What Can Jews Affirm About God After The Holocaust?
In September 1997, over 30 Jewish, Protestant and Catholic scholars, theologians and religious thinkers gathered at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome for a three-day conference focused on the issues of good and evil in light of the Holocaust. In 2000, these papers were collected in the book Good And Evil After Auschwitz: Ethical Implications For Today (Ktav Publishing) co-edited by Rabbi Bemporad. The following is Rabbi Bemporad’s acclaimed paper in its entirety.
I would like to address myself today to the theological aspect of the problem of evil and, in a narrower sense. to the problem of the Holocaust. I do so, not because I am foolhardy enough to believe that I have any definitive answers to these problems, but because I believe that it is only through groping together with the questions they raise that we can begin to pave the way for a viable Jewish theology.
If we maintain a belief in a God who creates and sustains the world, we come up against one of the most fundamental enigmas of religion–the problem of evil.
The path that many medieval theologians have taken in dealing with the problem of evil is quite simply to say that it is not real. They say evil is privation. Now, I think all of us , especially after Auschwitz, will recognize the limitations of this view. If evil is not real, but just a privation, then it is nothing to avoid. Or, if we say that evil is necessary to the perfection of good, then why combat it, or replace it, if good would be diminished and not increased through rejection of the evil?
Those theories that define evil as negation or privation or unreal must themselves be rejected. Evil may be defined as irreparable loss, as Thomas Aquinas and Whitehead define it, the absence of that which should have been. And evil, it seems to me, has to be seen as the irreparable loss of the good. Evil is that which is, but ought not be. But then we ask, of course, what is good? And this is the crucial question, since whether a good God could have created this world depends in large measure on what we take to be good in the highest sense.
The most common doctrine of the nature of the good is hedonism, which maintains that pleasure is the highest good and pain is the worst evil. But I don’t think I need to refute the doctrine of hedonism before this group. I can challenge it in the form of a question. Can one say that insofar as a life fails in pleasure, it also fails in worth? Obviously it is conceivable for us to think of an individual whose life is eminently worth living, but whose quantity of pleasure in that life was minimal. An example of this kind of life was that of the great Jewish theologian, Rosenzweig, who for years suffered from multiple sclerosis, and gradually died. He was only capable, at the end, of blinking his eyes, and his wife, through some kind of extraordinary method of communication, was able to write down his books while he was in this state. He certainly had little pleasure, but can one say that Rosenzweig’s life had no worth? The simple identification of pleasure with worth simply won’t hold. Furthermore, can one really believe that pain as such is evil? Isn’t this, as Harris has stated,
“as questionable as the converse that pleasure is good? At least we should say that neither all pleasures are good nor all pains evil. Biologically pain serves the function of warning an animal of danger, and stimulating it to avoidance. The burnt child shuns the fire and so is protected from greater harm. Without pain we should be continually in danger of serious injury, and even of destruction against which we have not learned to take precaution. It cannot, therefore, be maintained without qualification that pain is evil, for it often serves a beneficent function. Things are evil, not because they are painful, but because they frustrate our efforts to obtain the ends we most value”.
And what are the ends that we most value? We don’t really have the time here to go into all the various ends that people value, so let me dogmatically assert what I take the good to be in the highest sense. The highest good is the free act of virtue for its own sake. It requires individual who are free to act virtuously, that is, free to choose good or evil. Similarly, the ideal that the good is chosen for its own sake must be viewed as diametrically opposed to the doctrine which says that the good can only be chosen through coercion. A moral agent cannot do the good naturally, but must do it by an act of self-transcendence. As Tennant says, “character is made, not born; it is not given, nor ready-made.” What I am saying is that the highest good obtains where each individual will do the good for its own sake, and through doing the good for its own sake will realize, as Kant said, “a kingdom of ends” where each individual is treated as an end, and not a means to someone else’s end.
