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When People Suffer, Is It G-d's Fault?

When People Suffer, Is It G-d's Fault?

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''Bad News Reaches Job'' - an engraving by Gustave Doré
"Bad News Reaches Job" - an engraving by Gustave Doré

Question:

I feel I am losing faith in G‑d as a result of the recent tragedies. If G‑d can let such suffering happen, how can I believe in Him? Do you have any defense for what G‑d did?

Answer:

I share in your horror and shock at the tragedies that the world has witnessed over the last couple of weeks. Any thinking person must ask the questions that you are asking. Some feel that this challenge to their faith is insurmountable. That is understandable. But, without defending G‑d, perhaps we have to separate between rejecting G‑d and being angry with Him.

Any time even one innocent person suffers, we are faced with a contradiction: the belief in a just and kind G‑d on the one hand, and the suffering of innocents on the other. Most prefer the easy way out of the moral tension caused by this contradiction and settle with one of two simplistic positions: either G‑d is not responsible, because He doesn't exist or He is powerless; or the victims were not innocents because they deserved punishment. Jewish thought, however, does not look for easy solutions.

Here is a different approach:

1) G‑d is responsible. We cannot accept the cowardly theology that G‑d is not responsible -- that anything that happens in the world that doesn't mesh with our idea of His goodness is just an amoral and indifferent act of nature. For who is responsible for nature if not G‑d? And what type of a G‑d is He if He cannot control nature?

2) This is not a punishment. G‑d is not a vicious tyrant who indiscriminately punishes the wicked with the innocent. Even in the biblical flood innocent people were spared. Which moral person could have the chutzpah to say that all those who perished in this deluge deserved it?

3) We don't want an explanation. If we had an explanation, then we could go on with our lives as usual. We could be comfortable that there is a nice and neat justification for hundreds of thousands of deaths and the suffering of millions. That would be a further tragedy.

4) We can be disappointed with G‑d. There is a Jewish tradition of even the most righteous people objecting to G‑d's decisions. Abraham tried to defend the people of Sodom although G‑d wanted to destroy them, and Moses interceded for the Israelites after the episode of the golden calf, when G‑d had decreed that they be wiped out. We don't have to agree with divine decrees. We have a right to be upset at G‑d. Even after the event, although we accept that He is the True Judge, if we see what we feel to be an injustice, we can't be at peace with it. We must scream at G‑d and demand an end to such pain.

The Jewish response to tragedy is daring and challenging: don't solve the paradox, let it disturb you. There is a real contradiction: a kind G‑d has allowed unimaginable suffering, and this does not make sense. From the tension of facing this contradiction comes an urge to do something -- that the world must change to be a place of only goodness and peace. The suffering of innocents does not fit into my worldview; thus it must end. We must do what we can to alleviate the suffering of people around us. Then we can turn to G‑d and demand that He do the same.

Don't abandon belief in G‑d, and don't abandon belief in human innocence. Allow the two to create a holy tension that results in a passion for goodness -- and do something about it.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Simcha Bart for Chabad.org December 20, 2016

It is correct that a donkey-like reaction would be to kick and bolt, and yet here lies the test of our inner core of Divinity - will we react as an animal does, or will we perhaps try to see beyond the veil that hides G-d and tap into the inner core of Divinity which illuminates all of us? Reply

Edwin Reffell Kista December 12, 2016

Since I accept the responsibility for what I do and I am only human then G-d will not be allowed to wash His hands of the responsibility for what He does for He is more.Decent people trying to be decent people are overbequeathed with misery.Their attempts to labour to make things decent for others they see annihilated to say nothing of their attempts to make things decent for themselves.Simultaneously the bad are overbequeathed with happiness,joy and pleasure,everything that could but does not warrant gratitude.G-d seems to have a penchant for the bad and an unjustified scorn and dislike for the decent He has had kicked into existence as rejectables.Is it strange then at some point they opt out?Is it strange that they find G-d seeming-loving, seeming-caring and seeming-merciful?What if G-d were to reward decency with decency,or even make it worthwhile to do your decent bit of donkeys-work?Surely that more than kicks would encourage enrolment for loads-shifting?I'm for doing a bolt! Reply

Anonymous October 9, 2016

I found this article of great comfort. One, to know that I'm not alone in his disturbed I am by so much violence and injustice in the world. And two, the call to continue to believe despite of the grief and doubt it causes. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous toronto February 26, 2016

justification There is no justification for suffering of the righteous as there is no justification for the sin of the golden calf. God does not need the half shekel, because every religion is collecting for God. One cannot rationalize, justify or legitimize away such deeds.If the people knew better they would not put themselves in the position . Reply

Gershom Germany February 8, 2016

When People Suffer, Is It G-d's Fault? There is a simple answer to this question: No. Did God declare war in Syria against children and woman or was this done by men?
It is written that the earth cannot stand the violence and bloodshed anymore. Is it Gods fault that mankind is violent?
Would you like to be a puppet peacefully moved by the Almighty?
The L-rd once declared that He never again will wipe out mankind - the only solution to stop violence. Instead men could learn to make peace - but mankind refuses to become peacemakers. Could this be God's fault that man is unwilling to learn the way of peace? Reply

