In honor of the start of school, I want to renew my invitation to answer high school students' questions about God and the meaning of life. Last year I received a bunch of questions from Mercy High School, a Catholic high school in Middletown, Connecticut. They have a theology class in their junior year and have been kind enough to use my columns as opportunities to discuss theological issues. I want to invite students at other schools (most probably parochial schools) to write in with their questions for the God Squad. Kids have the best, most innocent and most probing questions I have encountered. Have a great school year! Here are more questions from Mercy High School.
Q: Dear Rabbi Gellman, I'm a junior at Mercy High School. My theology class reads and reflects on your articles that you write. I really like your articles, and they are very interesting. My question is how do you know if God is listening to you when you pray? Thank you. — M
A: The question is not whether God is listening to you but whether you are listening to God. You can know if you are listening to God when you follow your prayers to God with silence. In that silence, you can listen to what I call your inside voice. Philosophers call this your moral intuition. The idea is that you already know the right thing to do but other bad reasons get in the way and drown out your inside voice. If what you hear after your period of silence is a course of action that helps others more than yourself; if it is a course of action that is compassionate rather than vengeful; if you hear a way to do the right thing, even if it costs you some friendships, then what you have heard is likely from God and not from you. Or to say it differently, what you have heard is from God through you.
Q: Hi, it was amazing to see that you answered my fellow classmate Isabella. One question I'd like to ask you is, how do you know purgatory is real? — M
A: Purgatory is a Catholic belief and I am Jewish, so I don't believe in purgatory in the Catholic way. What I do believe is that after we die our souls separate from our bodies and go to a place before they go to Heaven or Hell. This place is kind of like a school for souls. Judaism believes that every day we live with two angels who go with us everywhere. One angel writes down every good deed we do and the other angel writes down every bad thing we do. In soul school, the two angels read out the lists of our good and bad deeds and we are given the chance to learn from our bad deeds about what we feared and what we loved and why. Then, after we understand our lives, one of two things happens, either our soul is put into the body of a newborn baby and we get a chance to live another life using what we learned to make better choices, (this is called reincarnation and Hindus and some Jews and some Christians believe in it); or, if reincarnation is not real, our souls go to Heaven to live forever with God and with the souls of our ancestors. Dear M, what do you think happens to our souls after we die?
Q: Dear Rabbi Gellman, if God intended for us to do the right thing or be good people, how come there are bad people in the world? Do you think that God meant to make the world this way? — C
A: Dear C, I think God cries with us when bad people kill a part of the world. I believe that God created us in His image to do good in the world, but God gave us free will so that we could make our own choices, even though some people use their freedom to make bad choices. Free will is what enables us to freely choose to love God and each other. I am crying this week because many innocent people were murdered in the span of just two days in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Choosing to give us free will must have been God's hardest choice. The same freedom that helps us to love also helps us to kill. I still think that there are more good people in the world than bad people and more good deeds in the world than bad deeds. I pray that with you and your classmates the balance will tip even more toward goodness and you will dry up God's tears.