The doctrine of the good as the free act of virtue for its own sake implies not merely free agents, but also the recognition of the dignity and sanctity of each individual. It is this view that is implicit even in the hedonistic doctrine and underlies whatever value the concept of justice has.
The hedonists have no satisfactory way of explaining why, if the goal of life is simply the greatest amount or sum of pleasure, it is wrong for a few to have extreme pleasure and many none, if the total sum of pleasure is the same. Benthan’s motto, “Each one to count for one and no one to count for more than one,” illegitimately introduces a principle of equality which cannot be deduced from the sum of pleasure as such.
However, as we shall see, even the doctrine of equality or justice itself presupposes for its very possibility the higher doctrine of virtue for its own sake, for it seems to me that we must make a basic distinction between justice as paying due respect or obligation to one another, and the attitude of the saint, of a person who gives, who cares, who loves, not for reward, but for its own sake.
If we consider justice, namely, the doctrine that justice is the arrangement wherein the good are rewarded and the evil are punished, one finds oneself in continual difficulty. Not that I deny the relationship between good and reward, or evil and punishment, but rather that the only way that statement can be defended is negatively, and not positively. Because, as a matter of act, justice originated as a negative concept. The doctrine of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ which is a great doctrine and a great improvement on any prior ethics of the ancient world, is basically a negative concept. It says that for the damage done to this individual we must somehow recognize that a like damage should be done to the perpetrator of the damage. In other words, if a person is hurt, that person or his family should not destroy the whole clan or society of the person who perpetrated the damage. There must be some kind of balance between the hurt and the restitution.
In this instance justice’s main purpose is to suppress evil rather than create good. It can be seen also that strict justice does not allow for the remaking of man, for repentance and self-transformation. However, when one says a person should be punished, does one really mean only that he should be punished, or does he mean that the individual should recognize the evil he has done, and repent and change? Similarly, if by justice we mean rewarding the virtuous, then we confront the strangest paradox of all. Virtue, if genuine, is done for its own sake; a genuinely virtuous person feels embarrassed by praise or thanks. And in the religious realm, the best take on the heaviest burdens, as exemplified in the concept of ‘noblesse oblige’. In the religious world, man is privileged to bear the burden of ascent, and here self-sacrifice and devotion are most significant. As Jonas has indicated,
“we must, in other words, distinguish between moral obligation and the much larger sphere or moral value. (This, incidentally, shows up the error in the widely-held view of value theory that the higher a value, the stronger its claim and the greater the duty to realize it. The highest are in a region beyond duty and claim. ) The ethical dimension far exceeds that of the moral law and reaches into the sublime solitude of dedication and ultimate commitment, away from all reckoning and rule–in short, into the sphere of the holy. From there alone can the offer of self-sacrifice genuinely spring, and this– its source–must be honored religiously.”
So I repeat, the highest good, the good that should be realized , is the good where the individual can freely choose the virtuous as opposed to the selfish, self-centered task.
Now, two questions face us: First, what is required so that this goodness can be achieved, and second, is the world that we know one that is consistent with such an idea of goodness? Rather than deal with these two questions separately, I would rather phrase the question negatively and ask, what are the factors that make for evil in the world, and ask ourselves, would we relinquish any of them? Would we choose rather not to have these factors even though these are the factors that make for evil, or would we say, yes, we insist that these factors are necessary in any world that we could conceivably accept?
The first factor that makes for evil is the law-abiding nature of the universe, which will not vary to save anyone. The universe is a cosmos, not a chaos; it is law-abiding, not whimsical; it expresses natural order. The question that arises is the status of the contingent. The contingent is that which appears to be simply determined by law and cannot be brought within the scope of any rational or beneficent purpose. But once brought under some moral purpose, would we then wish the law-abidingness to cease?
Let’s take the example of disease and cure, which require law and order. Would we wish that disease not be rational or lawful? Only if disease has a certain lawful structure can it be understood and abolished. If it were chaotic can it be understood and abolished. If it were chaotic, if it were whimsical, if it were not subject to law and order, then we could in no sense understand it or control it. Whitehead correctly stated “ it is not that there is a world that happens to have an order; no order , no world.”
