It is easy to believe God has abandoned us.
In atrocities from Hitler's Germany to today's Darfur, the meek and the poor are left to fend for themselves. In the United States, we are menaced by violent terrorists who claim to act in God's name. Our own neighbors threaten us with an absolute choice between faith and a fiery path to hell.
Robert Levine steps into the fray with What God Can Do For You Now. A leading American clergyman, he asks us to commit to a relationship with a loving God. We can create a trusting partnership with the Almighty, give time to prayer, and strive to repair the world. In a time when genocide and terrorism wreak their terrible toll, he convinces us that the potential for tragedy exists alongside the potential for miracles, every day and every where.
When we rekindle our faith in God, we rekindle our belief in our own goodness, and start the change we need to repair ourselves and the world.
Praise for What God Can Do For You Now
"Rabbi Robert Levine understands that there are lots of reasons 'to harbor supreme doubts' about God - he's honest enough to admit to the struggles he's had. Jews and Christians will encounter the joy of this scholarly and down-to-earth Rabbi. As we act godly and find God, miracles happen again."
- The Very Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski, Dean, The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine
"Perhaps there is no more painful question than, 'How could God let this happen to me?' Rabbi Robert Levine presents us with critical tools in facing this mystery of life. He brings meaning to a life that oft en appears meaningless."
- Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, New York Board of Rabbis
"This book helps one reconnect if hope and faith is ever lost in our God, spiritually and naturally. Rabbi Levine shares his connection and faith in our God. All things are possible if you only believe."
- Rev. Dr. Renee F. Washington Gardner, Senior Pastor of Memorial Pastor Church in Harlem
"Rabbi Robert Levine allows the longings for a connection to God of those whom he has served to be heard and he does not hesitate to reveal his own struggles. This book is a precious and ultimately comforting contribution to all who engage in the eternal and perplexing quest for nearness to God."
- Rabbi David Ellenson, President, Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion
"An important book for people of all faiths who look for the reality of God in their lives. It comes at a critical time in interfaith dialogue. Rabbi Robert Levine is a major religious leader in New York City who has been an advocate for the poor, social justice, and civil rights. His faith and compassion shows."
- The Ven. Michael S. Kendall, Archdeacon for Mission, The Episcopal Diocese of New York, Former President of the Council of Churches of the City of New York
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Is There Any Way We Can Believe in God Today?
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD ENDED one Passover night. That Seder meal was in fact different from all others in a very real sense. In every previous year, as my grandfather chanted every Hebrew word from the chicken-stained Haggadah text, my cousins and I would distract ourselves from boredom and hunger with a variety of games and pranks. The Passover following my Bar Mitzvah, however, I started to really pay attention.
As the plagues descended upon Egypt, my consciousness snapped to attention. I felt genuine outrage when I read in the Haggadah that the God who heard the suffering from our people would "pass through the land of Egypt on that night and [would] smite the firstborn in the land of Egypt from man to beast...I and not an angel, not a messenger, I and no other, will execute judgment."
To free the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, the Haggadah was saying God murdered the babies! Of course, the Passover narrative was not a new story to me, but somehow, that day, this divine retribution penetrated my senses as a startling revelation.
Perhaps I should not have been so shocked by my own reaction. After all, many reasons exist to harbor supreme doubts concerning the God we read about in the Hebrew or Christian Bible. You probably share some of these and could add your own healthy dose of skepticism. Here is a good starter list of reasons to doubt God's very existence:
- The biblical God seemed to have a close, direct, and personal relationship with scriptural heroes like Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. God "spoke" to them all the time. In all my years, I have not had my first one-on-one with God. So, if there is a God, why doesn't He talk to us now like He talked to them?
- God appeared to have performed countless miracles thousands of years ago, like dividing the Sea of Reeds and engineering the virgin birth. Because God is on record as a performer of such highly unlikely feats and because, seemingly, they have ceased to take place in our day, God must not be around anymore to actively hone His craft.