Simcha Bart Los Angeles December 23, 2015

I honestly do not know. Yet your comment is the very point of the article - that the pain and suffering of innocents are not something we can comprehend, nor is it something that we are meant to justify. Rather we are meant to respond to suffering by doing all we can to alleviate it, and to prevent it from happening ever again. Reply

fay November 4, 2015

Question How about children who suffer daily abuse? How does that fit into God's plan? Reply

Anonymous April 21, 2014

There was a student who was in seclusion for years learning Torah and he eventually became very spiritual and really believed in G-d and was very devout. His teacher told him that he needs to now live Torah in his daily existence.
He then went out and into the town and he saw many poor people and suffering and he said to G-d, i thought you were a G-d of kindness and compassion why are you allowing so many people to suffer.

G-d replied to Him, and He Said, I sent you didn't I. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA April 26, 2012

Tony, I had both breasts off from cancer. Besides the breast cancer with the chemo, etc. , I also had skin cancer on my nose and they had to do 6 surgeries on it. They said if they had to slice again a 7th time, they would have had to replace my nose. I had a stroke, and nearly died on the emergency table. For 6 weeks, I was in the hospital with CHF (congestive heart failure). There is more, but not enough space. Like I said, I never blamed Go-d. He let me cry and grieve and then deal with it with as much courage as I was able to muster up. Through it all, I maintained G-d didn't give me those things but He was with me through them all and wept with me when I wept. I don't see G-d the same way many religious people do, so it was easier for me to maintain my faith in Him during those calamities and tragedies. Nope, it was never His fault. In fact, there was so much peace in my heart that when I was on the emergency table with the stroke, I actually said if I live it's for G-d and if I die I'll see G-d, so what if I die? Reply

Tony San Diego, California April 26, 2012

Response to Karen Joyce Karen, I am truly glad that YOU have been able to experience G-d's power to, "wipe away sorrow and comfort" - as you describe. I do need to ask ? remind you that there have been and continue to be those uncountable millions of people and other sentient beings, for whom comfort during THEIR suffering remained an absent, hypothetical idea only, and whose tears were never "wiped away". For them, G-d was not "there" in any useful way! Why then, should one choose to trust that such a G-d will be there for me when I suffer ( which I am due to a very recent diagnosis of cancer)? Distraction helps, but that is NOT a spiritually comforting exercise - which is what I am seeking ( not mindless distraction ). If G-d is NOT ALWAYS entirely dependable as a source of "comfort" and wiping away tears, then I cannot place any trust in that G-d. It is easier for me to simply REJECT the idea of G-dliness and (having conceded the meaningless and purposeless of "life") I accept life as is where is! Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA April 24, 2012

Dearest Robert Schatz, I am so sorry For the loss of your daughter. I do not believe Go-d causes the losses. I do believe that when it happens, He is there to wipe away sorrow and comfort people at the moment of death. I believe that your daughter was a gift of G-d to you in her lifetime to give you joy and happiness,, and that you were greatly loved. Please don't blame G-d, as He was not "wrathful" or trying to hurt anyone. In fact, this is not a perfect world precisely because there is sorrow along with joy. One thing that helped me in my grieving when I had such a deep hole in my heart was to start a scrapbook of happy memories and to say "thank you" for them; another was to actually talk to my mom although she is not with me in the flesh. It's been decades since she passed, and I still find solace in talking to her as if she is still here with me. BTW, although I don't believe in reincarnation, I do believe in G-d using the deceased as angels who help people on this earth invisibly. Reply

Avi April 22, 2012

G-d? Fault? If G-d is the source of,or originator of events that lead to suffering, a traditional response that aims to provide some"comfort" or reassurance, is that G-d has some ultimate"good reason" for that suffering to exist. This is by no means a helpful propostition however, since NOT every person who endures pain and suffering will experience that revelation or understanding of that "good reason"...Certainly, the infant dying in pain or the parent grieving at the death of a child, or the six million + who were murdered by the nzi monsters - DID NOT benefit from a knowledge of some "good outcome". Nothing that I have meditated over or read can pursuade me differently - than the conclusion that; either this "god" is a grotesque monster or there is no such "god" and life as we know it, is essentially purposeless. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA December 23, 2011

I am Jewish. But, I totally disbelieve In the description of Go-d which is widely preached in both Jewish and Christian circles. I do NOT see G-d as being all knowing, all powerful, all in control, and, thus being a vengeful, angry, G-d who pours down the fires from Heaven; nor do I see Him as being the all rewarding G-d who gives us good crops IF we worship Him correctly according to written laws. The reason is that I do not see a G-d I am able to worship being one who flippantly gives a little cancer here, a flood there, a tornado or earthquake here to kill hundreds of people. He is not a little spoiled child, nor is He so egotistical that He wants specific rules followed to the letter. This is NOT the G-d I would worship. My Go-d, in my heart, gives strength to go through tragedies and doesn't create them. My Go-d in my heart is totally accepting of me as I am, and gives me COURAGE to be a better person and weather the storms of this world and evil people. My opinion. Reply