The second basic factor that makes for evil in the universe is that the universe is a place where the possible is realized and in which it can only be realized in time. If we were to have a perfect universe, we would have a static universe, one that would be completely immobile and finished. But in a universe that is completely finished, all the things that give us joy would be eliminated. When we see a mother look at her child grow and develop and prosper, and see both her joy and apprehension the first time he goes to school, or the first time he has a birthday, or the first time that the child smiles at her, we recognize that over the years people grow through the sorrows and joys to achieve a bond, a sense of joy and mutual affection. This isn’t possible in a static universe. It is only possible where there is realization, where time and process are real.
Furthermore, all realization is finite; thus, the actualization of one set of events precludes the actualization of an alternative set of events.
Thirdly, the universe is unfinished and, therefore, has an open future, and the openness of the future gives man a task, for something is at stake. The rabbis spoke of this in the Doctrine of Tikkun Ha Olam–the world is unfinished; it needs man to freely complete it. But, if it is genuine freedom that man has, then it means that man can complete it for good or for evil. Nothing takes place morally that does not take place through self-determination. It is this that converts a mere occasion into an action. The concept of man as a moral being requires that man make choices, and that these choices be available to him. Thus, he must exist in a world where evil is possible and can be actualized, but also where it can be avoided. It then follows that if man has the liberty to choose the worst, he cannot be compelled to choose the best. How can we conceive of man’s character or moral nature at all, except as that element of his being which is created in the crucible of crisis and temptation? If we had a choice, would we really prefer not to be free and that man act mechanically? Would we really prefer that God had created the kind of a universe where any action, however evilly motivated, would, without any loss to anyone, turn out in every way so that it is good and all right for all? If we really had that kind of a universe, the ultimate distinction between good and evil would have disappeared.
Finally, the world must be such that our intermeshing relationships will affect others, too. The influences of the will that chooses the evil in preference to the good cannot fail to affect others in a world of free wills, freely interacting. But could we wish the reverse, that there be no interaction, that there be no influence of one person on another, could we really wish that? Could we wish that there be no freedom, or realization? Could we wish that there be no law in nature or no possibility of fulfillment?
The essence of what I have been trying to say is that the world order is such that if all that makes evil possible is eliminated, than all that makes good possible is eliminated as well, because law, realization, freedom, and interaction make both for evil and for good.
Now, the answer that I have offered is one that is intrinsically at odds with two other traditional solutions to the problem of evil. The first one, quite simply, says that there is no undeserved human suffering, that is, that all people who suffer are guilty of sin. This was a position that was refuted with the book of Job and needs no refutation today. Can anyone imagine that the million children who died at Auschwitz were in any way guilty of any sin deserving such punishment? The second doctrine, which tries to deal with the problem of evil, is the doctrine of immortality. It says that all evil is made good in the future life, in the world to come. But Hans Jonas has clearly criticized the view in his Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality in which he maintains that
“True justice would consist not in another life, but in a new chance at the same life, on the same terms”.
He states that
“Missed fulfillment could only be made up for in its original terms, that is, in the terms of effort and obstacles, and uncertainty, and fallibility, and unique occasion, and limited time–in short, in terms of non guaranteed attainment and possible miss. These are the very terms of self-fulfillment, and they are precisely the terms of the world.”
If immortality is to have a value at all, it is not because of the compensatory claim of justice, but because it is a consequence of the realization of the highest value, and being highest, has the greatest claim to eternal endurance. But then, immortality must be seen as something separate from its traditional relation to evil in this world.
Underlying the question of evil is a basic misunderstanding that one must explore carefully as to the nature of God and how God works in the world. And this is the question of the power and purpose of God, as well as the kind of universe we have.
