The Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks with Professor Lisa Jardine
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks talks to Professor Lisa Jardine; Centenary Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London; about why God allows suffering in the world.
A word from Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
Each year, before the Jewish New Year, the BBC invites me to make a programme about some aspect of religious faith. But faith itself has been under attack in recent years from a very assertive group of atheists. And since in Judaism ‘faith’ means wrestling with God, especially during the High Holy Days, it seemed like an opportunity to meet and talk with some outstanding atheists and sceptics. Faith, after all, means not being afraid of challenge.
And what a group they turned out to be: the novelist Howard Jacobson, the philosopher Alain de Botton, neuroscientist Colin Blakemore and historian Lisa Jardine, four of the most articulate and intelligent people I’ve ever met.
Their challenges were strong and serious: doesn’t ritual get in the way of faith? Asked Howard. Don’t we lose the awe inspiring God who spoke to Job in the whirlwind, in the details of Jewish dietary laws, for example?
Isn’t the idea of one true faith needlessly restrictive? Asked Alain. Every faith has something special about it. Why not combine the best in each?
Colin challenged the very idea that God, or faith, has anything to add to human knowledge. Science is all we know and need to know, even about the human mind.
Lisa was very moving about the problem of suffering – not just Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, but also the 80,000 Japanese lives lost when, at the end of the war, atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima. If there is a God, how does He allow so much pain and grief?
You could spend a lifetime on each of these questions and still not reach an answer. But I found each of the encounters deeply rewarding.
In Judaism, faith is an ongoing conversation, something the rabbis called an “argument for the sake of Heaven.” In the Bible, Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah and Job all argue with God. And though there are no easy solutions, the conversation deepens both faith and friendship. In Judaism we don’t try to convert people. We value difference and dialogue.
In the end, faith is the courage to live with uncertainty. That is something we can respect whether we share it or not. At this time of the Jewish New Year, may it be a year of blessing for all of us.
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
- Jonathan Sacks
- Liz Bloor
- Liz Bloor
- Executive Producer
- Jean Claude Bragard