small voice after the earthquake

March 18, 2011|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

"And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice."

— I Kings 19:12 (KJV)

Recently, I've answered many questions from readers about God and evil. Many people wanted to know how a good and powerful God could be reconciled with the profound and proliferating instances of evil in the world. Now, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan has sent shudders across our planet — and our lives — putting a bloody edge to such agonizing questions about God and goodness.

I've tried to help questioners understand that most of the evil we face is our own fault. Free will is the most common cause of our moral blindness. Our indifference to evil is usually the main reason for the spread of evil and consequent suffering.

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I've tried to explain that this freedom to choose good or evil is both a blessing and a curse, whether God exists or not. Whether we're alone in the universe or the beloved creations of a loving God, we can't escape our responsibility to make the world a better place.

We can't shift the burdens of our moral lives to a God who'll magically protect us from our own venality and brokenness. The work of goodness in the world is ours, not God's. For those of us who are religious, we can take both comfort and guidance from a God who's set forth a path of life and blessing to guide us. For those who are not religious, the work of goodness still claims and challenges us to make a difference in this wounded world.

However, the disaster in Japan reminds us of the terrifying truth that natural evil — evil not caused by our moral failures — is still and always will be a threat. This evil is on God.

Yes, we can say — and I've said this myself — that even natural evil is not really evil because it's just the natural consequence of living on top of the crust of a living planet. If the Earth were a dead rock, it would not belch fire, as it's now doing in Hawaii. If the Earth were dead, its tectonic plates would not shift, causing earthquakes and tsunamis, as just occurred in Japan. However, if the Earth were dead, we'd also be dead.

Without the protective buffer of our atmosphere, for example — made up in part of nitrogen and other gases spewed by volcanoes — we'd be unprotected from meteors and other threats. We live in a dangerous but living, breathing planet and any other option would mean death for all life.

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