God is the creator of creators. In creating the world, God brings into being wills that are distinct from His own. A concept of God which allows free beings to exist besides Him is a much worthier concept than that of a God who is the cause of everything that happens.
God as creator has traditionally been conceived as a great architect, mechanic, or watchmaker who produces a mechanical model. On the contrary, a much worthier concept of God is one who allows free beings to act in such a way as to realize His purposes, or to frustrate them, a God who does not, indeed cannot make all the decision if a universe with being order, value and freedom is to come into being. In creating the world God gives full significance to creation so that He acts not through coercion or manipulation but through persuasion, appeal and revelation.
God would be responsible for evil if He were the sole agent of all that happens, and all other beings merely instruments or vessels of His will. But in a world where there is genuine freedom, which means personal discovery and production of values, in such a world God can only work as a persuasive being, and not as a coercive being.
Professor Howison puts it very well:
“The divine love is a love which holds the individuality, the personal initiative of its object sacred. The father of spirits will have its image brought forth in every one of his offspring by the thought and conviction of each soul itself. Therefore, the moral government of God, springing from the divine love, is a government by moral agencies purely, leaving aside all the juridical engineering of reward and punishment. It lets His sun shine and His rain fall alike on the just and the unjust, that the cause of God may everywhere win simply upon its merits.”
The divine purpose can only be realized by human beings freely making God’s purpose their own. From this comes both the possibility of cooperating with God, or estrangement from God’s purpose or sin. It means that the future is not given, it means that not everything is already determined, it means, as William James said,
“If this life be not a real fight, in which something is eternally gained for the universe by success, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will, but it feels like a real fight, as if there was something really wild in the universe which we, with all our idealizations and faithfulness, are indeed to redeem.”
Or, as Sorely has stated,
“If there were no possibility of missing the mark, there would be no value in taking aim.”
In a world that is open, where human beings are free, where they can frustrate or realize God’s will, and where a person can only gain the ultimate good through inner growth and moral action, such a world, I say to you, is the world we live in. Of course. there is evil, great evil; but it is the task of human beings to transcend and transform that evil. Of course, man is not in the center of the universe; it is man’s task to reorder the universe so that man can indeed be at its center.
And so we finally reach the problem which all of us are haunted with today, and that is the problem of the Holocaust. Let us review several recent attempts which deal with this issue and contrast them with the view presented above. Professor Fackenheim, in his book, “God’s Presence in History,” has said that from Auschwitz there emerged a divine commandment and that the divine commandment was to deny Hitler a posthumous victory; that we Jews should do everything we can to preserve Judaism, and thus insure that Hitler does not ultimately win. “The Religious Jew who has heard the voice of Sinai,” Professor Fackenheim asserts, “must continue to listen as he hears the commanding voice of Auschwitz.” He prefaces his chapter entitled, The Commanding Voice of Auschwitz, with an interesting, if somewhat bitter tale by Elie Wiesel. It is a tale of a madman, a pious Jew, who comes back to a little synagogue in Nazi-occupied Europe, and during services suddenly says to the Jews, “Don’t pray so loud, God will hear you. Then he will know that there are still Jews left alive in Europe and you, too, will be destroyed.”
What Professor Fackenheim has postulated is a demonic God and, in fact, he says that the religious Jew today must be revolutionary, for there is no previous Jewish protest like his protest. Continuing to hear the voice of Sinai as he hears the voice of Auschwitz, may require him to cite God against God in ways even more extreme than the challenges of Abraham, Jeremiah, Job or Rabbi Levi Yitzhak. And here are the forms which Fackenheim says this must take:
“You have abandoned the covenant–(namely, God has abandoned the covenant)–we shall not abandon it, you no longer want Jews to survive–(namely, God no longer wants Jews to survive)-and we shall survive, as better, more faithful, more pious Jews. You have destroyed all grounds for hope. We shall obey the commandments of hope which you yourself have given. Nor is there any previous Jewish compassion with divine powerlessness like the compassion required by such powerlessness. The fear of God is dead among the nations; we shall keep it alive and be its witness. The times are too late for the coming of the Messiah; we shall persist without hope and recreate hope and, as it were, divine power by our persistence. For the religious Jew who remains within the Midrashic framework, the voice of Auschwitz manifests a divine presence which, as it were, is shown of all except commanding power. This power however, is inescapable.”
