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Can faith weather tragedy? (An October 7 question)

Destroyed houses from the October 7 massacre, in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, southern Israel, April 7, 2024. (Photo: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

After a recent, intense conversation with an avowed atheist, whose assertion that October 7 proved that God surely does not exist, since, as he put it, “God sat motionless while watching innocent people be massacred in the most inhumane ways imaginable,” I began to realize that, to the unconvinced, it could really seem that way.

In fact, the same accusations were made during the time of the Holocaust, by those who claimed that the existence of a just God could only have been proven by His divine intervention which would have prevented the greatest evil from ever happening. For doubters, these two horrific incidents only serve to deepen their conclusion that those who do believe in a righteous and all-powerful God, are terribly naïve and simply clinging to false hope.

With all of the complexities in a world that seems to have gone mad, this might not be a bad time to consider the depth of faith needed in order to survive what many are predicting will be the most challenging years ahead, when our faith may very well be tested in ways that none of us ever imagined or expected. The scriptures actually provide some good examples to think about.

Probably the simplest case of faith was seen in Abraham and Job. But it’s not hard to believe when you already have everything. It was only when things got rough that they began to learn about real faith.

Similar to them, most of us have gone through our own extreme difficulties at one time or another. Whether it’s being confronted with a serious illness or abandonment, either through the death or betrayal of a loved one or some other heartbreaking tragedy, when all seems lost. It is then that we must make the choice to either go it alone or trust God no matter what the outcome. 

In the case of Job, who waited for God to intervene and remove the chain of curses which embittered his life, he made an astonishing statement. “Though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him.” (Job 13:15) His faith level was clearly not conditioned upon survival.

Conversely, Abraham’s decision to self-intervene and “help out” God, had disastrous consequences, which are still reverberating some 4,000 years later. 

Another extraordinary lesson of faith is recorded in the account of Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were faced with the horrifying choice of being thrown into a fiery furnace for not bowing down to worship other gods.

Prepared for the possibility that God might not intervene, they courageously said, “Even if he does not deliver us, we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3)

It’s hard to imagine a greater test of faith than Daniel’s friends and Job, whose statement took into consideration that a gruesome and painful death might be their outcome. Yet, knowing that, there was no hesitation or wavering in their certainty that a righteous God did exist, regardless of whether He would act to preserve them.

Herein, lies the difference between someone who is convinced that there is a God and someone who is only convinced of His existence based on how they believe He needs to respond. 

There is no guarantee that some of us won’t find ourselves in a similar position, as evil intensifies, testing our faith beyond its normal limits, not only personally, but also regarding others, for whom we care deeply.

If and when that happens, we, just as Daniel’s friends, will need to come to a place of resolve, acknowledging that what we know about God is just a tiny fraction of who He really is, how He works and what He considers to be just and righteous, in contrast to our own perceptions. 

After all, if we could figure Him out, that would put us on equal footing. But we can never achieve the knowledge, wisdom, power and authority, which is only reserved for the Creator of heaven and earth. To insist that God is not worth our attention until and unless He proves our standard of justice is actually an attempt to put ourselves on the same level, believing that we, too, are all-knowing and able to see the big picture as He does.

But that is not possible, because the whole idea of faith is, first and foremost, based on the belief that there is a higher power who is in control of everything and who has the final say! Consequently, real faith cannot be conditioned based on how God operates. It is, rather, the acknowledgment of His sovereignty, regardless of His actions, along with the admission of our limited ability to grasp the true significance of circumstances and events before us.

Of course, that kind of unconditional faith requires a relenting, on our part, to accept that whatever happens to us, and others we love, did not come as any surprise to God. It doesn’t mean that we will be exempt from pain, grief or deep sadness. What it does mean is that despite whatever happens, our faith provides us with an anchor and the knowledge that God’s love is a dependable source of hope, strength and comfort during the most hurtful times, because, without it, we really are on our own.

In God’s infinite omniscience, He had to know that many events would remain a mystery, leaving us clueless as to why terrible things happen. He also had to know that tragedies and catastrophes, resulting from the fallen state of mankind, would leave many to conclude that He either exists, but doesn’t care, or that He doesn’t exist at all. In short, He had to realize that faith, for most, would be a lot like groping our way in a dark room, hoping that we’d get to the light without too much injury. 

Nonetheless, it is the path He set up for each one of us, giving us the choice to bet all our holdings on His goodness or walk away disgusted and disillusioned, because of the rampant evil that we, ourselves, brought into the world, the moment we disregarded God’s instructions. It was our mistake to think that we knew as much as He did, so why blame Him for all that goes wrong? 

Trusting in God and believing that He is just, righteous and almighty, regardless of our ability to understand His choices, is the only way that our faith can weather whatever tragedies may lie ahead. 

It can only come by having complete confidence that the Sovereign God has always had the perfect plan for humanity, which He will execute according to His specifications and not ours.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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