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Why Can't God Just Reward Us?

I recently read an Aish article which explained quite cogently why God cannot simply reward man and place him in the World to Come. The basic reasoning is because people would be shamed by receiving something they did not earn. Receiving something for nothing does not give a person the good feeling of achievement and developing a relationship with God – which is what his share in the World to Come is built on, but it is an embarrassment (“nahama d’kisufa”). And therefore, God had to create this world of challenge, where we must overcome obstacles to get closer to God – in spite of all the pain and suffering this world contains, with so many people sinning and failing to get closer to God.

My question is that I still don’t understand why God had to do things this way. Isn’t God all-powerful? God created us as people who cannot enjoy unearned reward, so He had to make us suffer through this terrible world first. But why couldn’t God just as easily have created man differently – as beings who can enjoy reward for nothing? Or perhaps God could have created a universe which has no notion that unearned pleasure is embarrassing? Then God could have put us straight in the World to Come! I mean, can’t God do everything?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for your profound question. You are probably referring to this article.

The answer may well go beyond what man is capable of fathoming, but I’ll offer you what I believe the response is.

Your question is based on your assumption that God can do everything, therefore why didn’t He simply make a different type of world. I’ll answer by posing a similar hypothetical question. Could God have created a world which has a Torah with different laws in it, in which, say, murder is a mitzvah? The answer is no, but this does not indicate a limitation on God’s power. A God who can literally do everything cannot create a world where murder is a mitzvah.

The reason for this is because there are certain truths in the world which are just realities, axioms of existence which cannot be altered. Murder is wrong not because God arbitrarily chose to give us such a law, but because it is intrinsically wrong. Nothing can change that, not even God, so to speak. Nor for that matter can God create a rock He cannot lift. This again does not mean God has a limitation, just that by definition such a rock cannot exist.

The same is true regarding the notion of reward and punishment. God could not have created a world in which God can “reward” us for free, in which human beings could enjoy the World to Come without ever having had to earn it. This is simply part of the reality of existence. A person only feels a sense of existence when he has made himself worthy and has developed a relationship with God. There is no such thing as experiencing a sense of reality for free. And that is not something God can change. It is as true as God and His Torah themselves.

Thus, to the extent we can understand, for the universe to be meaningful, God had to create a world of reward and punishment. Man would have to be challenged between good and evil. He would only come closer to God by overcoming those challenges and choosing good. Sadly, not everyone passes this challenge, but this is the only paradigm God could have used to create a universe.

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