Now, it seems to me that Fackenheim’s proposed solution to the spiritual dilemma of the Holocaust is inadequate. If Sinai is genuine, then we don’t need Auschwitz to learn that Hitler should not win, We don’t need six million people to suffer and die for us; one doesn’t need an experience like that to get the special commandment that Hitler should not succeed. If Sinai is genuine, than God could not be demonic. The God of Abraham, who could be challenged to fulfill his obligations, to whom Abraham said, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do justice?” , could not be demonic. Abraham proclaimed that God was just. Fackenheim seems to be saying that we are just, but God is demonic. He is holding God responsible for the evil men do, a view I cannot share. God is a persuasive, not a coercive being, as I have already discussed. He has created a world from which man emerged as the last stage of evolution, but man must bring about justice in the earth; God does not take on the task of man. Man must take on his own task with God’s help. It seems to me that the real issue the Holocaust raises is not whether Hitler should win, but should Abraham, and Akiba, and Jeremiah lose. Those truths which they stood for and which many died for, the truth which completely revolutionized the world, necessitates that we bear witness to them, for if we don’t carry on for them, then the gift that the Jews gave to mankind may perish. If any truth comes from this, it is not that Hitler shouldn’t win–we knew that Hitler should not win-but that Abraham and Isaac and Jeremiah should not lose. There have been , however, several other ways of dealing with the Holocaust, two of which I would like to briefly analyze.
The first is the view of one of the great leaders and teachers of the Reform movement in Judaism, Professor Henry Slonimsky. In his brilliant paper, “The Philosophy Implicit in the Midrash,” he states the following:
“The core of Jewish belief is that Israel must bear the Torah from God to the world, but the world is unwilling and resists all three; God, Torah, and Israel. And the protagonist who does the actual bearing must also bear the brunt of the suffering…the Torah stands for goodness, for the vision, and ideals, and values, or light of God in which we see light. God, besides being this light and vision which we behold, is also such power, such real actual power in the universe as is committed and has already been marshalled for the victory of the good. This power must be increased, the ideal must be translated into the real, and the active agent in this crucial event is man, who is thus destined for tragic heroism by the very nature of his situation. Israel, of course, stands for the ideal Israel, and is paradigmatic of the good and brave man everywhere. That the best must suffer the most, must assume the burdens and sorrows of the world, constitutes the most awesome phenomenon and paradox of the whole spiritual life. God in the full meaning of the term is seen to stand at the end, not at the beginning; on that day He shall be one and His name shall be one. He must be made one, man is the agent in whose hands it is left to make or mar that supreme integration. The assertion of God in a Godless world is the supreme act of religion.”
For Slonimsky, this task is the true meaning of the covenant. It embodies the principle of noblesse oblige, which requires those who have witnessed to the unity of God to bear witness and stand for God in a Godless world, to stand for justice in a world that denies justice, to stand for truth where truth is despised. In this way, Slonimsky accounts for the Jews’ countless suffering. I believe Slonimsky is essentially correct in this evaluation. Yet, as impressive and brilliant as this view is, it seems to me to be defective insofar as it leads to an ultimate dualism between the universe and God. God is characterized only as an ideal which must be actualized and therefore, as a growing god, who either emerges or is held back by man’s action. Evil, according to Slonimsky, can be explained as a concomitant of the unfinished character of the universe, which I believe is correct, and as a result of a God who does the best he can, but without man’s help, is not strong enough to overcome evil, a view I hold to be incorrect.