- Life disappoints, sometimes in tragic ways. People who are pretty confirmed agnostics have made requests of God at one time or another. These petitions range from the rather inconsequential-help me with the science test that I did not study for-to the consequential-even though my son has a pretty lousy SAT score, I should have enough contacts to get him into the Ivy League school I attended, but one more letter of reference from a really high-up source can't hurt-to the truly momentous-"Please, God, save my father from suffering and death." When these requests are not granted, we often feel angry and betrayed. Asking "Why do bad things happen to good people?" rarely produces salutary results. If the answer is "It's God's will," God gets dissed. If the answer is "God did not come through," God gets dismissed. Either way, whatever belief we have been able to muster can disappear very fast.
- The state of the world hardly reflects God's love and care for us. There's a story told about a man who hired a tailor to make a pair of pants. Every week, he stopped in to find out how his pants were coming along, only to find they were not yet ready. Finally, totally exasperated, he blurted out: "I can't believe this is taking so long. After all, God made the world in six days, but you can't make a lousy pair of pants in six weeks." "Yes," the tailor replied as he slowly worked on his unfinished sartorial masterpiece, "but look at the world and look at my pants."
Take a good look at our planet. Terrorism, the war in Iraq, massive slaughter and genocide in Darfur, and other man-made atrocities are leading indicators of a world in need of a makeover or a miracle. If there is a God, why is His masterpiece such a mess? The Holocaust is still the greatest challenge to the existence of God. The Bible says that God made the Jews His treasured people. If that is true, why were they selected for genocide? The Holocaust was so devastating to the Jews and their faith that little was written about this unbearable tragedy until 1958, when Elie Wiesel published a riveting account of his experiences at Auschwitz in his first book, Night. In this autobiographical account, Wiesel relates a poignant scene in which three people were hung in the assembly place-one being a child with a refined and beautiful face.
"Where is God? Where is He?" someone behind Wiesel asked... For more than a half hour, the child stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony. He was still alive when Wiesel passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed. Wiesel continues: "Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
'Where is God now?'
"I heard a voice within me answer him:
'Where is He? Here He is-He is hanging here on this gallows...'
That night, the soup tasted of corpses."
Powerful narrative, powerful challenge to God and belief. This is the very package of theological doubts I carried with me through college, even through the year I spent studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. All through that period, I continued my observance of many Jewish practices: I kept kosher, observed holidays, and prayed regularly. Such practices gave me a structure, solid grounding beneath my faith. Candidly, however, that prayer was not usually directed to a powerful, transcendent God. Even when I had a sense of the divine during services, I felt God more as a searing presence inside, a force that would not be denied, a type of guiding power. Yet, I did not feel I could petition or even give thanks to this God because I had no real relationship with Him. That bond ended one Seder night years ago, and neither of us could yet find our way back to the other.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Is There Any Way We Can Believe in God Today?
Chapter 2: Faith for the Faith Challenged
Chapter 3: The God of the Atheists and the Fundamentalists
Chapter 4: God's Big Bang: Why Science Needs Religion
Chapter 5: Red Ribbon Religion
Chapter 6: Where Was God during the Holocaust and 9/11?
