Today I answer more questions from Ms. Peppitone's theology class at Mercy High School in Middletown, Connecticut.
Q: How is there so much devastation and sickness in the world if God has created everything? I frequently hear the saying "God does not give you more than you can handle." How can someone deal with a hard situation, where they feel they have been given too much or don't deserve what they have been given? Thank you so much for your time. — From C
A: Read Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd," and then let's talk. The relationship with God during tough times in our lives is not like the relationship between Superman and Metropolis, where residents get in trouble and "Supe" bails them out. God does not do that, and the reason is clear. If we believe that some superpower will swoop in and solve our problems, there would be no motivation for us to solve our own problems. Our relationship with God is more like that of the sheep to the shepherd. We are accompanied; we are led to the still waters and green pastures. We are not put there. If we refuse to be led and are blind to God's presence in our lives, we will have a tough journey. The key is to believe in a God who is with you always, not a God who will flatten every hill and calm every storm in life. I like that relationship. It gives us a role to play in mastering the obstacles in our lives. I know that some parts of the journey seem overwhelming and utterly beyond our ability to cope, but that is not true. We can overcome anything because our shepherd is the only shepherd we need for the flock that includes each and every one of us.
Q: Does the silence of prayer drive God to answer your prayers more in depth with your mind and body? — From A
A: Yes. I believe in silence. I believe in meditation. I also believe in singing prayers. Words alone are just not as powerful as the deeper parts of our souls. Words end up seducing us into asking things from God, and the main point of prayer is to thank God for things already given to us. If you do use words to pray, try to limit your words to just two: Thank you!
Q: Dear Rabbi Gellman, what can we look out for as signs from God? Thank you! — From J
A: There are signs in nature and signs in our souls. The nature signs are all around us, and they start with rainbows and end with sunrises and sunsets. The signs from our souls are the acts of kindness we see all around us. When somebody does something to help another person for no ulterior motive or thought of personal gain, we are seeing the signs of God's presence in the world.
Q: If we all theoretically believe in the same almighty being, but just to different extents, why is there such a stigma between other religions? If we all believe in the same person or being, why do we as a group frown upon other religions as if they are worse than us? Thanks. — From M
A: The main question you need to ask yourself is this, "Did God reveal all the truth in the world to just one religion?" I don't think so. I believe that my religion of Judaism got a big chunk of the truth just like I hope you believe that Catholicism is also true and trustworthy. The beginning of true interfaith harmony and dialogue depends upon our belief that what we are encountering in other religions is not just some perversion of the truth but another version of the truth.
Q: Is our life already planned out by God even before we have the chance to live it? — From B
A: Nope. God does not and cannot plan our lives — and give us free will. We must be free to make our own life decisions and then deal with the consequences of our free choices. Believing in fate takes away our freedom, and our freedom is the most important way that we are made in the image of God.
Q: How does God forgive people for serious sins, and how can we learn to do this? Thank you! — From E
A: The great question about forgiveness is whether the sinner must be repentant to be forgiven. I believe that repentance is a key to God forgiving us and to us forgiving others who have sinned against us. Father Tom Hartman believed that we must forgive the sinner even without their contrition and repentance. He believed that God does that and so must we. I admire Tommy's saintly beliefs, but I believe expressing regret is the beginning of receiving absolution.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.