Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Children in the Mabul

Ben Avuyah has written another deliciously disturbing story.

In terms of the Mabul, why did the children deserve to die? If one wants to say it's because their parents were wicked and would therefore raise them to be wicked, well, that won't work, because Rebecca was the child of wicked parents, wasn't she? So even if we believe that God said "all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth" and therefore, because the "earth was filled with violence" He will "destroy them from the earth," why did the children have to die?

Aren't the children innocent? What wickedness could they have possibly perpetrated against God? What about the infants and newborns?

I love how his story means that I have to completely rethink my understanding of Noah and the Ark...from a much darker point of view.

11 comments:

Ezzie said...

While he's a wonderful storyteller, I think that his [albeit well done] strawman creations are rather disappointing.

Ezzie said...

(Not to mention that the 'debates' are laughable.)

Holy Hyrax said...

ok, so are you going to share any thoughts on this new darker Noah anytime?

Daniel said...

I'm slightly surprised you haven't thought of this before. Although it (and similar instances e.g. the death of the firstborn) are often used to 'prove' the Torah is 'wrong' or that God is evil, they are really just specific instances of the general problem of evil. Children are dying as we speak; this isn't a problem limited to Tanakh.

At the risk of sounding callous, from an Orthodox Jewish perspective, it isn't actually much of a philosophical problem. Some people die after a few hours, or a few years, or twenty years or forty years or eighty years. There isn't really any way for us to tell how much they deserved. How many elderly people do you know who actually seem to deserve death? They're going to die all the same, just as you and I and everyone else reading this is.

We believe that (a) everyone has a purpose to fulfil on Earth and (b) everyone has an immortal soul. While some people apparently die as a punishment for their sins (or to stop them causing more trouble), others seem to just fulfil their purpose faster than most people. Or they were caught in a general disaster and were not deserving of a miracle. It's tragic, but if you believe in an immortal soul and reward in the next world, it isn't a huge philosophical problem. The loss of few years in this world, even suffering in this world, isn't much compared to the infinite reward of the world to come (infinite pleasure minus eighty years of pleasure in this world is still infinite pleasure).

To put it another way, we can't explain such suffering, and probably shouldn't try to, but it does not contradict anything we believe about God or the way He rules this world.

Holy Hyrax said...

>To put it another way, we can't explain such suffering, and probably shouldn't try to, but it does not contradict anything we believe about God or the way He rules this world.

This is not a question of war, or a dictator, or about evil causing death. This is a question of God's own hand causing the world to flood to wipe out the children. There is a difference.

>It's tragic, but if you believe in an immortal soul and reward in the next world, it isn't a huge philosophical problem.

All discussion ends at that. You cannot have a philosophical discussion if the answer to everything is "you will have an immortal soul that goes to heaven." There STILL remains the question of how God weeds out the good and the bad.

Daniel said...

This is not a question of war, or a dictator, or about evil causing death. This is a question of God's own hand causing the world to flood to wipe out the children. There is a difference.

I know there's a difference between those things and the flood. However, I was not refering to them. Those aren't the only causes of suffering in the world. There are children dying right now of untreatable diseases. Children die in floods, earthquakes and hurricanes nowadays just as they did in biblical times. It's the same question (assuming, of course, that you believe that God controls flood waters, storms, earthquakes and the like).

All discussion ends at that. You cannot have a philosophical discussion if the answer to everything is "you will have an immortal soul that goes to heaven." There STILL remains the question of how God weeds out the good and the bad.

I'm tempted to say that all discussion ends when you find a good answer, but I won't be flippant. By saying God "weeds out the good and bad" you seem to be assuming that either only bad people die or God does not exist. This is a non-sequitur. Do otherwise pious people suddenly become evil when they start getting their pensions so they can die in a few years? Or is 'evil' a cumulative thing that builds up over your lifetime?

It is a fact that good people die all the time. You can either use that to 'prove' God doesn't exist (except that at best you've cast considerable doubt on a particularly narrow definition of 'God'), or you can use it to 'prove' there is a soul or an afterlife. Either way, there aren't any easy (or particularly satisfying) answers, because how you define the terms determines what answer you get, so, yes, from a certain point of view meaningful debate about this simply isn't possible.

G said...

Yeah, sometimes life's not fair.

Warren Burstein said...

I don't have the answer. I only want to support the question. I think this is the question behind the statement in Bereshit Rabba 26:5 and brought in Rashi in Parashat Noach on Bereshit 6:13 (divrei hamatchil: keitz kol basar) that when there is znut (and idolatry, but that seems to be a later addition, not in the Midrash or manuscripts) an "androlumusia" comes to the world.

The Aruch says this means a plague (and in a plague children die, too). But I saw someplace a that it's a Greek compound word, for a situation where a certain proportion of a rebellious area would be randomly selected for execution, without regard to whether they had participated in the rebellion or not.

Also note that it doesn't say "God brings an androlumusia", but that one arrives. Avivah Zornberg pointed out that God is nearly absent from the story of the flood. He says he will bring it, but when it happens, it's described almost as it happens by itself.

I'm not sure what either observation means.

elster said...

I'm uncomfortable with using the Avos as characters in fictional works. I feel it somehow cheapens them.

This story made me vaguely uncomfortable, though I suppose that was the point. Little too Lord of the Rings-y with the dialouge.

Holy Hyrax said...

Daniel

Thank you for the comment, and the fact that you comment means that the discussion is not done. If ever you want to get into philosophy there has to be discussion, but once one bring up the immortal soul, it ends it right there and can easily be brought up for any dilema.

You disagreed with me regarding God weeding out good from bad. Good. That means, there is still a discussion which is my exact point.

Anonymous said...

"I'm uncomfortable with using the Avos as characters in fictional works."

It didn't bother the authors of the Torah.