For Slonimsky, God is not a creator, but is that aspect of reality that is good and holy and which must overcome the other aspects of reality which are recalcitrant. His view of God is coupled with a belief in progress, but which is in fact alien to it. Here he was true to his great teacher Herman Cohen, and true to that Biblical phrase which he so often quoted, “on that day He shall be one and His name one.” According to Slonimsky, the demand of the heart that God be one and that man succeed in making him one overrides whatever rational doubts one may have as to the success of this end.
Unless, as I have indicated, God is in some sense the creator, then there are no guarantees about God’s emergence. Rather than emerge, he may be defeated. What turned Slonimsky away from the concept of a creator God was the reigning view that a creator God not only is responsible for all that happens and, therefore, must be responsible for evil, but also that such a God denies man’s freedom. But if we conceive creation as an act wherein God allows other beings full power to act for good or ill, then we can conceive of a God who is a creator and revealer, yet not responsible for evil. God, in my view, respects the integrity and freedom of man and thus works though persuasion and revelation, and not coercion. Tennant expressed this well when he stated that God, “in revealing himself…will respect the moral personality of the persons who he would enlighten.” This is the ethical condition of revelation to man.
Professor Hans Jonas has developed a position that in many ways is similar to Slonimsky’s but differs from it in certain crucial respects. Jonas has devised a staggering myth in which he describes a God who, for reasons known only to Himself, allowed the universe to come into being, and in doing so, divested Himself of all power to direct, correct, or ultimately guarantee the devious working out of creation.
“God renounced His own being, divesting Himself of His deity–to receive it back from the Odyssey of time weighted with the chance harvest of unforeseeable temporal experience; transfigured or possibly even disfigured by it.. Man was created ‘for’ the image of God, rather than ‘in’ His image” and “our lives become lives in the divine countenance..Our impact on eternity is for good and for evil–we can build and we can destroy, we can heal and we can hurt, we can nourish and we can starve divinity, we can perfect and we can disfigure its image-and the scars of one are as enduring as the lustre of the other.”
Addressing the question of Auschwitz, he continued:
“What about those who never could inscribe themselves in the Book of Life with deeds either good or evil, great or small, because their lives were cut off before they had their chance, or their humanity was destroyed in degradations most cruel and most thorough such as no humanity can survive? I am thinking of the gassed and burnt children of Auschwitz, of the defaced, dehumanized phantoms of the camps, and of all the other numberless victims of the other man-made holocausts of our time. Among men, their sufferings will soon be forgotten, and their names even sooner. Another chance is not given them.. are they, then, debarred from an immortality which even their tormentors and murderers obtain…leaving their sinister mark on eternity’s face? This I refuse to believe. And this I like to believe: that there was weeping in the heights at the waste and despoilment of humanity; that a groan answered the rising shout of ignoble suffering, and wrath – the terrible wrong done to the reality and possibility of each life thus wantonly victimized, each one a thwarted attempt of God. ‘The voice of thy brother’s blood cries unto me from the ground’: Should we not believe that the immense chorus of such cries that has risen up in our lifetime now hangs over our world as a dark, mournful, and accusing cloud? That eternity looks down upon us with a frown, wounded itself and perturbed in its depths? The image of God is in danger as never before…An eternal issue is at stake together with the temporal one-this aspect of our responsibility can be our guard against the temptation of fatalistic acquiescence or the worse treason of ‘apres nous le deluge,’ We literally hold in our faltering hands the future of the divine adventure and must not fail Him, even if we would fail ourselves.”
When Jonas discusses the philosophical consequence of his myth, he postulates a suffering God, A God affected by man’s action, which implies a becoming God. He is also a caring God, and finally, He is not, for Jonas, an omnipotent God.
