Joel Cohen

Is it time to get angry with God — yet?

It sounds like apostasy — for sure. The very idea of becoming “angry” at God.  Indeed, one might come to that “idea” particularly after reciting the daily dose of laudatory and, especially given their repetitiveness, arguably sycophantic psalms of King David, composed in response to whatever motivated him at the time. Just rereading those psalms this morning, I wondered about their sincerity. Did David bring to words those thoughts, troubled that God is an egotist who essentially required them in exchange for helping David to be victorious in battle — with his enemies and, sometimes, with himself?

David did truly have tragedies in his life and, maybe, composed those psalms when confronted with them.  But, frankly, the world has never, in our lifetimes anyway, experienced what it faces now. For we are confronted with an “angel of death” that threateningly hovers over literally every single person in the world. Isn’t this virus, indeed, an even more deadly “angel” than roamed the night in Egypt (noting that the term angel is so incongruous for such a negative being)?

After all, the last angel of death we encountered was focused directly on God’s finite target — the Egyptian firstborns — in revenge (is it anything else?) for what Pharaoh’s willing executioners had done to the Hebrew firstborns. Put aside that the Egyptian-targeting angel was attacking blameless babies and children, isn’t the conduct of today’s “angel” far more dubious given that it cavalierly carpet bombs literally anyone in its sight?

Some weeks ago I wondered aloud about the pandemic: “Where Is God In All Of This?” (Times of Israel, The Blogs, March 15, 2020). I concluded, with hopefulness, that in bringing this plague (and make no mistake, it is a plague), God, exercising hope, intended that mankind itself would save the world’s population  — that it would use mankind’s own capacity to find answers to end the torment.

Yes, there has, indeed, been mass suffering in past times — plagues, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis. Large segments of the world’s population were destroyed.  But really nothing since Biblical times has endangered all humanity, no matter where on this earth they reside. Nothing that caused every single human being to fear it will strike her — it being only a matter of time. So as the death toll mounts, the question may no longer be:  “Where Is God In All Of This.”  Rather, if one actually believes in God, the question may now (understandably) be: “What’s Wrong With God?”

The Book of Genesis tells us that God at one time wanted to destroy all of mankind (excepting Noah) for having become totally corrupted, and did so sending the Flood.  Is that happening now?  Are we at large similarly corrupt in God’s eyes so that we warrant death as did the Generation of the Flood?

Yes, for those who follow such things, God did make a covenant with man, when the Flood waters receded and the rainbow appeared, that He would never again destroy mankind.  For the believer at least, God’s vow is sacrosanct — meaning, He will adhere to His vow even though all mankind these days seems so at risk. But what about God’s role in this if He truly remains an active participant in what occurs? Shouldn’t we wonder why He allows, enables or even purveys a global fear of potential death for everyone — unquestionably an angel of death — with no end in sight? Should we unhesitatingly bow to God, at this time, employing the timeless approbation that David found warranted time and again, notwithstanding the dread visited upon us?

Or do we have an affirmative right to be angry with God in trying times like these?  The alternative may be to ignore God’s own well-known capacity to be “angry” at us (and the tradition that we emulate Him). If we believe that God has a role in what is now occurring, must we remain silent about what He is countenancing that seems so terribly inconsistent with His positive attributes of love and forgiveness?

Indeed, when God threatened to eradicate all of Sodom, didn’t Abraham defiantly  “preach” — there’s no better word — that “It would be a sacrilege to you. Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice? (חללה לך השופט כל הארץ לא יעשה) (Genesis, 18:25). Abraham actually changed God’s minds at that pivotal moment in man’s relationship with God, so many years ago.

I, for one, am indeed angry at Him about this, but yet I implore God to end this plague. Doesn’t a relationship with God allow us to tell Him what we are truly thinking? We say in the second stanza of Adon Olam, “After all has ceased to be, He will reign alone.” (ואחרי ככלות הכל לבדו ימלוך נורא)

What value would there be in that?

About the Author
Joel Cohen is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Petrillo, Klein & Boxer in New York and previously a prosecutor. He speaks and writes on law, ethics and policy (NY Law Journal, The Hill and Law & Crime). He teaches a course on "How Judges Decide" at Fordham Law School and Cardozo Law School. He has published “Truth Be Veiled,” “Blindfolds Off: Judges on How They Decide” and his latest book, "I Swear: The Meaning of an Oath," as well as works of Biblical fiction including “Moses: A Memoir.” The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Petrillo, Klein & Boxer firm or its lawyers.
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