September 26, 2003

WHY?:

'Hero' Coach Halts School Shooting (MINNEAPOLIS-ST PAUL STAR TRIBUNE, September 26, 2003)

Mark Johnson sat on the bleachers in the Rocori High School gym Wednesday, tuning out the normal pre-lunch hubbub in order to get ready for the physical education class he was to teach.

Suddenly, he heard a sound too commanding to ignore.

"I heard a shot in front of me," Johnson said. "I looked up and saw Seth [Bartell] on the gym floor. He was right in front of me. ... Then I saw ... [the student] with the gun. He pointed it at me."

Johnson thrust out his hand and shouted, "No!"

"Fortunately for me and the other kids, he put down the gun," Johnson said. "I grabbed the gun right away. He didn't struggle."

Johnson took the 15-year-old freshman to the school office, then ran back and tried to help senior Aaron Rollins as the boy lay bleeding in a hall outside the locker room.

The shooter was in police custody yesterday. Police have not identified him, but several media outlets and students said he was the son of a sheriff's deputy. Police said that he was cooperating but that a motive had not been determined. About 30 students witnessed the shootings, officials said.
Several students described the suspect as an intensely shy, quiet boy. "He really didn't associate with people," said Scott Eisenschenk, a freshman. Others said he was self-conscious about his severe acne, which some kids teased him about.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Cold Spring, stunned students and residents described Johnson as a hero who probably saved students' lives as well as his own.

To Johnson, that seemed largely irrelevant, as he, like his neighbors, struggled to absorb the terrible realities of the shootings that took Rollins' life and critically wounded ninth-grader Bartell.


Emergency worker finds son among school shooting victims (KAMC-TV, 9/25/03)
An emergency worker responding to Wednesday's school shooting in rural Minnesota made a heartbreaking discovery when he reached one of the wounded students.

It was his son.

Tom Rollins was too emotionally distraught to care for his 17-year-old son, Aaron, who was mortally wounded in the shooting.

Other workers tended to Aaron, but he later died.


Home>Book excerpt: If God is Good, Why is the World so Bad?: In a revolutionary new book, noted author and lecturer Rabbi Benjamin Blech takes Kushner to task and (finally) answers life's most compelling question: Why do bad things happen to good people? (Rabbi Benjamin Blech, September 25, 2003, Jewsweek)
Although Job is perhaps the only imaginary hero of Biblical personalities, he is at the same time the most universal of all of them. He is the father who has inexplicably lost his job and has no means of supporting his family. He is the mother who has just been told her child has terminal cancer. He is the Holocaust survivor who still wakes up screaming in the middle of the night. He is me, and he is you.

That's why the book of Job is not really the story of a tragic figure of old. The book of Job is about twenty-first-century men and women who try to make sense out of the unfair circumstances of their lives even as they struggle to hold onto their beliefs. Most of all, the book of Job is about a dilemma which, sooner or later, every one of us must resolve in our lives. This dilemma is the apparent contradiction between three basic assumptions:

* God is just. He judges all of us with impartial fairness. He rewards the good, and He punishes the wicked.

* God is all-powerful. He can do anything. Nothing happens in the world without His willing it. Indeed, everything that happens is part of His plan.

* Job is a good man.

Now as long as everything is going well with Job -- he is healthy and wealthy -- we can believe all three of these statements at the same time with no difficulty. But when Job's suffering begins, when he loses his possessions, his family and his health, we have a problem. We can no longer make sense of all three propositions simultaneously. We can now affirm any two only by denying the third.

If God is both just and all-powerful, then it must be that the third statement is wrong -- Job is not a good man; he is a sinner, and he deserves what is happening to him. But if Job is good and God causes his suffering nonetheless, then God cannot be just. Or if Job is good and God is not responsible for his suffering, then God cannot be all-powerful.

For all three to be true appears to be impossible. So which one is wrong? Which one of these three assumptions are we going to sacrifice on the altar of reality? That is the question.

For many, the most logical conclusion is that God is not just. God is capricious, perhaps even evil. Indeed, this was the prevailing worldview in ancient times when people worshiped gods like the Mayan ChacMool or the Mesopotamian Nergal -- the precursor of our Satan. To these gods they sacrificed virgins, slaves and even their children -- whatever it took to win the gods' appeasement.

For some, questioning God's justice takes a slightly different form: Although God is good, He must have an opponent who isn't, and who often prevails. This view inevitably leads to dualism, the belief that there are two gods -- one a god of goodness and the other a god of evil. This is one of the oldest approaches to understanding the Divine and finding a rational response to the theological difficulty of evil. Zoroastrianism, the predominant religion of much of the Middle East from the time of the Persian Empire until the advent of Islam, accepted this view. We still see vestiges of it in those forms of Christianity that ascribe supernatural, godlike powers to Satan, the enemy of God. (In contrast, Judaism sees Satan as a servant of God whose function is to set up choices between good and evil so that we can exercise our free will.)

Abraham, the first monotheist, taught us that there is only one God. At the conclusion of his story in Genesis, the Bible tells us, "Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things."

And yet had God really blessed him in all things? Didn't God put him through ten difficult tests, the most staggering of which was the demand that he sacrifice his own son? Didn't Abraham have to wander the whole of the Fertile Crescent, endure famine and defend family members from attackers? Didn't he just bury his beloved wife Sarah, in the very sentences preceding this declaration that he was blessed "in all things"?

