Why Is there Suffering?

Theology's oldest dilemma reveals Judaism's most profound truths.

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Comments (17)

(15) Unknown, August 8, 2011 7:08 AM

If God knows everything, how can freewill exist? If God chooses not to exercise his foreknowledge, how can he know all AND not know at the same time? If God can do the illogical, why not create the world w/o suffering and give humans freewill? You claim that suffering can be positive but there are some people (very small minority) who can't feel pain yet they can feel pleasure and appreciate it. So how does suffering being used to build character justifies it's existence when there are those who are incapable of feeling pain have character?

Chuck, January 3, 2017 8:32 PM

"Everrything" really means everything

To understand what is meant by "G-d knows everything," you need to expand your definition of everything.

I'll take an example from mathematics, l'havdil. There are an infinite number of counting numbers. But the number of possible numbers between 0 and 1 is an even bigger set of numbers than that.

So too with Hashem. Hashem knowing everything that's going to happen doesn't remove free will - because "everything" really means "Everything that COULD happen." Imagine a single person who makes a mere ten "yes-no" decisions a day; that gives us 1024 possible world-paths. Hashem knows all possible world paths that a person can could take.

(14) Meir, August 5, 2008 10:28 PM

G-ds master plan

I dont understand. You believe in G-d, you believe that He is Almighty and the Ultimate Good, and yet you question His ways?? If He wasnt so good, why are people healthy? Why arent we all chas v'shalom sick and disease-ridden? It must be, from the fact that some people get sick and others dont, that He DOES have a master plan. Us mortals, with our keyhole perception of things, can hardly expect to understand something beyond what we see. For example, theres a parable about a simple peasant that watched a landowner chop down a forest. "What are you doing?!" he yelled. "Calm down," he was reassured, "you'll see." Later, he saw a group of men take plows and rip up the ground until there were several deep gashes in the earth. "Stop! You're ruining the ground!" "Dont worry, you'll see." Then he saw them pour seeds into the ground and cover them up. A few months later, he saw beautiful stalks of wheat - only to be harvested. "Thats it!" he complained. "How long will you destroy everything?" The landowner quietly led him into the house, where the delicious smell of baking bread was detected. "Have some" he was offered. When he tasted delectable bread, he said, " ah, now I understand Everything". So too with us and G-d(I hope you get the point). Btw, I know Rabbi Becher personally, and he knows his stuff. No use arguing.

Lukas Dohnal, July 19, 2013 6:23 PM

Possible refutation of "master plan idea"

That makes quite a bit of sense. The only possible "hole" in this parable is that people are bound to follow the established rule of their physical existence, while God is supposed to be the Supreme Being, Essence of everything and so on. Contrary to humans, is not he the One who establishes all the rules according to which the existence unfolds? Human are bound by laws of physics, so they have to follow a certain process (which even involves "destruction"). But God is the Creator of all the rules of existence, or not? That is why this justification of "supreme plan" never made complete sense to me. I always thought that Supreme Being is the Creator of all the rules, not bound by them, being able to change them or destroy them at any given moment. Thus it does not make sense to me that a Supreme Being would be forced to act according to imperfect rules which require the existence of suffering to bring about something good, not to mention that if the Being created those rules, it should have the ability to change them or destroy them as I said. Another parable saying the same thing as you to which I could give this same "doubting answer" is the parable of a surgeon performing surgery on someone, watched and criticized by a butcher or a tanner, which do not understand the requirement of "harming the living flesh by cutting it to eventually help the body as a whole". ... The only answer about this dilemma which could probably solve it in some way appears to be that God Himself is bound by rules which He does not control, or that He established the imperfect, suffering-bringing rules that currently exist simply because that perfect world would seem too "boring" to Him. Or...?

(13) Anonymous, July 23, 2008 1:59 PM

Why do innocent babies suffer and die?

I lost my 2 month old daughter 3 months ago. She was born with several birth defects. I understand sometimes people (even babies) suffer because of another person's bad choices, that there are always consequences to sin. But what about situations like this, where it just happened, and nobody caused it, or could have done anything about it?

And if G-d opens and closes the womb, then why do child abusers and drug addicts and molesters get blessed with children, and my baby was born doomed to die?

And if He can and does perform miracles, then why some and not others? Why not let the tortured babies out of their pain, and spare the ones who will be loved?

I don't know what to think about Him anymore.

(12) Y itz, July 17, 2008 12:16 PM

Lab rat

A person is not a Lab Rat because he chooses good and gets rewarded (as the Bible states will happen, by the way)...we have free will choices that are not clear as to what is the right choice...also, the idea that there is "randomness" to evil to test us is very suspect and not supported by Ramchal, Maimonides at least.

(11) Barbara, July 15, 2008 3:26 PM

Tell Me

How does free will, punishment for past deeds, or fairness come into play when a 2 year old child is suffering from cancer? That's what I can't answer, even to my own satisfaction.

