The Wisdom of Israel, by Edwin Collins, , at sacred-texts.com
p. 16 p. 17
THEY asked our sages in Rome, says the Babylonian Talmud, "If your God is displeased with men's worship of other gods, why does He not make it void by destroying all idols and objects of false worship?"
"If the objects of false worship," replied our sages, "were things unnecessary to mankind and to the world, then this might be. But, behold, they adore the sun and moon, and the constellations; plants and animals; and the trees and the streams, and many other things both useful and beautiful. Shall the Creator destroy His world because of the fools?"
Then said they of Rome:—"But there are among the objects of what you call false worship some that are useless to mankind: stones and blocks of wood, and hideous effigies. If your God be, as your prophet says, 'a consuming fire,' why does He not burn up these, and spare only such as the world really needs?"
"If God were to destroy some of the idols," replied our sages, "and were to spare others, this would strengthen the hands of the idolaters. For then, indeed, would those whose gods had been spared, exclaim: 'Behold ours are proved to be trite gods; for all the false ones have been destroyed.'
"Nor is this all. God has formed a world full of beauty and order; a universe full of exquisitely adjusted laws, that work together for good. There is nothing in it useless or evil, or even superfluous. Shall God destroy His world, or interfere with its order and the regular working of His perfect laws, because of the fools that abuse His gifts?
"Suppose a man steals a measure of wheat and sows his field with it: according to judgment and religion it ought not to grow. But Nature goes on her orderly course as fixed by the Creator, and those that treat His laws with contempt are destined to have to render an account."
17:* Abodah Zarah [the section of the Talmud dealing with "Strange Worship"—Idolatry, etc.], p. 54b. I have rendered this freely; somewhat expanding the Mishnah, from the Commentaries and otherwise, and condensing the Gemorrah.