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    The problem of evil: Sources & solutions – Bo

    Job, as portrayed by French painter Léon Bonnat

    The most intractable problem that has ever faced the human mind is why the righteous suffer and the wicked flourish.

    Job exemplifies the question. After agonising about an answer he says, “I lay my hand on my mouth” (Job 40:4).

    It could mean, “I give in. I have no answer”.

    In that case the earlier part of the verse tells us why he surrenders: hen kalloti mah ashiveka – “Behold, I am too slight; what can I answer You?” In other words, “I simply cannot handle such a big problem”.

    Ibn Ezra traces kalloti to a root that means “insignificant”. If he is right, Job is saying, “Who am I to think I can find a solution?”

    We see a hint of a way forward in the current sidrot. They constantly talk about Pharaoh’s heart being hardened. 19 times the Torah speaks of the hardening of the heart; ten times Pharaoh hardens his own heart, nine times it is from God. Roughly half the problems come from man, roughly half from God.

    Whatever the mathematics, man has two problems of evil, not one.

    Evil that comes from man can be confronted by man. Human evil can be reduced by human effort. Human striving can counter evil by justice and righteousness. One need not say, “I lay my hand on my mouth”.

    The second category is evil that seems to come directly from God – a far more difficult challenge. Here the Job approach is helpful.

    Who am I to think I can find the answer? If I speak, all I do is make a noise. I would do better to lay my hand on my mouth.

    Yet that cannot be the end of the story. Though human limitations make the problem hard and human faith must say, “God, I trust You and Your wisdom”, we must also add, “But God, my mind is still troubled, and I pray that You may gradually reveal to me more of the ultimate truth”.

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