(10) Daniela, July 15, 2008 9:28 AM

To Todd -

That fact you speak of, that you say has been forgotten in much of the teaching of Judaism today, is based 100% on Christian teaching. It's a mistranslation and misunderstanding of the text of Leviticus that is used to argue that sin could not be forgiven without belief in Jesus dying to atone for the world's sins. We Jews DO NOT believe that forgiveness can only happen through the shedding of blood. It happens through asking to be forgiven through prayer or asking the person you've wronged to forgive you, admitting wrong, and change. That's it.

Suffering in the world, to answer your question, has a connection with sin only in terms of directing our behavior as a way for G-d to teach us lessons without being too obvious in a way that compromises our freedom of will. The Jewish way of looking at punishment for sin is actually more like correction and redirection, rather than wrath on the part of G-d. It seems to us like wrath sometimes, but we believe G-d doesn't actually experience emotions or such a flaw as revenge or vengeance. It's all about lessons and guidance. Suffering and evil are not synonymous, and just because we can't foresee the good that can come from suffering while it happens, very often we are better for it in the end. That's the real faith and trust that we have to have in G-d - that no matter what happens, EVERYTHING is for the good in the end, that G-d knows what He's doing and that's all we have to know.

Also, fyi, according to Jewish tradition there was no animal sacrifice before the Flood. The gift of skin to Adam and Eve as a show of compassion even after their sin did not necessarily involve the actual death of any animal. And even if G-d killed an animal for the purpose, this is still not "sacrifice" as most people understand it. Nothing was "given up" for the purpose, as G-d doesn't "lose" anything.

Hope this helps.

(9) Stuart, July 14, 2008 2:29 PM

No one knows

I was not there when HaShem created the world. I don't know why there is suffering. Job and his friends tried to figure it out and they had no better luck.
What I do know is that HaShem created me, and all of us, in his image. He put me, and you , here to help. He put us here to do his work. It is our responsibility to help alleviate suffering.

(8) Daniel, July 14, 2008 8:58 AM

Why some suffer and others have a good life

It is easier to explain suffering if we look at this life as the afterlife.
As Exodus 20:5-6 says, we will pay for our sins for 3 lifetimes and our blessings will follow for 1000.

(7) Todd, July 13, 2008 5:28 PM

The sin issue

I enjoyed the video and I agree that there's suffering because of free will, but what about the sin issue? In Genesis God created everything and it was good. There was no suffering. Something happened though. The first man and the first women decided to use their free will to disobey God. From that point on sin entered the world. Man no longer lived forever, there was a curse over him and over the creation. Sin is the real reason for suffering in the world. That is why when they sinned they immediately realized they were naked and they hid themselves from God...they were ashamed. Because of their sin the first animal sacrifice was performed in order that the skins of the animal might cover up their shame (nakedness). Then when God gave the Law to Moses he told the children of Israel that there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood (Lev 17:11).
Still, to this day there is suffering in this world because of sin and it is only through the shedding of innocent blood that we are forgiven. It seems to me that this fact has been forgotten in much of the teaching of Judaism today. What about the sin issue?

(6) dovid, July 13, 2008 2:46 PM

To do justice to the topic

Dear Rabbi Becher,
You truly did a superb job within the time constraints forced on you.

(5) avraham s minsky, July 13, 2008 1:04 PM

it's true

i've been a brittle diabetic for 38 years since age 10..i'm disabled now with many diabetic neuropathies.. but i use my suffering to show G-ds grace and lovingkindness.by showing people how to love and be grateful for each day..i can talk to people who are suffering about G-d better than a completely healty person can.. if i can bring 1 person to G-d then all my years of suffering have been worth it..there are 3 things everyone must do each day,,open your eyes,,take your first breath,,and thank G-d for the first 2,,G-d Bless and bring peace to Jerusalem and all Israel,,

(4) Anonymous, July 13, 2008 11:53 AM

Why Suffering?

As a nurse I have seen much suffering. And as I try to alleviate what I can..I also see much that has been brought on by ourselves...through wrong decisions...especially in health issues...But what causes us to wonder is the innocent...the ones who had no choices... To arouse our compassion if we have a relationship with G-d ? To make us more human and complete....?
I am reading "Exodus"...again after many years, and also again watched the series from the 80's "War and Remembrance". Ah..now that is suffering...!! It helps to remind me that "never again"...can be today and tomorrow. To suffer is to be human...It is a gift from G-D to know that we must endure..and do all we can for those who can't, or won't...but it is still our responsibility...to keep trying...to bring comfort, ease pain, and feel the pain of others...in order to heal...them and ourselves....

(3) Fred Foldvary, July 13, 2008 10:39 AM

why evil in nature?

Free will does not explain the evil in nature such as disease-causing bacteria.

(2) Peter W., July 13, 2008 9:53 AM

Why Do Animals Suffer?

Perhaps the Rabbi can explain why animals suffer? Do animals have free will? Are they rewarded in an afterlife? If the answers to the preceding two question is negative, then why do animals suffer so much agony?

(1) Baruch Unger, July 13, 2008 9:29 AM

What does G'd get out of our suffering

I heard your tape and understand..that is the way it was set up...but what exactly does G'd get watching our suffering (sometimes extreme)....that would make Him feel this is Good for Him...Does He need to have us suffer?? Baruch

 

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