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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1. What would be Gd’s benefit in lying? Lying is usually a covert way to get or keep power, but Gd doesn’t need to lie to get or keep power – He has all the power. In fact, for Gd to lie would give the impression that His power is limited. As such, as I see it, Gd wouldn’t even have the motivation to lie, because a) it wouldn’t add to His power (which is infinite) AND b) it would actually cast doubt on His infinite power.
2. All of creation is part of Gd. It’s not separate from Him. Gd is automatically good to us, because we are part of Himself. Why would someone want to hurt a part of himself?
I once asked a similar question to Rav Mayer Twerksy, sh’lita, and combining my understanding of RMT’s answer with other teachings (of Rav Motty Berger, sh”lita), the follow emerges:
It’s hard to define good and evil, but for this topic I suggest the terms ‘giver’ or ‘taker’. A pure ‘taker’ could do giving acts to set up an ultimate ‘take’ that leaves the victim worse-off than if there had been no giving and no taking. Similarly, a pure ‘giver’ might do acts of taking to set up a greater give, leaving the recipient better off than if there had been no taking. Understanding why G-d didn’t create a world with only giving and no taking is an ultimate question that perhaps humanity will never be able to understand in this world (seemingly this was Moshe’s question to G-d as well).
As Rabbi Jack notes, we can only know about G-d (the Infinite Creator) that which G-d himself communicates. In addition to prophetic messages, everything we experience in life is a type of communication from G-d with the goal of connection and stronger relationship with G-d. (Rav Motty Berger has many classes that detail the logic/intuitiveness of this, available at aishaudio.com ). The human relationships we have are the strongest models G-d provides to teach us and provide insight for developing a relationship with G-d.
When looking at human relationships, we consider someone to have a “problem” if s/he has the ability to give yet doesn’t. If someone could do something ‘nice’ or ‘generous’ at no extra or overtaxing expense, such as to speak nicely, give charity, give of their time to help another, but doesn’t, we would say that person has a problem (a lacking/’chisaron” in Hebrew). “What’s his problem?” While G-d could have created society differently, this is the way G-d did create human society.
If this is the model that G-d created/provides, that when one has the ability to give and doesn’t it is perceived as a lacking/problem in the non-giver, it seems absurd that an infinite G-d who can give unlimitedly and has no ‘chisaron’ (lacking), would interact with his creation as anything other than a giver.
I find this approach more intuitive and thus a nice supplement to the still-needed approach of “because G-d prophetically communicated that he is a giver” that Rabbi Jack detailed.