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The God Squad: God gives grace, but not guarantees

July 12, 2013|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: In 2009, our daughter lost her daughter, age 31, to melanoma. Now she blames God and won't change her mind. What are your thoughts when people blame God for tragedy? This saddens us, as we are Christians. — M., Boynton Beach, FL via godsquadquestio@aol.com

A: My first response is personal, pastoral and simple: Be present for your daughter and be silent. This is not the kind of situation that demands a facile verbal response. There's an old wisdom teaching in my tradition that although it is a commandment to teach what can be learned, it's also a commandment not to teach what cannot be learned.

Your daughter is not in a place where she can learn a coherent defense of God's providence (called theodicy). She's still broken, grieving and angry, and your patient love is more important to her than your defense of God. Don't take the bait. Just listen and try to move the conversation to a loving remembrance of stories about the good your granddaughter did during her life. That's enough for now and for the future until your daughter's anger subsides enough to allow wisdom and faith to enter her life again.

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My second response is for others who harbor a similar anger. I would say to them, "Please bring your guarantee to our next counseling session." Should they ask, "What guarantee?" I would say, "You know, the guarantee you got from God promising you and those you love a life where nothing bad ever happens. Bring me God's guarantee that you and your family will all live long, happy lives and die peacefully and without pain at 120 years of age. Your anger only makes sense if you have such a guarantee from God. The only reason to be angry is because you believe that God broke a promise to you and yours." Should they then say, "I never got such a guarantee," I would say, "Neither did I."

Somehow, we've latched onto the belief that loss is a betrayal by God. Judaism, Christianity and Islam do not teach such a belief, yet people think it's part of our theology. I think this mistaken and anger-provoking belief comes from the erroneous assumption that the good deeds we do are like deposits in some heavenly IRA, and we receive the rewards of long, healthy life because God owes us this as a kind of divinely funded interest payment. When God doesn't pay off, we're furious.

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