In the wake of the terrible tornadoes that have ripped through parts of Oklahoma causing death and destruction, some comments by ultra-conservative Pat Robertson have, as usual, raised the ire of bleeding-heart left. No surprises there, and I’m not here to defend Robertson. What is worth doing is examining some of his statements, and looking at this through a Jewish lens.
Robertson raised a few key points:
- That weather events like this are not “acts of God” – that God establishes a weather system, and that the occasional tornado is just part of that system
- That the people who live in areas where tornadoes are regular occurrances should be aware of the risks of living where they do
- That if enough people were praying, God would have intervened and prevented this tragedy
From this comes the headline that Robertson has blamed the victims for not praying. I don’t quite understand the logical leap here – by suggesting that prayer can have an effect on what happens in the world, he did not automatically assign blame to those who do not pray for tragedies that do occur. Further, any onus to pray does not fall on those in danger, but really on anyone who might care about the risks faced by these people.
The response to comments like these are yet another manifestation of the left’s perennial love affair with victims, and the resultant attack on anyone they can construe as “blaming the victim”, which is anyone who doesn’t share their supreme empathy for victims.
Let’s compare Robertson’s view to a Jewish one:
- The doctrine of hashgasha pratis (Divine providence) is, according to many opinions, that God created a natural order and directs the world through it. There is debate as to the extent to which God exercises providence and thus directs events at a micro level, but in any event, it occurs through what we call nature.
- Humankind are responsible beings capable of free choice. Because we have the ability to choose, we are therefore accountable for our choices. We are directed not to rely on miracles – if you attempt to cross a busy road full of cars, don’t expect the protection of Talmud afforded to a shliach mitzvah. If someone lives in an area that is at risk of tornadoes, earthquakes, or any dangerous situation that can be reasonably expected, then the onus is upon them to take suitable precautions.
- God is engaged with the world and listens to our prayers. It’s not for us to understand how or why this happens, or the extent to which our prayers can have an effect. Therefore, we cannot be certain as to what effect prayers do have. Therefore, if our prayers are not successful in achieving what we want, we cannot be blamed for not praying hard enough.
- God operates a system of reward and punishment, both in this world and the next. Again, we cannot second-guess Him and it is inappropriate to say that when something bad happens, it is God’s punishment for something specific. We are not qualified to make such pronouncements because God’s view of the world is not the same as ours. His view, and therefore the way His system of justice operates, transcends time and space.
So Robertson’s comments (taken by what he actually said without wild inferences) are not that dissimilar to a Jewish perspective on natural disasters.
Bad things happen, and we don’t always understand why. What we can and must do is spend more time helping others in need, and less time second-guessing God.