November 18, 2018

Tell your children God judges them

Jews just celebrated the Days of Awe, as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known in Hebrew, or the High Holy Days, as we refer to those days in English. All other holidays (and fast days) in the Jewish calendar celebrate (or mourn) national events. But Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have nothing to do with Jewish events; they are only about God. In fact, they are so denationalized that Rosh Hashanah is deemed “the birthday of the world” and Yom Kippur is about all God’s creatures, not only Jews, being judged that day.

But Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are not only all about God; they are about God judging us. I wonder how many rabbis talk about this in their High Holy Days sermons. Based on a perusal of synagogue websites and what Jews attending services have told me, I suspect that God-as-judge is rarely a sermon theme. The likely reason is that most Jews, and indeed most moderns, are uncomfortable with the idea. To the extent that God is talked about in Jewish and modern life, it is almost always as “God Is Love,” not “God Is Judge.”

Most people are uncomfortable with being judged by anyone, whether human or divine. The latter is obviously true in our secular age, which either rejects or just ignores God. But it was always true. In fact, many writers on anti-Semitism ascribe the origins of Jew-hatred to the Jews having introduced a universal judging God into the world. No god of any nation judged all people — and by the same moral criteria — as did/does the God of the Hebrew Bible.

There is an irony here. If God loves us, He must judge us. How can a loving God not judge people? If God didn’t judge people, it would mean that He didn’t care about justice — and how can a loving God not care about justice? If God didn’t judge people, it would mean that Hitler is not punished while those non-Jews executed by the Nazis for attempting to save Jews are not rewarded. How loving a God would that be?

In other words, God’s judgment of humanity is the best proof that God loves humanity. By definition, a loving God judges.

In fact, there is ultimately no difference between atheism and believing in a God who doesn’t judge. Such a God would be as irrelevant as no God.

So, thank God, God judges. It is the only thing that allows anyone who cares about ultimate justice to sleep well at night.

And it has one other major benefit — it keeps a lot of people moral.

Yes, there are people who claim to do the right thing, abstain from doing bad and fight evil without any belief in a God, let alone a judging God. Yet, ask these people if they would pay the same amount in taxes if they were guaranteed the IRS would never audit their tax returns. Ask them if they drive at the same speed when there is no policeman or highway patrol car in the next lane as they do when there is a police car next to them. Ask them if they abstained from cheating on tests in high school when they were certain they could get away with it.

The idea that people will act identically if they believe there is no judging God as they would if they believed there is a judging God is simply irrational. The human being is engineered to respond to reward and punishment. Would you work as hard if you knew you could never be fired — or, for that matter, could never receive a raise? Almost no one would. You need a Ph.D. in Marxist thought to believe otherwise.

And no, I am not saying that without belief in God, those who believe in a judging God would just go out and murder. Most people — at least in our society — have enough built-in empathy and enough of a superego to refrain from murder. But there are a lot of other wrongs wherein a judging God matters for many people.

Take adultery, for example. When I was in my 20s, I asked a friend in his early 40s if he had ever been unfaithful to his wife. This is what he answered:

“I’m not at all a religious man. And I’ve had more than my share of opportunities to stray. But I never did. Believe it or not, I believe that God gave the commandment not to commit adultery, and that’s why I haven’t ever had sex outside of my marriage. I actually think God is watching. Amazing, isn’t it?”

Most Christian parents tell their children that God loves them. Most Jewish parents would feel odd doing so. I happen to think it’s a good idea. But at least as good is to tell them that God also judges them. It will help do the most important thing we can ever do — make good, decent adults. And it will help the child sleep well knowing that God eventually sets things right. Children ache to believe that bad guys are punished and good guys are rewarded.

Who doesn’t?


DENNIS PRAGER’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) from 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).