The world is terrible in the meanwhile. Hundreds of thousands have died of Covid-19. Authoritarianism is on the rise, overseas and at residence. And now there’s conflict, with all of the loss of life, destruction and dislocation that entails.

In darkish occasions, many individuals search refuge in faith. They maintain quick to their religion.

However darkness additionally drives many individuals away from God. My older son, Rex, is one in every of them. He’s finding out for his bar mitzvah, however he doesn’t consider in God. He informed me that at some point, after we have been taking a stroll.

“Why not?” I requested.

“If God was actual, he wouldn’t let all these folks die.” He was speaking in regards to the pandemic, however he might have been speaking in regards to the killing of civilians within the Kyiv suburb of Bucha or any variety of different atrocities he’s been uncovered to in his brief life.

“Why do you say that?”

“God is meant to care about us,” Rex mentioned. “That doesn’t appear to be one thing you’d let occur should you cared — and will cease it.”

That is the “downside of evil.” It’s an previous philosophical query. Rex had by no means heard of it, however it’s not unusual for teenagers to rediscover historic arguments on their very own. They’re pondering the world by means of. And if you concentrate on God (who’s presupposed to be omnipotent and endlessly empathetic), the existence of evil poses a critical puzzle: Why does God allow us to undergo?

Individuals have proposed many solutions, however most are poorly reasoned. As an illustration, some say that good requires evil — that it may well’t exist with out it. It’s not clear why that may be true. However the larger downside is that should you take that view, you name into query God’s omnipotence. It turns on the market’s one thing God can’t do: create good with out evil.

But in addition: If good requires evil, perhaps just a bit bit would do. Is completely each evil on this planet important? Why can’t now we have a world that’s similar to this one — besides with out that twinge of ache I felt final Tuesday? What sort of God can’t soothe my sciatica? My bodily therapist, Tony, makes my again really feel higher, and he doesn’t even declare to be a deity.

He’s a hero, although (not less than to me). And a few say that’s why God permits evil on this planet. He doesn’t care about pleasure and ache. He cares about what pleasure and ache make potential — compassion, redemption and heroic acts, like Tony mending my again. To get these items, although, God has to present us free will. And as soon as now we have it, a few of us abuse it.

That is, traditionally, essentially the most influential reply to Rex’s query. However I don’t purchase it. Why can’t God create solely these individuals who would use their free will effectively? Why can’t he wave Paul Farmer by means of and maintain Vladimir Putin out? He is aware of upfront how every of them will act — if he’s actually omniscient.

Some believers really feel the pressure of those arguments, however preserve their religion nonetheless. Marilyn McCord Adams, a thinker and Episcopal priest, doubted that we might clarify the existence of evil. However that didn’t hassle her. A 2-year-old little one, she defined, won’t perceive why his mom would allow him to have painful surgical procedure. However, he could possibly be satisfied of his mom’s love by her “intimate care and presence” by means of the painful expertise.

For individuals who really feel the presence of God or have religion that they are going to really feel it later, I believe Ms. Adams’s angle makes some sense. But when I’m sincere, it sounds too optimistic to me.

I’m with Rex. I believe the issue of evil poses a critical barrier to spiritual perception.

Nonetheless, Rex continues to check for his bar mitzvah. Why?

Earlier than Rex got here alongside, I struggled to account for my very own spiritual apply. I don’t consider in God, so why do I quick on Yom Kippur and observe Passover? It’s simply what we Jews do, I might need mentioned; it retains me linked to a group that I worth.

I’d nonetheless say that, I suppose. However when Rex was 4, he reframed my view of faith. One night time, I used to be cooking dinner, and he requested, “Is God actual?”

“What do you assume?” I requested.

“I believe that for actual God is faux and for faux God is actual,” Rex introduced.

I used to be shocked. That’s an enormous thought for a 4-year-old. It’s an enormous thought for a 40-year-old. I requested Rex to clarify what he meant.

“God isn’t actual,” he mentioned. “However after we faux, he’s.”

Philosophers have a reputation for this type of view. They name it “fictionalism.” Suppose I say, “Dumbledore teaches at Hogwarts.” If that was a declare about this world, it might be false. Hogwarts doesn’t exist right here, and neither does Dumbledore, so he can hardly educate there. However they do exist in a distinct world — the fictional world that Harry Potter lives in. The sentence “Dumbledore teaches at Hogwarts” is true in that fiction.

Some philosophers are fictionalists about morality; they assume rights aren’t actual besides in tales that we inform. Others are fictionalists about numbers; they assume that math is made up. I believe each views are mistaken; I consider in morality and math.

However I believe Rex was proper — and onto one thing vital: For actual, God is faux, and for faux, God is actual. I’m a fictionalist about God.

Our household just lately switched synagogues. On the previous one, the service was principally in Hebrew, and I don’t converse a lot Hebrew. I understand how to say all of the prayers; I simply don’t know what most of them imply. So at synagogue, I’d sing alongside and let the phrases wash over me. I preferred that.

On the new synagogue, we sing plenty of the identical songs and say plenty of the identical prayers. However we are saying many extra of them in English. And I discover that just about insupportable. It seems, I like my faith inscrutable.

I simply don’t consider the tales that we inform. And listening to them in English forces me to confront that, again and again.

Nonetheless, I faux. And I don’t plan to cease. As a result of pretending makes the world a greater place. I realized that from my children too — Rex and his youthful brother, Hank.

Pretending blurs the boundaries between this world and those we think about. It breathes life into tales, letting them form the world we reside in. Simply consider the delight children soak up Santa Claus, even those that know, deep down, that he’s not actual. Or the best way they lose themselves in play. Pretending makes the world extra magical and significant. And it’s not only for children.

When it feels just like the world is falling aside, I search refuge in spiritual rituals — however not as a result of I consider my prayers shall be answered. The prayers we are saying in synagogue remind me that evil has all the time been with us however that individuals persevere, survive and even thrive. I take my children in order that they really feel linked to that custom, in order that they know the world has been falling other than the beginning — and that there’s magnificence in making an attempt to place it again collectively.

Quickly, Rex will stand earlier than our congregation and pray to a God he can’t fairly consider in. Will probably be a magical morning, and for that second, not less than, we’ll transcend the troubles of the world.

Scott Hershovitz (@shershovitz) is a professor of legislation and a professor of philosophy on the College of Michigan. He’s the writer of the forthcoming e-book “Nasty, Brutish, and Quick: Adventures in Philosophy With My Youngsters,” from which this essay is customized.

The Instances is dedicated to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to listen to what you concentrate on this or any of our articles. Listed here are some tips. And right here’s our e mail: letters@nytimes.com.

Observe The New York Instances Opinion part on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.