Reader: Dear Rabbi, I have a friend whom I fear is changing before my very eyes. He once believed that God was a just, merciful, and loving God. But after the attack of the twin towers and after the tsunami that both saw a huge loss of life, he speaks differently of God. He is starting to drift towards the horrible Christian doctrine of predestination. He seems to be arguing that because God cannot change (which I agree with but not in the vicious, unjust way that he wishes to paint God) then God created creation with some kind of sinister motive. Here is what he wrote me:
“ Creation IS NOT compatible with immutability (inability to change). Let me put it this way: If God is perfect, then He lacks absolutely nothing. Within Him is all actuality and potentiality realized. In order to create something, one must have an idea of creating something and then not have the idea of creating something. If you’re going to build a chair, then you must think to yourself, “I’m going to build a chair”. Then, having built the chair, you now lack the idea of building the chair, because the work is completed. You’ve changed from one state of one intention to another. God cannot change...His being perfect forbids it, because you cannot change from one state of perfection to another. If you did, then the state you were in prior wasn’t really perfection.”
This comment above is flawed, as this person equates human thought/creation
with God’s. He bases his understanding of God’s methods of operation, on man’s.
He feels as follows, “Since man must pass through phases of “planning”,
“execution” and “removing his thoughts” from that activity, so too God must
work this way. And since God cannot change (being perfect, any change would be towards
less perfect), God cannot be a creator.” Thus, your friend says, “Creation is
incompatible with immutability.” We understand your friend’s error: he became
victim to the very common mistake of “projection”, as he projects man’s methods
onto God, when this is impossible. We don’t know what God is. His first error
of projecting man’s “change of intention” onto God, is what led him to believe
that God cannot be a creator. In fact, God does not follow the very methods man
requires to operate. God created man, and his various behaviors. Hence, God is
not controlled by His creations. So the behaviors we witness in man, cannot be
predicated of God.
In fact, we know nothing about how God created the world. Talmud Chagiga 11b describes four areas of thought off limits to man, and what happened prior to creation is one of them. Man’s knowledge is based on cause and effect and on his senses. Therefore, in an era with no physical universe - before creation - man has no capability to understand what existed, how things existed, or “how” God creates. There was nothing physical, and hence, cause and effect did no operate…our mode of thinking cannot operate there. We cannot understand how God created the universe.
Reader: He continued: “Additionally, what you have at creation is actually God choosing the worst possible scenario. Look at it this way. Before creation, there are three possible states of being: 1) God being alone with his perfection. 2) God creating a perfect universe. 3) God creating an imperfect universe. They’re listed in order of perfection. Why choose the worst possible option? (That’s what God did.) If you want to argue that God chose this option because he wanted to create us so that he could love us and we love him, then you’re back at the idea of God experiencing emotion, which is irreconcilable with the idea of a perfect God. If you want to go that route then ‘goodness’ will become meaningless, simply because it would be completely arbitrary based on the actions of God. If God decided to torture small children, then that would become good. Let me ask you a question: is it wrong to kill enemy non-combatants in wartime?”
Mesora: Your friend’s words are a bit incoherent, but I will address what I think he is saying. He assumes incorrectly that God had “possibilities” before Him when creating the universe. “Possibilities” exists for man, not for God; therefore, “choice” is not something predicated of God.
He also assumes God created an imperfect universe. I ask, “imperfect” according to whose standards? Your friend has selected a morality not endorsed by God, so in his subjective framework, he feels God as erred in creating an “imperfect universe.” He attempts to support his view by creating impossible scenarios, like God torturing infants. From his fabricated “possibilities”, he extrapolates and accuses God of injustice, suggesting it would now be considered a good to torture children if God desires so. He seems to be harboring a view that, “We just have to accept all the injustices of God, because we have no choice”.
Instead of ‘imagining’ what is good, why doesn’t he study “reality”? What he must do is be humble enough to recognize that minds far greater than his, viewed the universe as a perfectly designed system, reflecting God’s mercy and kindness, and not viciousness. If such great minds like Maimonides held such an opinion, it would behoove him to study his position, at least from the perspective of appreciating and understanding why Maimonides held this view.
I feel this is a great method to opening a person to a new view. Many times, people hold views as an expression of their ego: they feel humbled if they back down. Their ego prevents them from learning, and abandoning what is really false. Their ego emotion is what they seek to protect, even in place of continuing in falsehoods. An effective method to address this problem, is to ask the person to consider an alternate view of a great thinker. As you are not attacking his own view, but merely requesting his estimation of someone greater, you accomplish two things: 1) he does not feel he must abandon his own view so his ego remains intact, and you also bolster his ego by asking “his opinion” of Maimonides, for example, and 2) you achieve your goal of enabling him to objectively consider the merits of another view. Once he can objectively consider another view, you have set him on the path towards truth. His mind is now engaged in the reality he just observed in what Maimonides stated. And with enough exposure to precisely articulated truths, as does this master (Maimonides), those like your friend will eventually be faced with their own appreciation for brilliant ideas, and hopefully, will live a life seeking more truths, abandoning their previous lifestyle of seeking ego gratification.
There are many question humans have on God’s justice, and they will not be answered overnight. If your friend is truly interested in learning the truth, he should ask questions to those knowledgeable, read the words of those greater than us, and consider the answers he receives. If he is not doing this, then he simply wishes to remain with his own views, fooling himself that he as reached the absolute truth. One cannot become a doctor without study. And as we are discussing far more abstract ideas like God’s justice, certainly, greater thought is required. The Torah addresses God’s justice, as does the Talmud. Direct him to these areas. He will then understand, for example, why mudslides and tidal waves must exist, even if they kill people. He will know why free will must exist, although murderers may use it.
Understand; one asks these questions at times out of a desire to secure his own, protected fate. When he sees others subject to the forces of nature, and that they may deliver death, it threatens one’s security, and exposes his vulnerabilities. It is good to ask these questions, but in doing so, one must attempt to be as objective as possible. We will never obtain all of the answers, but with patience, we may start to observe perfection in God’s world.
Lastly, your friend also assumes God possesses emotions. While it is true that God created man so man may come to love God, this does not indicate that God possesses emotions. Emotions are a creation, and thus, God does not possess them. Also, God does not need anything, including not man’s love of Him. God desires man to love God, for man’s good. It is an act of kindness that God created man with the ability to appreciate the wisdom that the Creator made available to man in His creation. God wants man to love Him…for man’s own good.