In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.
Examine your own deeds first
Rabbi Mark Levin of Congregation Beth Torah, Overland Park, Kan: Theodicy plagues the religious soul. If God is just, why do bad things occur? If God is not just, why practice self-sacrifice for justice?
The biblical God is bound by justice: "Shall not the judge of all the earth do justly?" asks Abraham. (Genesis 18) Yet, we experience both apparently good souls who suffer and clearly wicked souls who prosper. Where's the justice in that?
There are easy answers: 1) The wicked will be repaid in the afterlife or, 2) They receive their reward in this world so that they will be immediately punished in the next or, 3) They are receiving now the rewards for deeds committed in past lives. But such answers do not ultimately satisfy our need for a meaning-filled universe.
Micah demands that we examine our own deeds, not compare ourselves to others. (Micah 6:8) "Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy16:20) commands that we, individually, live according to the dictates of justice, under our own scrutiny, answering to our own God. Do not be malcontent when the wicked seem to prosper, but accept the challenge of correcting their evil with our good. "Hate the sin not the sinner," (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 10a) Beruria teaches us. Justice demands arduous, ongoing work, not a quick fix. The reward lies in the satisfaction of living by God's word.
Heaven awaits those who do right
The Rev. Fran T. Cary, pastor of Trinity A M E Church, Kansas City, Kan.: Individuals in the Bible asked the same question. For example, the prophet Habakkuk lived during the time when Babylon was rising to power in the ancient Near East. Babylon was a ruthless power that raped its victims and seemingly sought to rule without reason. And yet Babylon prospered. "How could this be?" the prophet wondered.
Though humankind differs greatly in the nature and extent of sinfulness, there is absolutely no difference between the best and the worst. The Bible says, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)
No matter what the world has to offer, for Christians, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ.
Knowing Christ does not mean the absence of suffering or a guarantee of fame and wealth. Instead, we have the eternal hope of heaven. Therefore, our focus is not on envying the wicked. Psalm 1:5-6 says, "They will have no part in the company of the righteous in heaven. They will perish and be destroyed to end up suffering for eternity in the lake of fire. They have no eternal hope but only damnation."
We may not have all the answers, but we do know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)