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Jewish Journal

“It Was God’s Will” – Says Who?

by Susan Esther Barnes

October 31, 2012 | 8:00 am

This is a photo of part of the cover of Dr. Ron Wolfson's excellent book, "God's To-Do List: 103 Ways to Be and Angel and Do God's Work on Earth"

I recently came across an article by Sarah Sentilles called, “Rape and Richard Mourdock’s Semi-Omnipotent God.” In it, she takes Richard Mourdock to task for his statement that a pregnancy caused by rape is “something God intended.” She’s in good company there. What intrigued me about this article, however, is the focus it places on what is, or is not, God’s will.

As Sentilles rightly points out, nobody really knows what God’s will is. We have plenty of texts, sacred and otherwise, which we hope will point us in the right direction. We have thousands of years of discussion, recorded in the Talmud and elsewhere, about what we think God does and doesn’t want us to do. But nobody really knows.

Sentilles puts her finger on the pulse of the theological problem with Mourdock’s statement when she writes, “If God allows certain things to happen and prohibits others—if God intends certain things instead of others—then it follows that God approves of what God chooses.”

The logical conclusion, then, is that everything that happens, including rape, is something God approved. It makes no sense for someone who believes God has this power to pretend they can pick and choose which things that happen are God’s will and which things are not. They all are.

Many people run into a theological crisis because they believe God is three things: All powerful, all knowing, and good. If that is the case, how can God allow bad things, like rape, murder, disease, etc. to exist?

One answer to this question is that it doesn’t make sense to believe God is all three of those things. Instead, you have to pick two. If God is all powerful and all knowing, and God allows so many terrible things to happen, then God can’t be good. If God is all powerful and is good, then there must be a lot of things happening God doesn’t know about, or God would stop them. If God is all knowing and is good, then God must not have the power to stop the bad things from happening.

I happen to believe in the third choice. Maybe it’s because God gave up some of God’s power in order to give human beings free will, or maybe it’s some other reason, but I believe God is not able to stop bad things from happening. I believe pregnancies, both those that are wanted by the people involved and those that are not, are a result of biological processes, not God’s will.

This doesn’t mean God has no role to play in our lives. Even if there are many things, like biological processes, that proceed on their own without interference from God, and even if human beings (and animals, perhaps) have free will, God’s will can still influence us.

Even if God can’t (or won’t) make us do certain things or stop us from doing others, I believe God gives us hints about what God wants us to do. Maybe that tickling of your conscience when you’re about to do something wrong is God’s hint. Maybe that great idea which popped into your head was really God’s idea. Maybe the reason life seems to go easier for you when you’re on the right path is God throws some stumbling blocks in front of you when you’re on the wrong one.

So no, I don’t think it’s okay to respond to anything with, “It was God’s will,” but I do believe God is able to nudge things in the right direction. Our job, then, is to listen to that small, still voice inside us, and to act on it.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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