If you don’t mind me asking, I’d like to get an idea of how do Jews today deal with the fact that for at least 2600 years, God did not intervene definitively against the oppressors (through his Messiah or not), and has allowed Jews to undergo tremendous persecution, pogroms, holocausts. The Jewish Scriptures have instances where God has intervened at a national scale and saved the nation, but why hasn’t he done so for 2600 years?
There are a few corrections or qualifications to be made to the question, but is a very real issue and should be addressed.
First, this is not just an issue for the Jewish people (and Darvari did not claim it was). The absence of divine deliverance is something I am sure many peoples in history would ask about. I might mention the Armenians, who experienced a million-strong genocidal slaughter even though they are a Christian people. Other examples leap from the pages of history.
Second, the absent deliverance of God is not just in the last 2,600 years. It was also in the Biblical period. Sometimes, because there were prophets in those days, we know the reasons. The Israelites were routed at Ai in the book of Joshua. Raids and pillaging were severe at times in the book of Judges. In 2 Kings, and during the time of the miracle-working prophet Elisha, the famine was so severe, mothers fought over the right to eat the corpses of their children (2 Kings 6:24-32). And the Assyrian destruction of the northern tribes, obliterating Israel as a nation, as well as the Babylonian siege and taking of Judah into exile was all done in the days of prophets.
I cannot emphasize enough that the seeming absence of God’s saving hand is not strictly a post-Biblical matter.
But the question is a real one nonetheless and a real problem for those of us who love and believe in God, his goodness, and the coming of his kingdom.
Darvari’s question is what have Jewish writers and thinkers had to say about the matter. I think of Elie Wiesel, but cannot find in time for this post a story or saying by him that best fits. I think of stories I have heard, of survivors of the Holocaust who came to synagogue at Yom Kippur not to be forgiven by God, but to offer God forgiveness. I think of many who lost their faith in the camps and never sought God again.
Some say it is impossible to believe in God after Dachau.
I don’t doubt that claim.
Who knows if I would have faith if I had been there?
But I do see the other side. Dachau and Auschwitz confirm some of the dark sides of our faith. They confirm that evil is real. They confirm that there is goodness and its converse, pointless and irrational evil seeking only to destroy and finding its only reward in the pain of others.
Evil is not merely a biological or evolutionary impulse to self-advancement. It is cold, incalculably unreasonable, baselessly cruel. It smiles at torture and gains strength from the suffering of its victims.
To know evil is to understand despair. Most of us are not subjected to more than we can bear, but some are. The ones who know about death and lack and needless hunger understand something of life the rest of us can only theorize about.
Wiesel did say, “Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.”
Recently a rabbi friend considered something I had written about Messiah’s coming to rescue his people, the Jewish people, in a coming time of desperate need. He said, “How will people react to your words when they consider that Messiah did not come during the Shoah?”
The absence of divine deliverance is disturbing. Is it enough to negate faith in the coming some day of God’s peaceful rule and healing touch?
If I were a doubter about God’s power, promise, and kindness, I would reflect on the reality of evil. I have not lived one day under the chilling and Satanic evil of an event like the Holocaust, but I reflect on the story and I believe.
It persuades me all the more that there is a good not only equally incomprehensible, but even more so. It persuades me that humanity is not explained by natural forces and merely material origins. Good and evil have little to do with matter and energy and everything to do with spirit. The reality of evil convinces me that materialism, naturalism, atheism are slapstick comedy, the laughable insights of those deaf to the universe.
Wiesel also says, “Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.”
The absence of divine deliverance is disturbing. Yet it could be that a greater deliverance will come as a result of its absence now. It could be that once humanity set out on a certain path, God set out to bring the best possible world from it. It could be the cure is painful.
But evil, far from canceling good, makes it all the more apparent. And I choose to hope.