Some time ago, I asked readers to share with me the one question they would ask God. I personally would ask: "Was I a good man?" I'd want to know how much of our goodness is credited by God, how much of our evil is forgiven by God, and how much God simply overlooks as the residue of our broken human-ness.
Christians generally believe that we are justified only by faith — saved by what we believe. Judaism believes that we are justified by our works — saved by what we do. I think both beliefs are right and wrong. Faith leads us more directly to forgiveness, and works lead us more directly to goodness. Both, I think, are essential for a spiritually complete life.
Here are some of your very thoughtful questions. I've included the replies I hope God would give:
Q: "Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of my existence?" — B., Appleton, Wis.
A: "Dear B., that's more than one question! The answer to all three queries is that I made you to love as I have loved you. Everything else is not really that important."
Q: "How can I forgive? It's so darned hard to forgive as you ask us to." — C., Kings Park, NY
A: "Yes, indeed, C., it is hard to forgive. That's why it's better to limit the things you do that require forgiveness. This may help you: Try to think of every sin you commit against others to be a major sin, and every sin committed against you to be a minor sin. I think you'll find this to be a good, though darned hard, bit of wisdom."
Q: "Where were you, God, when 6 million Jews were being slaughtered under Hitler's orders, as well as other people"? — L., North Babylon, NY
A: "I was with the victims. A better question is, 'Where was man?'"
Q: "God, why do you allow all those awful people to sexually and physically abuse innocent children?" — M., Plainview, NY
A: "My most controversial choice here in heaven was to grant human beings free will to choose good or evil. I did it because you can't truly love each other or me unless you have free will. However, being free to choose love also means you're free to choose hate. I wish freedom worked differently, but that's the way it is. Some days I think I made the wrong choice."
Q: "God, will I recognize and be reunited in any form with my loved ones who've died before me?" — Anonymous, via cyberspace
Q: "God, if you really exist and are the ultimate creator, then where did you come from and who created you?" — M., via cyberspace
A: "I made everything. Nobody made me. Check out Aristotle. He called me The Unmoved Mover. Aristotle was a very smart guy."
Q: "God, why must there be conflict between different religions?" — J., via cyberspace
A: "Because everything can be twisted and perverted. When you have the pleasure of understanding me, nothing can go wrong."
Q: "God, why is there eternal punishment in hell?" — P., via cyberspace
A: "Because evil is not always punished on earth and goodness is not always rewarded. I needed to set things right eventually."
Q: "God, if you had it to do over again, what would you do differently in creating us?" — E., Lynbrook, NY