Monday, June 13, 2016

God, Human Will, or Fate--Who or What Decides? A Sobering Treatise on Tragedy

When Cain Shoots Abel

By David Hartley Mark

            Imagine Three Sisters who live together, but do not get along. One is God’s Will—all-knowing, all-controlling, all-powerful. Theists believe that God alone knows everything; He knows me, down to my every thought, my every fault, from the simplest neuron-burst in my spark-laden brain, to the choice of shirt and tie I make on my way to teach English or Torah in the morning.

            Second sister is my will: I choose the tie, pick out my breakfast, decide the lesson to teach, praise my students. I am difficult to live with, stubborn beyond reason, lazier than I ought to be. I am perpetually late, and a sneak eater who would rather break my diet with stale cake than healthful fresh fruit. I am more concerned with an odd discoloration on my aging forehead than with calling a loved one who simply wishes to know where I am. I am changeable, hard-headed, impulsive, loud, and brash, a true New Yorker, full of opinions. It is my will that I be so, within socially-acceptable reason.

            Finally, there is the third sister, the mysterious one. She is Faceless Fate, the roll of the dice, the causeless causer of causes—because she just IS—and that makes her all the more annoying, baffling, and puzzling. One person gets cancer; another one wins a speedboat. One baby is born a genius, the other mentally deficient. One wins the lottery, the other fishes food out of dumpsters. To some extent, we shape our own fates, but most of us cannot escape a mélange of doom, defeat, or despair. How we face it determines our character and our survival in this world.

            So has it been; so will it ever be.

            Who decided who was to die in that Orlando nightclub? Who determined who would be sitting in the Tel Aviv outdoor mall? Who lives, who dies?

            Do not lay the blame at the feet of God, in this instance. Jewish mystical tradition, or Kabbalah, states that God performs a tsimtsum—a retraction of Divine Self—to allow for a modicum of our will. “Do God’s will as if it were your will,” teach the Rabbis in the Talmud, “so that God will do your will as if it were His will.” In other words, our actions on earth do influence those of God, in the celestial and earthly spheres.

            Still, there are those, as we learn from philosopher-physician-rabbi Maimonides of the 11th Century, who choose evil as did John Milton’s Satan, saying, “Evil, be thou my good.” So was it with the Orlando shooter: he took his neshama, his Godly and God-given soul, and cast over it a film of sinfulness until its heavenly shimmer was no longer visible. God could not influence him further. The shooter took his weapons and went out to hunt people whose only crime was that they were different: they were gay. Full of hatred of himself, he retreated to the Racist’s Creed: “I hate myself. I do not have the courage, at this time, to kill myself to eradicate this hatred. I will, therefore, project my self-hatred onto others; in this case, gay people. I will kill them, now.”

            He negated God’s ability to save them, through sheer, evil force of will. And, sadly, with some few exceptions, Fate was likewise unable to rescue those who died.

            Must you accept this explanation? No. It will be cold comfort for the families who mourn a dead loved one or friend. Still, I hope that it inspires us to work for greater love among people, greater understanding, and more trust. When we fail to see the humanity in others, but fall back on labeling them, we kill something of the human in ourselves. And that way lie madness, isolation, and death.

            Therefore, choose Life.