God’s Promises, Promises!

“What shakes religious faith is the disappointment that comes when God fails to keep His promise.”

November 23, 1969

What is that promise?  It was very important to Rabbi Olan that the “God faith”, as he calls it, does not depend upon belief alone, but also has a firm foundation in reason.  For him, as for so many others, the biggest obstacle to accepting the God faith is the problem of evil: if God is both good and omnipotent, is not all of the evil that occurs ultimately God’s fault, because God could stop or undo it if God wished?[1]

Rabbi Olan’s solution is a developmental one: when we are children (in our individual lifetimes or early in human history), we imagine God as an all-powerful Father who knows everything and can do anything.  The promise such a God makes, we tell ourselves, is to fix everything that goes wrong.  But as we mature, we come to understand that God created us not to be obedient, helpless children, but to become collaborators in God’s project of healing the world.  What changes is not God—God cannot change—but our understanding of God.

When we develop what Rabbi Olan calls “mature faith”, we recognize that we will never grow up if God always fixes everything for us.  Instead, “the Biblical tradition… speaks of God and man [humankind] being co-workers in the building of a better world.”  The promise of a mature God faith is thus that “If we as men [people] do our part and God does His part, we can come nearer to peace, justice, and our highest hopes and dreams.”

[1]      I keep repeating “God” in order to avoid “God… He”.

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*Written by Lionel S. Joseph*