Because Judaism is so strictly monotheistic, the concept of Satan, as a separate entity, never gained authority. In the Old Testament, he is only mentioned in the book of Job where he is a metaphor for the evil inclination. Because of Judaism’s emphasis on the good inclination, man’s free will has priority over the fatalism of original sin.
Despite differences, the ultimate question for both Christians and Jews is, ‘How can a God who is both all-powerful and all-good allow evil to exist?” The conventional answer is that in destroying sin, God would have to limit our free. In such a world, we would resemble puppets. God would never know whether our love for Him was freely given.
In Judaism the there is an effort to understand why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. Rabbi Yannai informs his students that, at the end of the day, we truly do not know the answer to the problems of evil and injustice. The Talmud (gemara in Berachot (7a) says that Moshe requested three things of God, including the explanation for why the righteous suffer. After the gemara raises two potential answers to the problem of evil, R. Meir says that God did not answer Moshe’s query. Rabbi Meir apparently chose no answer over explanations he found unsatisfactory.
Though the book of Job rejects the idea of suffering as punishment, Jewish literature has recorded conflicting ideas. Maimonides stressed the notion of divine justice-that sin is punished by a just God. “There is no death without sin, and no sufferings without transgression.” In Jewish thought there are instances of a kind of falsification where later generations repudiate the theology of their predecessors.
While the view of suffering as a consequence of sin is pervasive in the Old Testament, another view emphasizes that the chosen suffer because God expects more of “the favored son.” For important strands of both the Jewish and Christian traditions, Isaiah, 52:13-53:12 offers a transformation (though not a complete rejection of) a straightforward connection between suffering and sin.
In Judaism, the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel-depicted with a singular pronoun. This interpretation is in keeping with the Jewish understanding of the binding of Isaac–a description of the innocent sacrifice of a beloved son for the sake of God. In vicarious suffering, the innocent nation can suffer for others. Regarding Israel as the suffering servant, Berkovitz believes that it is still possible to find meaning in the notion of Kiddush has-shem, the sanctification of righteous martyrs.
A Jewish tradition dating back to Biblical times focuses on the death of the righteous and innocent as an expiation for the sins of the nation or the world. Rabbi Beryl Wein, in discussing how Jews coped with undeserved suffering, quoted a 17th century Jewish work titled Yeven Metzulah, “…For since the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, the righteous are seized by death for the iniquities of the generation. We may say that he whom God loves will be chastised.”
The stories of Isaac and of Nadav and Avihu, the prophetic description of Israel as the long-suffering servant and the sacrificial service in the Temple reinforce this basic concept. “Therefore, the wholly bleak picture of unreasoning slaughter was somewhat relieved by the facts that the innocent did not die in vain and that the betterment of Israel and humankind was advanced by their stretching their neck to be slaughtered.”
Remarkably, there are key texts from the Talmud and other ancient Jewish sources that speak of the sufferings of the Messiah, either the Messiah son of David or the Messiah son of Joseph simply called Ephraim. The main messiah according to some was the son of David. Raphael Patai, deals with this topic in The Messiah Texts. The texts are found in important branches of rabbinic literature including the Talmud, the midrashic writings, and the medieval and modern commentaries on the Bible. They represent majority opinions rather than opinions of some peripheral Jewish groups.
According to Patai:
There can be little doubt that psychologically the suffering messiah is but a projection and personification of suffering Israel…
Similarly, the Leper Messiah and the Beggar Messiah spoken of in the Talmud)…are but variants on theme of suffering Israel
personified in the Suffering Messiah figure. And it is undoubtedly true in the psychological sense that as the Zohar states, the
acceptance of Israel’s sufferings by the Messiah (read: their projection onto the Messiah) eases that suffering which otherwise
could not be endured.
Psalm 22 was relevant to the writers of the New Testament, and it was also cited in the most extensive treatment of Messiah’s sufferings in rabbinic literature. As translated by Patai,:
(in the year) in which the son of David comes, they will bring iron beams and put them upon his neck until his body bends
and he cries and weeps, and his voice rises up into the Heights, and he says before Him: ‘Master of the world! How much my
soul? And how much my limbs? Am I not but flesh and blood?’…
While these were written by traditional rabbis with no thoughts as to Jesus as being the fulfillment, these passages illustrate the continuity between Christian and Jewish thought about the merits of shared or vicarious suffering. The interplay between divine nearness and farness is a constant theme in Jewish experience. There is a Kabalistic notion that God limited or contracted Himself during creation in order to give humans free will. This caused the entire universe to be in a state of metaphoric exile. Many theologians believe that God hid his face during the Holocaust, giving humans over to their sin.
According to Heschel, God never hides-we only perceive it that way. As to the camps, God suffered every bit as bitterly and totally as Jews – more so because God of His infinite consciousness. The suffering of every Jew and every person is multiplied in the divine experience. Heschel believed that divine nearness is always possible and points to a future in which all suffering is overcome.
The notion that we must ultimately acknowledge the mystery of suffering runs through Christianity and Judaism. One can only have faith in God’s character-that his purposes, though mysterious, are good. Many have stressed that our definition of good may differ from God’s definition. Because we are limited in time, space, intelligence and insight, we can’t fathom how God intends to redeem
evil for his purposes. A transcendent and sovereign God sees the end from the beginning and providentially orders history so that His purposes are ultimately achieved through human free will.
Craig borrows an illustration from the developing field of chaos theory. Scientists have discovered that certain macroscopic systems, for example, weather systems or insect populations, are extraordinarily sensitive to the tiniest perturbations. A butterfly fluttering on a branch in West Africa may set in motion forces that would eventually issue in a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean. Yet it is impossible in principle for anyone observing that butterfly palpitating on a branch to predict such an outcome. The brutal murder of an innocent man or a child’s dying of leukemia could produce a sort of ripple effect throughout history such that God’s morally sufficient reason for permitting it might not emerge until centuries later and perhaps in another land.
Regarding our inability to see infinite realities, the philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, explains “If you look into your pup-tent for a St. Bernard, and you don’t see one, it is reasonable to assume that there is no St. Bernard in your tent but if you look into your pup tent for a ‘no-see-um’ an extremely small insect with a bite out of all proportion to its size and you don’t see ‘em. It is not reasonable to assume that they are not there. Because, after all, no one can see ’em.”