Chapter 7: Affirming the God I Do Not Know
Chapter 8: The Arrogance of Self-Sufficiency
Chapter 9: The Power of Prayer
Chapter 10: Why God Should Not Choose the Next President
Chapter 11: Making Miracles Matter
Chapter 12: How We Can Believe in God Today
About the Author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read this book as a spiritual, but not religious person. The book is written from a somewhat liberal religious viewpoint, which I can admire. However, there are quite a few claims in this book that I had difficulty with. I don't entirely agree that there are miracles all around us. Levine uses the argument that the conception and development of a child is a miracle by describing the perfection of the process. The fact is that things do go wrong. People are born with deformities all the time, so the process isn't perfect. Is it only a miracle when the child turns out OK? Levine states that natural processes are part of the miracle and that it is not incongruent to accept both a creator and evolution by natural selection. I believe this also. However, I would expect more from a bona fide "miracle." Childbirth, the movement of the solar system, and the creation/evolution of beings who perfectly fit into their ecological niches are wondrous, but not exactly miraculous.Also, claiming that atheists and fundamentalists "believe" in the same god seems spurious, since atheists by definition do not believe in a god at all. I can go along with the claim that anti-religionists (not all atheists are anti-religion) use the most unbelievable and unpleasant aspects of religion to make their claims. This can make other believers feel that they are all being painted with the same brush. I admire Levine's claims that real religion is based on actions instead of thoughts and beliefs. He also states that those who behave in a spiritual way, helping others and trying to make the world a better place, are working in concert with God whether or not they realize it. Later, though, he suggests that to be truly religious, one needs to be following one of the Abrahamic religions. He says that this is the only way to have a personal relationship with God. The idea is that if we behave in godly ways, we will be brought to God. That is, we will become believers. To be fair, this makes sense when you consider the audience that Levine is trying to reach. In the title he names this audience, "For Seekers Who Want to Believe."I give the book three stars because I am not convinced by all of Levine's assertions. but there is much to be gained by his approach. To use a common phrase, Levine's book reminds us that "God helps those who help themselves." By "themselves" we can take this to mean mankind must help itself. We are responsible for each other.
This book is a bit of a mixed bag, and may defeat its own purpose. What one expects from the title is the encouraging, even inspiring material in the last half of the book. There, Rabbi Robert Levine¿s goodness and compassion shine through, and make you wish you could spend a few hours talking with him. He demonstrates that people can behave morally and kindly whether or not they believe in God.But the fact that this inspiring material is preceded by something less inspiring may turn away people that Levine clearly hopes to reach, and who could have benefited from what he teaches.Through the initial chapters, Levine¿s defense of belief in God seems rather¿defensive. And full of straw men.He maintains, for example, that if you suggest God is non-existent and irrelevant, this is an ¿attack¿ rather than simply a claim. And furthermore, if you (as he says) ¿attack¿ the idea of God, you first must posit that God yourself, because you can¿t ¿attack¿ him if he¿s not there. So those who get angry at fundamentalists have to posit the fundamentalist God first, in order to ¿attack¿ him. Making defenders against fundamentalism exactly the same as the fundamentalists. Which is preposterous.To say ¿There is no Santa Claus¿ is not to ¿attack¿ Santa Claus; nor must you posit a Santa Claus before you can claim he doesn¿t exist. So Levine¿s claims make no logical sense, and set up a straw man he himself can easily attack.Nor does Levine consider that after eight years of American fundamentalists ramming their religion down the world¿s throat and trying unconstitutionally make it the law of their land ¿ one might have a justifiable cause, perhaps even a moral obligation, to attack this behaviour, and not be ¿positing¿ their God at all. Straw man, easily attacked.Levine continually assumes things without proof, to bolster his argument. Nobody can be good or moral without God ¿ despite evidence that atheists are equally as moral and good as believers. No atheist can express ¿wonder¿ about the universe without positing a God behind it ¿ despite the fact that so many, in fact, do.Levine can say ¿I don¿t know¿ about matters of faith, without discrediting that faith at all. Yet a scientist who admits ¿I don¿t know¿ somehow secretly discredits atheism and proves there¿s a God.The fact that Levine appears to have a temperamental need to posit a God to fill the gap of ¿I don¿t know¿ or of ¿wonder¿ does not mean that everyone else has the same temperament. Yet he claims that they do.So Levine¿s book, no doubt unintentionally, begins with a virtual attack on atheists which is likely to sour them on considering anything he says later. He may find himself, as they say, ¿preaching to the choir,¿ or to people who are already searching for a God to fill their gaps. Perhaps that¿s the audience he wants anyway.Yet the God he offers, even in the later chapters, is dissatisfying. In addressing the Holocaust and 9/11, the only way he seems able to deal with them is to weaken God, so the deity couldn¿t have done anything about them. Levine¿s idea of the ¿partnership¿ of God and humanity is very helpful, yet one can¿t imagine that if God exists, he is quite so helpless as Levine wants him to be so that people can believe. Why bother with a ¿God¿ at all, then?The concept of God that the Rabbi offers appears to be a ¿make it up as you go along¿ sort of deity, picking and choosing interpretations that suit you. What is the difference between this sort of God and simply relying on your own mind and principles, without having to posit a divine (yet weak) justification for them?Despite Rabbi Levine¿s obvious compassion and generosity, and his undeniable good work, his book does not live up to its title. It does not offer any way of living or viewing the world, in practical terms, that a hopeful, moral, compassionate person can¿t live on their own without needing to create a God to back them up.
