Does God control everything?
In making his case that God is not to blame for the coronavirus pandemic, Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer (“God is not to blame. We are.” April 3) correctly states that the Talmud says “The world follows its own course.” Meaning that God allows the world to be run by the rules of nature. But the Talmud also states “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’” I feel like a resident of Anatevka in “Fiddler on the Roof,” turning to Tevye and saying “He’s right and he’s right? They can’t both be right.”
However, the Talmudic Tractate of Eruvin suggests just the opposite. It relates that in a halachic dispute between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai, a voice from heaven interceded, saying “These and these are the words of the living God.” Suggesting that there is validity to both opinions.
This concept of both opinions having validity, however, can be applied to halacha but not to black and white facts. Either the world is flat or it isn’t; either the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to sum of the squares of its two legs, or it isn’t; either God does control everything that happens in the world or He doesn’t.
At a time like this I would really like to know how to resolve these contradictory opinions.
Does God exist?
This is in response to Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer’s opinion, “God is not to blame. We are.” (April 3) I’ll accept his belief that natural disasters are the result of the world following its own course. (Which necessarily means that the viewpoint that God actively causes every little thing to happen, except for our decisions, which call for a moral choice, is wrong.) However, there is still a major flaw in the rabbi’s logic — God remains all powerful, yet he lets horrible things happen to people who do not deserve it.
Suppose that late at night I am walking down the street, and I come across a person who has just been hit by a car, and the car had sped away. The victim is seriously injured, and asks me to call for help. Instead, I just ignore him and walk away, even though I have a cell phone. He then dies, but would not have if he had received timely medical assistance. Under these circumstances, wouldn’t I be morally responsible for his death? How is this different from God allowing babies to be stricken with terrible diseases, and other forces of nature killing/maiming good people?
Saying that we can’t know why God acts as He does, which is the standard response, is no answer at all. The only logical answers I can think of are that God is indifferent, God is evil, or God does not exist.
I write this letter in a sincere attempt to understand, not to challenge or disrespect anyone’s beliefs. I am not an atheist. I have presented the above question, which is hardly original, to many believers, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and I have never received any answer other than we can’t know. Perhaps a reader can help.