But Abraham was blessed in all things because he understood that a good God would only do things for his benefit. He saw every test, every difficulty, as an opportunity for self-improvement -- a vehicle for the building of character, for the strengthening of faith, for moving closer to God. And therefore he considered everything that happened to him a blessing.

From the time of Abraham onward, the descendants and followers of the great patriarch proclaimed the oneness of God. The fundamental credo of Judaism states: Shema Israel, Adonay Elohainu, Adonay Ehad. "Hear O Israel, the Lord [is] Our God, the Lord is One." An observant Jew is required to repeat this credo twice a day, every day of his life. And these are the very last words that he is urged, if at all possible, to utter on his deathbed.

The question is obvious: Isn't this an odd way to express the oneness of God? If God is one, why does He have two names? Why is he called "Lord" and "God" --Adonay and Elohainu (the possessive form of Elohim)?

In this most basic expression of monotheism, the very struggle of man to understand the apparent contradiction of good and evil is addressed and answered. God is one, but He has two different attributes. Just as I am one person, while known at different times as Rabbi, Ben, Daddy, depending on the role I am filling, so too God is known alternatively as Adonay (translated Lord) and Elohim (translated God), depending on His function and the nature of His relationship at that particular moment. There are times that He appears to us as a loving father, exuding goodness and mercy; His name then is Adonay, to convey His quality of kindness. In English, we often say, "Thank the good Lord," because "Lord" is the proper translation for this name that stresses God's mercy. But there are other times when He appears to us as a tough judge, meting out justice according to His law and punishing us for our infractions. Then His name is Elohim, "God," stern disciplinarian and unforgiving ruler of the universe. That's why, quite correctly, when we cry out in pain we say, "Oh my God" rather than "Oh my Lord."

But even though we describe Him by His two attributes, we know that in reality they are both aspects of one and the same loving Creator. The one who appears as strict disciplinarian is acting solely with the motivation of a kind and caring parent. In other words [to paraphrase]: "Hear O Israel, (Adonay) the Lord, and (Elohainu) our God, are actually Adonay Ehad, one Lord."

So the most basic tenet of Judaism states that of our three assumptions, we cannot reject the first. God is just and fair and good. His very essence is "Lord," even when He appears to be "God"; apparent harshness is merely camouflage for divine concern and love.


There's a very good line in Spy Kids II, when Steve Buscemi, as a mad scientist whose hybrid animals have taken over his island, asks: "Do you think God stays in Heaven because He's afraid of what He's created on Earth?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 26, 2003 10:54 AM
Comments

Job is in my opinion the deepest philosphical book in the Bible. It tackles head-on the oldest philosphical questions: free will vs determinism, good vs evil, Pascal's Wager, Nietzche's Call to Duty, utilitarism vs altriusm, and much more.

IMHO (and this is an oversimplification) the bottom line is that God wants us to come to him freely, to love Him as He loves us. The key to understanding Job is 1:9-10 (Satan is speaking to God here) "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?"

Basically Satan was claiming that Job is sucking up to God like an employee brown-nosing the Boss. But God doesn't want that; He wants to be our Father and us His children. And so to show Satan his accusation is wrong ("Satan" literally translates as "Accuser") God inflicts great suffering on Job to test him, and to prove to Satan that Job's love of God is independent of Job's fortune or circumstances.

The whole point of the excerise is to refute Satan by showing the true relationship that God wants with us: Not as Master and Slave, not as Boss and Worker, but rather Father and Child. And like any loving parent He allows us to sometimes go astray and be wayward and do stupid or evil things. And like a parent this grieves Him very much.

Our freedom is purchased at a very high price. And yes this freedom includes the ability to do evil.

-Gideon

P.S. Job highlights a subtle but fundamental distinction with Islam. Islam is a strict master-slave relationship. (Islam lit translates as "Submit".) Allah only loves you the way a master loves his dog. He may be merciful but Allah is not our father and we are not his children.

Posted by: Gideon at September 26, 2003 3:28 PM

Who needs it?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 26, 2003 3:45 PM

Everyone.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 26, 2003 4:13 PM

Well, just for instance, the seeming randomness of evil suggests that Darwinism must be ineffective upon humans, so we need to try and understand how come it flourishes.

Posted by: oj at September 26, 2003 4:31 PM

Gideon:

Beautiful. Thank-you very much.

Posted by: Peter B at September 26, 2003 7:07 PM

This article completely underrates two constants of reality:

1. S[stuff]t happens.
2. The cockup theory of history

No need to invoke any one of a million supernatural supreme beings.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 26, 2003 7:59 PM

Why doesn't it happen to any other species in the Universe?

Posted by: oj at September 26, 2003 8:01 PM

You mean like the 99.9% of them that went extinct?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at September 26, 2003 10:23 PM

The difference between "went" and "made itself" would seem to be the operative question.

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2003 5:25 AM

OJ:

All the one's you know of, anyway.

And the difference isn't between "went" and "made itself," because if the past tense was true, you wouldn't be around to type it.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 27, 2003 10:45 AM

There are plenty not around to type it, a pretty clear indicator that reproduction drives nothing.

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2003 11:28 AM
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