Every few minutes I hear the sound of ambulance and police sirens screaming down the street. My office sits on the eleventh floor of a Jerusalem skyscraper, which gives me a bird’s-eye view of most of the city.
The increased sound of police and ambulance sirens heard in Jerusalem is due to a recent uprising in violence from terrorists. Every few decades Israel experiences an “Intifada” (Arabic for uprising). Intifadas are sparked when radical clerics and heads of terrorist organizations call for their followers to use violence and terror against the Israeli public.
Each Intifada is carried out using a different method of terror. I remember back in the 90s when I lived here Israel was terrorized daily by suicide bombers who detonated themselves in buses and cafes. It was a time of tremendous heartache and anguish. Yet, as with times of hardship in the past, Israel survived, brushed herself off, and continued to be a light unto the nations.
With this recent wave of terrorist activity I am reminded once again about the tension that exists here. The recent terrorists have carried out their will by stabbing, shooting, and hurling massive cement blocks with the intent to kill and maim as many Israelis as possible.
To cope with the recent attacks Israelis are taking self-defense classes and buying personal weapons such as pepper spray. Most of us have had to change something about our daily routines. I normally run early in the morning when the streets are empty. I’ve had to change my running route to run at a later hour when I’m not so vulnerable by being alone.
This tension that is felt by me and the nation of Israel is a reflection of a deeper tension that is felt by all people. Namely, why does God allow horrible things to happen to good people? Some people relieve this tension by denying the existence of God. For believers, the problem of evil and suffering represents one of the most baffling paradoxes of our relationship with God. Why does God allow evil to happen to otherwise good people? While we may never know why, I believe that it is healthy for believers to ask the difficult question, “How can God allow terrible things to happen to his servants?”
These difficult questions have been on everyone’s mind the past few days. Recently, on our way back from the Friday night prayer service at the synagogue, this tension was felt again. After an hour-long prayer service filled with joy and an energetic spirit in the face of hardship, my wife reminded me of the overwhelming contradiction she felt. In particular, this verse from Psalm 97 bothered her:
Those who love the LORD hate evil, he will guard the lives of his devoted ones and rescue them from the hand of wicked people. (Psalm 97:10)
During times of security it is easy to pray this psalm with a certain amount of pride. “Yes, of course God protects us, we are his people.” But in times of insecurity these verses make me uncomfortable. If it’s true that God protects his devoted ones then why have so many of them fallen in the past few days at the hands of the wicked?
These tough questions were recently asked by a prominent Dutch Israeli Rabbi Cardozo in an open letter to God.
In his passionate letter to God Rabbi Cardozo echoes much of what my wife was feeling on Friday night on the way home from prayers. The Rabbi asks pointedly, “How can I pray here when some of your servants cannot because you allowed them to be killed?” To our finite human minds this really does not make sense. Therefore, the rabbi demanded that God give an answer that can be understood by human beings. The tension that is felt here is real and it is only intensified by the belief in God. Yet, this tension produced by a belief in God in face of evil does not free us from doing our job. What is our job and how do we cope with such an overwhelming paradox? I believe the best way we can answer these questions is not by justifying what God does but instead by stretching out our hand in help to victims of evil. Comforting someone with words of solace and consolation after an attack is more powerful than the most sophisticated theological musings.
It is at times like this when God gives us a perfect opportunity to show how serious we are about helping our fellow human beings. By reaching out in help, we show that even though we are plagued by tension we still look to God as our source of hope and we are guided by the principle that man is created in his image.