On CNN last week I was asked by Ashleigh Banfield to respond to the comments of
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association who suggested that Americans
were to blame for the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, because they had
“The fact is that is the ultimate statement of heresy,” I
said. “This is not a religious man... Not only is he [Bryan Fischer] wrong that
we kicked God out of our lives, the United States and the American people are
the most righteous people in the world.
We have spent endless blood and
treasure to defend complete strangers, women, from being beaten up by the
Taliban. Our soldiers died for those people. God is on our money. We give more
charity than any nation on earth. We deserve better. I am tired of people
maligning the American people and saying we deserve to suffer. This is
the most religious country in the Western world.”
The Raw Story reported
this sentiment is becoming widespread: “Numerous figures on the Christian right,
including James Dobson and Mike Huckabee, have linked the horrific mass killing
of 20 young children to issues such as prayer in school, abortion and same sex
marriage. They claim these issues prove the United States no longer respects
A day later, Fischer struck back on his radio show, claiming I had
“demonized” God: “Shmuley Boteach, a Jewish rabbi, and [CNN] gives him ample air
time to demonize both God and me! So he demonizes God; this whole thing is God’s
We need to defy God. We need to challenge God. We need to demand
We need to blame this on God. He’s all powerful, could have
stopped it, and he didn’t do it, and its His fault.”
Fischer continued in his attack, “that... the theology I’m drawing from is from
the Old Testament... I wonder whether he has read his own bible.”
Mr. Fischer, I have. We don’t call it the Old Testament, as there is nothing old
or outdated about it. We call it the Hebrew Bible, and this is what it says:
“The hidden things are for God to understand, but the revealed things are for us
and our children.”
Why God allows good people to suffer is a secret known
to him. But we human beings ought to have no interest in knowing the secret.
What we want, what we demand, is that the suffering stop completely so that God
and humanity can finally be reconciled, after a long history of human travail
and agony, in a bright and blessed future, bereft of suffering, absent of
tragedy, and filled with blessing.
In the face of catastrophes there are
always those who try to divine the mind of God, when really their role as humans
is to argue with God. That’s exactly what the name “Israel” means: He who
wrestles with God. Isn’t that what Abraham does with the news of the impending
destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, where he raises his fist to the heavens and
proclaims, “Will the judge of the entire earth not Himself practice justice?”
Would God really allow the righteous to die along with the wicked? Is this not
also what Moses says to God after he is told that the Jews will be annihilated
for the sin of the Golden calf? If you do so, says the great prophet, “then I
beseech you, erase my name from the Torah You have written.”
And when God
had earlier sent Moses to free the Jews from Egypt but Pharaoh instead
intensified their suffering and servitude, Moses, defiant, says to God, “Why
have you behaved wickedly to this people, and why have you sent me... You have
thus far not saved Your people.”
And, in the New Testament, as I argue in
, Jesus does the same thing.
Dying on the cross, he cries out
in agony, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” He is defiant against the
death sentence imposed on him by the brutal and wicked Romans. He asks why God
has not intervened to rescue him.
The role of human beings in the face of
seeming divine miscarriages of justice is to hold God accountable and demand
clemency for humanity. God is all powerful.
He does not need a defense
But humans are fragile and vulnerable and they need all the
protection they can get.
Our role as humans is not to understand God’s
plan in the face of horror and tragedy, but to challenge God and demand that
human life always be protected and preserved.
Did I say demand? Yes,
humanity has rights before God. We are His children. He commanded us to preserve
and promote life always. “Choose life,” Moses orders.
And the Creator
abides by the same dictates He expects His creatures to.
What kind of
warped morality and fraudulent religion would say that God allows the slaughter
of children because there are no prayers in public schools? With this insipid
argument, is Fischer offering a defense or an indictment of God? Would this make
you want to pray to and worship a God who looks askance as children are blown
away by an assault rifle as punishment, Fischer says, for the actions of their
government? I have grown weary of those who say that suffering is somehow
redemptive, that it carries with it a positive outcome. I do not deny that this
is at times so. Those who suffer can sometimes emerge humbler, wiser, gentler.
But there is nothing beneficial that comes from suffering that could have not
been achieved far more effectively through a positive means. To the contrary,
suffering leaves us broken and cynical, disbelieving and forlorn, miserable and
I visited Sandy Hook this week. As I got closer to the school,
I felt in my bones a palpable sense of evil, that something monstrous had taken
place there, and it gave me the chills. Stop telling me that the American people
are so wicked that they deserve this.
Never again should we say that
Israeli soldiers die because kibbutznikim eat rabbit and other non-kosher meat,
as a prominent rabbi once suggested. And never again should we say that the Jews
of the Holocaust died because they wanted to cease being Jewish, choosing to be
Because I am disgusted with this kind of thought, I wrote
The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering
But I could not have divined that more and more of my beloved Christian brothers
and sisters would continue to say publicly that innocent children die because
America is a sinful place.
Enough is enough.The writer, whom
Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international
best-selling author of 29 books. On 9 January, 2013, he will publish
Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him
on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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