How do we know that God created the world out of kindness? How do we know that God doesn’t lie?
I must confess that this is one of the more interesting questions I’ve received, as well as one of the more challenging in that if one assumes the worst of God, I don’t think that it could ever be answered to one’s satisfaction. The reality is, God is infinitely more intelligent than we are. If He wanted to lie to us and trick us, there’s no way we could ever catch Him in a lie. But what motivation would He have for doing so? Because He’s a sadist (God forbid)? If that were the case, then why not just create mankind and send us all straight to Hell? Why lull us into a false sense of security? It makes no sense.
Here’s perhaps the least satisfying Q&A ever posed: How do we know the Bible is true? Because the Bible says it’s true. It’s circular logic and it begs the question. (To beg a question doesn’t mean that a question is raised, it means that an argument’s premise assumes the truth of its conclusion.)
Nevertheless, this is close to the only approach we have. Everything we know about God comes from two sources: (a) observation and (b) what He has chosen to reveal about Himself.
I questioned whether or not to include logic as a separate source but I don’t think it is. I think we merely apply logic to the things we observe and that have been revealed. Consider, for example, the famous midrash in which young Avraham intuited the existence of God. Rambam explains it as follows (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 1:3):
“After Avraham was weaned, he began to investigate. Despite his young age, he began to contemplate how the world could turn constantly without anyone controlling it. There was no one to teach him about God; all he had in Ur Kasdim were ignorant idolators, including his own parents. But Avraham was always investigating. He eventually realized that there was only one God, Who had created and controlled everything. The entire world was making a mistake by serving the stars and graven images.”
The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah (39) offers a parable. Rabbi Yitzchak compared the matter to a traveler who saw an illuminated palace and asked, “Is there no master of this palace?” The owner popped out and said, “I’m the master of this palace!” Similarly, Avraham looked at the world and discerned that there had to be Someone in charge. The result was that God ultimately revealed Himself to Avraham.
This example merely addresses the existence of God. How do we know that He is good? And if He says that He’s good, how do we know that He’s telling the truth? Again, all we have is what we see and what we’ve been told.
Where does Tanach (the Jewish Bible) tells us that God is good? Many places. Nachum 1:7, for example, tells us “God is good: a stronghold on a day of trouble and aware of those who trust in Him.” Other prophets echo the sentiment but most such overt statements can be found in Tehillim, in which King David recorded such ideas as “Hashem is good and upright” (25:8) and “Give thanks to Hashem because He is good, for His kindness endures forever” (107:1). That He is kind is explicitly stated in such verses as Exodus 34:6: “Hashem, Hashem, benevolent God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth….” That He created the world in kindness is overt in Psalms 89:3, “The world is built on kindness.”
As far as God being a “reliable witness” in the things that He says, there are again many pertinent verses. Among these, “Hashem, God, is true” (Jeremiah 10:10); “I, Hashem, speak righteousness and declare things that are right” (Isaiah 45:19); “The word of God is upright and all of His deeds are faithful” (Psalms 33:4); and “a faithful God without injustice; He is righteous and upright” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Tackling the question from the other direction, Numbers 23:19 tells us, “God is not a human being so that He should lie, nor is He a mortal that He should change His mind….”
This all speaks to things that have been revealed but if one is skeptical about the veracity of Scripture, what do our senses tell us? We have a big, beautiful, colorful world, full of amazing sights, sounds, sensations, tastes and aromas. We live in an era of technological marvels – I have a device in my pocket that gives me access to the accumulated knowledge of mankind and, since you sent me this question, I suspect that you have one, too. I imagine that virtually everyone reading this goes to bed warm, dry and with a full stomach, unafraid of invaders swooping in overnight. Is there evil in the world? Absolutely, but that evil is of man’s creation, not God’s. In short, observation tells me that the world is good and that putting us here was certainly an act of kindness.
As to God’s truthfulness, I look to His track record. First of all, we never see God lying to Avraham, Moshe or David but we see His word kept time and time again. If you question what’s in Tanach, then look to the prophecies that were fulfilled after the Bible canon was closed. God told us that the Jews would sin and be exiled, ultimately to return. He said we would be persecuted to the verge of destruction that we would never be destroyed. He said that nations who persecuted us, like Ammon, would cease to be. A notable exception is Egypt, which God said would continue to exist but no longer as a global superpower. God said that the land of Israel would be desolate in the Jews’ absence but that deserts would bloom upon our return. So much that God foretold to us has since come to pass that I’m certainly willing to accept His word on the stuff that hasn’t yet.
Sure, you could proceed from the assumption that God is a liar (God forbid) and that He’s playing the “long con” for some reason, but literally nothing suggests that remotest of possibilities to me. If we give one another the benefit of the doubt (as we should), then all the more so we should rely upon God, to Whom we owe so much.
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
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