Why is it so tempting to blame others for their own misfortunes?
The Jews, at least, had the good grace to acknowledge their own shortcomings when they said, “M’pnei chata’einu galinu m’artzeinu” – “Because of our sins we were banished from our country.” These days, there seems a lot less interest in using the question of divine reward and punishment as a spur to introspection and change, and a lot more in using it as stick to lash out against those who have suffered, as with Pat Robertson’s outrageous (and, thankfully, retracted) comments on Ariel Sharon.
Since Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan developed the theology on which Reconstructionist Judaism was founded, Reconstructionist Jews have abandoned the notion of a God who sits in judgment over the world, making individual decisions about who will live and who will die. Reconstructionism teaches that God acts through us rather than on us. Or, more properly, God can work through when we choose to act in ways that honor the divine image in which we are created, lend our hands and hearts to Godly work.
To say that God visits suffering on the innocent is an outrage to compassion and logic, especially as so many wicked people prosper. At best, we do offense to logic when we try to figure out just what, say, all the victims of the tsunami did to ‘deserve’ their divinely-ordained fate; at worst, we do offense to those around us by explaining away their suffering and, so, our obligation to help alleviate it.
God does act in the world, but not in the ways that Pat Robertson claims. God acts as a force for goodness through us, inspiring us to be generous, understanding, compassionate, and self-sacrificing. When this happens, we help create holy communities where God’s blessings can thrive. Or we can choose to ignore what God wants from us, turn our back on our neighbors and our responsibilities, creating societies where we only look out for ourselves and we all suffer the consequences of selfishness and indifference.
We reap the fruits of our own actions for good or for ill. God does reward and punish, but not in the ways that Pat Robertson claims.