Reposted with thanks to Larry's Blog, Life and a Little Liturgy

A Protestant pastor remembers preaching a sermon on loving God and being interrupted by a congregant who blurted out, “Love God?  Look at the problems God causes: devastating illness, hurricanes. earthquakes.  And look at the problems God doesn’t prevent: wars, cruelty, persecution.  Sure, this is stuff human beings bring about, but God just lets them happen.  Love God you say?”

Jews don’t talk about loving God as much as Christians do, but it is our problem too, because the Sh’ma itself (Deuteronomy 6:5) commands us: “You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.”

How indeed can you love a God who allows such human suffering?  I once worked with a woman who wore a T shirt saying “Life is a bitch and then you die.”

Traditional commentaries, like the Malbim, answer the objection by comparing God to a physician who causes a little pain now to avoid worse pain later – either in this life or the world to come.

But you have to believe in two things for that to work: a God who can and does reward the righteous; and an afterlife for the reward to happen.  And nowadays, most people disbelieve both.

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Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, has served for more than three decades as professor of liturgy at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.  He is a world-renowned liturgist and holder of the Stephen and Barbara Friedman Chair in Liturgy, Worship and Ritual.  His work combines research in Jewish ritual, worship and spirituality with a passion for the spiritual renewal of contemporary Judaism.  Rabbi Hoffman co-founded and developed Synagogue 2/3000, a transdenominational project designed to envision and implement the ideal synagogue of the spirit for the twenty-first century.