Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen to Good People?

by Douglas Kandl - KOACH Intern - Pace University | Posted on April 29, 2013
Douglas Kandl

If there is a God how could he allow bad things to happen to good people? How could he allow twenty innocent children to be murdered in cold blood at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last year? How could he allow millions of people to be burned, shot and starved to death in concentration camps during the Holocaust?

According to Jewish thought God is omnipotent: “Nothing was too wondrous for God” (Vayera). If God is of ultimate power and goodness, then how could he both allow positive, wondrous acts, such as allowing an elderly Sarah to give birth, while also allowing such atrocities to occur? How could God allow us, who were created in tzelem elohim (the image of God), to commit such terrible acts?

When faced with such atrocities like our children being murdered in cold blood in an elementary school, we need to truly contemplate how we can believe in God. Even if God has given us free will, as a parent gives a child, wouldn’t He intervene at some point? For example, a parent might know a boyfriend is not good for his or her child but still allow them to see each other so that the child can learn from her mistakes and grow up on her own. Though, unlike God, I do not think there is one parent who would allow his or her child to commit murder.

Then should we blame God?

Novelist and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, asks this in his The Trial of God. In this novel Elie Wiesel puts God on trial for the pogroms against the Jewish people. This story is based off of his experience in Auschwitz where he witnessed three rabbis put God on trial and find Him guilty for crimes against humanity. After the trial, the rabbis incredibly daven Ma’ariv (evening prayers) together.

So why doesn’t God just intervene?

When a friend asked me how God could allow such atrocities I proposed a world without evil where God intervenes. Where would God draw the line? What would life be without consequences and negativity if everything in life was joyful and happy? For example, everyone could only be in one relationship in their life because they could not be hurt. You would wake up, do well at work, and come home everyday to your family. But, if everyone is always happy and satisfied, why strive for more or to be better? Why would anyone innovate or try things out of the box? In life there are many je ne sais quoi (I do now know what) moments, both positive and negative, but without these what would life truly be?

Even in our post-modern and existential world, I do not believe God is to blame, as I believe He has given us the game board and pieces which allows us to make our own choices even if they sometimes have terrible and heart wrenching consequences and results. God could have chosen to control our every move, but would we have enjoyed that life? With freedom comes responsibility, and we need to ensure that when evil begins to act and plan, that people throughout the world react and destroy it. Evil will always exist, and that is why we must always be vigilant. Our war on evil is a lifetime endeavor. Jews know firsthand the result of not taking action, and that is why we say to l’olam lo od (never again). Let us also remember that God has given us free will and there is more to us than this existence: olam haba (the world to come).

Douglas Kandl is a junior at Pace University where he is President of Hillel, KOACH representative, and Bridging the Gap fellow.

Tamuz 5773

Denominational Judaism