Anonymous Saugus, CA December 20, 2011

Response I truly believe God does punish us and allows bad things to happen and I have no clue. For He says My thoughts are not your thoughs nor are My ways your ways. Its unbelievingly cruel what we feel but without pain and sorrow we would not be humbled and turn to Him. If we had everything we wanted we wouldn't care for God. Its His way of saying, hey don't forget about me I'm still here and I need your love. I think God loves us in a tough but gentle way. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA June 14, 2011

To answer the literal question, "Is it G-d's fault"? The answer is NO. Vehemently, NO. Period. First, since G-d is not human, He/it, has no human emotions. In my own perception of G-d, he CAN be imperfect because the word imperfect implies human standards of perfection. I don't believe in that kind of G-d. In my own mind, the Go-d in whom I believe is the ultimate source. Source of strength, survival, hope, happiness, love, goodness, empathy, sympathy, etc. To put words into Go-d's mouth (as has been done in the writing of the Bible), attributing such human emotions as revenge, hate, punishment, is all very mean and not a nice way to speak of the G-d who created beauty and wonder and awe. So, some people and organizations say YES, G-d is the cause of suffering. I just overlook those words and keep on being Jewish in my own way. As I said, if I believed all the negativity about G-d, I'd not believe in G-d at all. Period. Reply

Anonymous Winnipeg, Canada June 8, 2011

Faulty Reasoning Forgive the tone of my earlier reply. As I re-read it, I sound scolding and snotty. Not my intent!
The difficulty in your reasoning is that you assume The Almighty thinks as we do... is guided by emotion and petty, self-centered human motivations and agendae.
If this were true then your criticisms would have potential validity and life would be hopeless... pointless.
To maintain one's hope and sanity we MUST believe that God isperfect and all-knowing and despite the occurence of tragedies we cannot fathom He DOES have a COMPLETE AND LOVING master plan for the GOOD of ALL Mankind and --encouragingly-- He even dictates each individual's uniquely indispensible role and duty to improve our fellow man's lot.
These direction's can be found in His Torah.

A Good Shavuot to all! Reply

Anonymous Riverside, CA, USA December 2, 2010

Dave Pinsky, please explain why... What I said was fallacious reasoning. How is my logic faulty? I don't think you can justify saying that using logic. Do you also believe that the story of G-d turning someone into a pillar of salt is literal? Reply

Dave Pinsky Winnipeg, Canada November 30, 2010

Earlier comment: It is NOT G-d who is responsible In that G-d - in His Sublime Perfection - designed with perfect intent & execution every aspect, every rule, every potential for every tooth on every gear of every holone operating within His Divine holarchy of transcendent Creation which He Himself flawlessly set into action & He Himself renews without error then - being the Master of ALL - G-d is OF COURSE ultimately responsible for EVERYTHING. For He is: EVERYTHING.

Also, to suggest that G-d is NOT "responsible" comes close to suggesting that He has limitations. Which simply cannot be true for

He is indeed "Perfect" and capable of ALL, for He is: ALL
It is impossible & arrogant to judge The Unknowable as though He were limited by the same drives and emotions as humans. He is NOT. A common error, but an error nonetheless.

Finally, after establishing a set of circumstances based upon limited facts & fallacious reasoning you conclude that this is not your kind of God.

Please, find a patient Chabad Rav to help explain :) Reply

Anonymous Riverside, CA, USA September 16, 2010

I agree with MOST of the points in the answer. I totally and absolutely disagree with number 1. It is NOT G-d who is responsible. It is nature and the sins of others. and sometimes we are in the wrong place at the wrong time. What kind of sadistic G-d would sit around and say to Himself, "Oh, this is wonderful. I think I'll cause an earthquake over here and a tornado over there, and let's see. Should I kill a hundred or a thousand people? If there are Jews in the middle of the others, oh well. Hmm. I'm in charge. Let's see how much grief I can cause. This is so much fun!" You have got to be kidding. That is NOT the G-d I worship. If you insist that this old, outdated theory of G-d is the one we must hold to in order to be Jewish, then I will not be Jewish. Period. Reply

rhl September 6, 2010

being angry with G-d and disagreeing I have usually taken the knocks with an attitude of "I can take, its for the best". Recently on top of 3 years of drama I had another major thing go wrong. WELL... i flipped, and I told G-d what I felt. I screamed at G-d this is unfair, this is too much! I can't cope! Of course I knew i would survive but hey that is not really the point. Life is for living and flourishing, not surviving and suffering.
Anyhow to cut a long story short, the major thing that had gone wrong suddenly went right. Don't know if G-d heard my prayer or what but I do know that it took a lot of courage for me to disagree with G-d and what was happening in my life. That I think made the whole drama worthwhile.

I honestly think we are here to become greater spiritual beings and this entails a lot more than just doing what you are told etc etc. I have no problem with tragedies in life, that's life, what I do have a problem with is when people get caught in a cycle of negative consequences due to tragedies etc. Reply