This book has a specific set of readers in mind - liberal, non-fundamentalist people who were raised in the Jewish or Christian tradition and who are now struggling with faith and what they believe. No one is going to be converted by this book - both atheists and fundamentalist people of faith will find it ridiculous. However, the author has no intention of converting these people, so they are free to ignore it.For those who fall into the target demographic (full disclosure: I am one), some parts of the book are extremely helpful in terms of thinking about faith. The author, a rabbi, addresses some of the main reasons people struggle with faith (science, "why do bad things happen to good people", etc) He is at his best when using stories from his ministry and his life to illustrate why it is still possible to believe in God. The weakest parts of the book for this reviewer are the chapters that address science & religion, and the chapter on evil. Note: as a scientist, and active church member, I hate when people try to mesh science and religion. Science is science and religion is religion and they ask and answer completely different questions. Levine starts out with this argument, and eventually returns to it, but digresses in the middle trying to relate Genesis 1 with evolution and the origins of the universe. To me, this argument does neither science nor religion any good. However, there are other people who might be helped by the argument.Overall, I thought it was a quick read with several interesting and helpful points, and ultimately useful to anyone who is looking for help in strengthening their faith. The author's style is engaging, and he's careful to point out that it is OK to have doubts. If you never ever question God's existence or non-existence, there are other books for you.
It's certainly viewed within my social circle that belief in God is somewhat odd; the world is an increasingly secular place, at least from my view of it. And yet, with a religious upbringing, specifically a strong Jewish one, it's hard to put it out of mind entirely. This is the mindset that I bring to What God Can Do For You Now, a book by Robert Levine, a reform rabbi making an attempt to argue that there's an important relationship that each person can have with God, if they try.As might be guessed from the author, the focus is on Judeo-Christian concepts of god, with some notions from Islam thrown in as well. While the book is probably accessible by members of other religions, it's not really designed for them; a good amount of the argument relies on looking back at figures such as Moses or Jesus, so if you don't believe in them, this probably isn't so helpful for you.Levine's main point seems to be that God entered into a covenant with man way back in the day, in order to achieve what he wanted in the world. God's no longer omnipotent, in this view, because he split power with man. Thus, when man doesn't go along with this, God and the forces of good can't prevent some atrocities from happening. We can see God in the world, though, he argues, by its design. Through the relationship we build with God, we can influence the world in positive ways, and we can feel that he's helping when we're working along with his plan.Levine's argument is also that many people misunderstand religion; those who claim that it's incompatible with science, or those who believe religion should really influence politics, are missing the point. Science, Levine says, is for explaining the whats of the world, whereas religion explains the whys. Similarly, much of what people argue that religion says is right for politics doesn't stand up to scrutiny of what the religious figures, such as Jesus, probably would have stood for. Instead, religion is meant to work in bettering the world, through the connection each individual can have with God. (In particular, Levine seems enamored of the Buber I-Thou relationship model.)It's worth noting that the goal of the book is to help influence people who have doubts about the existence of God, or of whether belief is worth it. I think some of his arguments are stronger than others, but I appreciate that it's a well thought out piece of work, and that he points up the fact that many religious people, if not most, occasionally have doubts, and have thought about how to best fit it within a framework. Some of his argumentation is based on their solutions; much of it is also based on anecdotes of his own and of others' experiences, pointing up his religious experiences.On the whole, I found this an interesting and thought-provoking work, and while I think there could have been more flow, if you're of a theological bent, this might be interesting to look at. I found it spoke to me well enough; we'll see if this changes anything in me in the days to come.
I believe in God and im proud of it!!!
I Iove you