The similarity between Jonas’ and Slonimsky’s views is obvious. Both Slonimsky and Jonas seem to argue for a doctrine of a God who risks something, and that what God risks entails His very being. The being of God is itself dependent on man’s action. Jonas sees this as a direct result of the existence of a universe, and thus, as one of the effects of creation, which makes it, in my opinion, more satisfactory than the dualism proposed by Slonimsky. I would accept the doctrine that in creating the world, God did take a risk, in the sense that the world is open, and thus, contingency, temporality, and freedom are real. I would not, however, go so far as to say that man can create or annihilate God. He can, however, annihilate and destroy himself. Here his freedom is clear.
Fackenheim, Slonimsky, and Jonas all seem to agree that there is a kind of drastic limitation of God’s activity in the world. Or rather a redefinition of how God acts in the world. In this I also agree. However, this limitation is not such as to render the divine powerless or impotent. This does not mean that God is finite, for the limitation of God’s power is not, as Slonimsky states, due to man or any other external cause. Rather it is a necessary condition of there being a world at all.
The old theism is no longer meaningful today. A God who creates a finished universe, down to its last detail, who is the creator of all, the evil as well as the good, who knows all, so that man’s actions are merely a reenactment of what is eternally in God’s mind – such a view makes a mockery of the agony and tragic heroism of man. By making God the cause of all, it makes Him directly responsible for the evil in the world and, therefore, makes God either demonic, or denies the reality of evil. In either case, man is denied any significance. Man really makes no difference in a universe where God’s whim could at any point make everything different, or in which God could have worked everything out at the beginning for the best. Such a view simply cannot account for the reality of time, process, novelty, and risk.
We must affirm the creation of a cosmos but one that is unfinished, incomplete in the making. Creation must be the “creation of creators.” There is both order and chance in the world, both being and process, law and freedom. But novelty makes risk as well as loss and evil real.
God creates continually the universe with possibilities for life, mind and value. Now the good, the true, and the beautiful become goals to be achieved, ends to be realized.
It is due to God that there is something rather than nothing, order rather than chaos, the primacy of good and not the primacy of evil. Neither being, nor order, nor aim at value is intelligible without some reference to God as Creator, an impetus to greater differentiation, organization, and harmony. However, it is a mistake to assume that order is all of a type. There is logical, natural, and moral order. There is no moral order apart from logic, pattern, and value. Moral order is a goal to be achieved, and not a fact. This presupposes man’s task. God must be such as to allow for man’s task. In creating the world, God decided on the side of having man be the decider of his fate, and not fate the cajoler of man.
It is a mistake to see creation as a finished product. Creation is a process with an open future. It is not the case that God creates a finished universe. God has created and is creating with his creatures a basically unfinished universe. The goal of creation is the actualization of an ideal order of things.
The positive fact of evil is the conclusive proof that there is an unfinished character to reality. Science deals with an ideally closed world. The laws of nature are there to be discovered. Religion deals with an essentially unfinished world. Religion is concerned with what needs completion, with a universe in the making. It must actualize the truths it stands for. The ultimate resolution of the problem of evil is the affirmation that being, with its risks and possibilities of irreparable loss, is more valuable than non-being and nothingness; that time and temporality are real and not merely appearance. A perfect universe is an is an impossibility, everything realized at once. Here realization is impossible.
God creates the formative elements and acts as the divine inspiration to man’s task, but God does not take on man’s task. It is man that is to help and continue the process of creation and be a co-creator with God.
God is the basis and ground of the novelty of the World. God is necessary for the universe and man to be intelligible. Only through belief in God as Creator and sustainor, as the ground of being and order, as the source of inspiration in worship, as the ground for the values man must realize-only through such a belief in God can man find meaning and value to his existence.
So, perhaps we may summarize by saying that evil is the irreparable loss of good, that man’s greatest good is not pleasure or justice but soul-making, the realizing of the good, and that man himself must take upon himself that task, that burden of ascent. The rabbis taught this in a splendid Midrash in which they say,
“Those who are persecuted and do not persecute in return, those who listen to contemptuous insults and do not reply, those who act out of love and are glad of suffering, concerning them, Scripture says, they that love God are like the sun going forth in his strength.”