A letter to my husband on suffering and God

My husband,

I told you I have been wrestling with certain thoughts of how we reconcile God and suffering. He cannot be all powerful, all knowing, all present and all loving. Kushner’s response is that he is not all powerful. That he created nature and created humans, and both of these are capable of inducing great suffering, but he cannot interfere and save us because he is not all powerful.

I had a similar idea about this 12 years ago when I was wrestling with the same question. I called it the Sleeping Beauty theory. In Sleeping Beauty, the evil fairy comes and puts a curse on baby Aurora stating that when she turns 16 she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. There is a good fairy there (Merryweather is her name I believe) and she says her magic is not strong enough to cancel the evil fairy’s spell but it’s strong enough that she can change it that when the spinning wheel pricks her finger, she will just fall asleep (and can be woken by true love’s kiss). They try to hide Aurora away and get rid of all the spinning wheels in the kingdom, but it doesn’t work. She pricks her finger, but true love’s kiss saves her.

This idea is very different from what you (and Protestants in general) believe. You believe that you can change the outcome of things with prayer. You believe you can pray your child well and I can pray mine well (yes I know you recognize this is not guaranteed, but you do credit our son’s improvement to you and his biological mother praying). What I find cruel about this view is this idea that God would save one child because his parents prayed for him and not another whose parents didn’t. How could a loving God do that?

How could a loving all powerful God who is capable of intervening allow the cruelty and suffering of this world? 12 years ago I wrestled with the question of how a loving God could allow galactosemia: a disease that, up until 50 years ago, cause babies to die from their mother’s milk. Can you think of anything more wrong than that? God is our father and no father could stand by and not intervene. We let our children make mistakes to learn things but we don’t let them die or get raped or get ravaged by a tsunami. We protect them as much as we can but most importantly, we try to prepare them to head out into that world and handle all the bad things that might come their way, and let them know we are there to love and comfort them.

I found an interview with Kushner where he states it very concisely and simply:

Kushner: There were reports a few months ago about experiments in which two groups of hospital patients: one was prayed for, one wasn’t. The results showed that it didn’t seem to make a difference. I said in an interview at the time that God’s job is not to make sick people healthy. That’s the doctors’ job. God’s job is to make sick people brave. You know what we’ve done in this country? We have confused God with Santa Claus. And we believe that prayer means making a list of everything you don’t have but want and trying to persuade God you deserve it. Now I’m sorry, that’s not God, that’s Santa Claus. Prayer is not bargaining with God. Prayer is simply coming into the presence of God. Because when you come into the presence of God, even the things you don’t have matter a lot less.

God is a source of strength, resilience, love. Like we hope to be to our kids. And God is a teacher, like we hope to be to our kids.

It’s true I should pray everyday and read the Bible. It would strengthen my relationship with God and make me a more grounded, stronger person. And I will continue working towards that in my journey. But I feel like you fail to recognize that you have something to learn from me spiritually as well. There is a depth and a wisdom in Judaism that comes from the trauma of the Holocaust, from a history of oppression. And there is a depth and wisdom to my spiritual life from the things I have faced in life that you, luckily, have not had to.

How do you reconcile these questions? I would like to hear your thoughts. How is it that great suffering occurs if God is all powerful and all loving? How is it that our prayers cause him to act differently to the extreme that he would save one child over another as a result of one being prayed for and another not? I hope we can engage in a dialogue here. That is what I have to offer you. This is something we need as much as consistent prayer. To wrestle with God as Israel does. To worship with our mind and body and heart.

with Love,

your wife