Tag Archives: terror

Illuminating the Darkness

“When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

In the wake of the devastating Islamic terrorist attack on the city of Paris, I really wish I could “illuminate the darkness,” as Rabbi Freeman suggests. But all I can see is the encroachment of that darkness on our world, the coming of destruction, the advent of great evil.

MessiahYesterday, I cried out how long, Moshiach…how long until you come? I know he heard. I know he will come. But how many more must suffer and die, how often must evil believe it has won because it stands unopposed, until Hashem has said it is enough, and the final war begins?

Insanity, from frivolity to massacre, rule our planet, and if I had to depend on the news media for my global view, I would believe there were no sane human beings left and that our world was already doomed.

And yet, these are the times when our faith is tested, when we have to face the question of whether God has abandoned us, or worse, that there is no God and we live in a universe where morality is always relative, and that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. Or can we believe that this too indicates the birth pangs of the Messiah must become ever more severe before the time of his return?

If we can sustain our faith, we will believe the latter.

I want to illuminate the darkness, to sweep away despair, to shine like a light on a hilltop, but frankly, I’m not that heroic. All I can do is keep slogging away, moving forward, hip deep in mud, doggedly determined, and hope and pray I can keep going until the great and terrible day of the Lord.

I pray that for us all. I pray that for Paris, for those who continue to suffer in the aftermath of September 11th, for those who suffer everyday in Israel at the hands of terrorists…at the hands of evil.

In a statement attributed to Edmund Burke, Charles F. Aked, and others, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

I want to get political and say that the “good men” of our government habitually “do nothing,” but this war won’t be won by nations and political parties because it’s not a war of nationalities, but rather, of light vs. darkness, good vs. evil.

However, this isn’t to say we have no participation and that we must watch silently as this all plays out in the spiritual world. No, we are very much involved. People are dying. Our enemies are gloating. We must respond.

paris attacks
Credit: BBC News

But how?


Yes, but as a meme I saw recently on the web stated, we must also be prepared for violence, and even for some of us, to do violence. Soldiers will fight in very human wars as they always have, and many more will die.

I don’t know what to do except what I am doing…writing. Pray for Paris, pray for the defeat of ISIS, but most of all, pray for the peace of Jerusalem. It’s not that God doesn’t weep for the people slain in France last Friday night, but we must admit that Israel, of all the nations, is at the center of His mind and heart and spirit. It is through the redemption of Israel that the rest of the nations will be redeemed.

It is in the war to defend Israel that Hashem, Master of Legions, will defeat all evil forever.

However horrible the terrorist attack against Paris is, it’s just another skirmish. The war is coming. We must be ready. We must be ready to give battle. We must be ready to be the light of the world. We must be the light of the world now, so the world, if it wills, will draw near the light of Moshiach, our master, our King.

peaceHe will prevail and in him, we will prevail as well. Indeed. We have already prevailed if we don’t wait for the peace of our Rav to come in the future but to seek it and embrace it now, even in the face of great adversity.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7 (NASB)

The Terrible Living God

terror-keepers-of-the-faithMany people express gratitude to the Almighty for being saved from desperate and problematic situations. But surely they’d have preferred that the problem would have never have arisen in the first place!

This, however, is not the proper attitude. The purpose of all problems is that they should serve as a means for a person to become closer to the Almighty. Both the problems – and the solutions – are part of the Divine plan to help elevate you.

The next time you are faced with a problem, think for a moment: “This problem enables me to become closer to my Creator.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #756: Problems Bring Us Closer”

The world is not obstructing you. It is challenging you.

It knows its deepest treasures can be revealed only by the deepest faculties of your soul, and it taps those powers by providing isometrics for the soul.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Gosh, that all sounds so reasonable, so wonderful, so illuminating, so wise. I bet there are plenty of Christian writers who give similar advice. Just reading the words, I can imagine many other religions and philosophies also offer such an outlook and I don’t doubt that there are just tons and tons of books, including secular self-help books, that say more or less the same thing.

But when you’re actually having real problems, you may not immediately think in a cheerful inner voice, “Gee, this is a challenge God is giving me to help elevate me and bring me closer to Him.” You more likely are praying to God something like, “HELP!

I’m not saying that Rabbi Pliskin and Rabbi Freeman are wrong, just that such enlightened perspectives (and the vast majority of self-help aids on the market) fail to take real human beings with real worries, fears, and anxieties into account. They don’t consider the actual, lived experience of a person who is recovering from a serious accident or illness, who has just heard the news that a loved one is terminally ill, who has just had their house foreclosed, who has just had…

…you get the idea.

My father said: Truth is the middle path. An inclination to the right, to be overly stringent with oneself and find faults or sins not in accord with the truth, or an inclination to the left, to be overly indulgent, covering one’s faults or being lenient in demands of avoda out of self-love – both these ways are false.

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, 27 Adar I, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Life, like truth, runs a middle path. Most of us aren’t incredibly holy and elevated people and most of us, if we have a spiritual awareness at all, aren’t feeding on the bottom of the river with the catfish either.

But people with a spiritual awareness can often drift off center, and when hard times come, we can either treat ourselves harshly, like we must have done something horrible to deserve this tragedy, or we may think that it’s totally unfair of God to let bad things happen to us and that He should cut us some slack. I’ve experienced both and “lived in” both places, and in my experience, hitting that “middle ground” is a very hard thing to do. It seems to be more reasonable and takes a lot less energy to just let yourself go emotionally and spiritually “limp” and throw yourself on the mercy of the court, which in this case is God.

But then Rabbi Freeman says:

There’s no such thing as defeat.

There’s always another chance. To believe in defeat is to believe that there is something, a certain point in time that did not come from Above.

Know that G‑d doesn’t have failures. If things appear to worsen, it is only as part of them getting better. We fall down only in order to bounce back even higher.

failureKind of makes me wonder if Rabbi Freeman has ever been in a situation where he’s felt defeated. Probably so, but one doesn’t successfully write motivational missives by admitting to such a thing.

You may gather from the topic in today’s meditation that I’ve been having a bad time lately, but that’s not actually true. However, I do sometimes react when I read advice articles or columns that I think are overly “perky.” I’m not sure that “religious people” always know how to cut someone enough slack to be compassionate without being so “mushy” that they (we) become enabling.

On the other hand, I think that there are times when we need to be confident in our faith and, in spite of the problems that are kicking us in the teeth, we need to persevere and push on. Certainly people like Brother Yun have had to do just that over and over again while being tortured, while being in prison, while being on the run from the law, while being hungry, while being homeless, and all of his other experiences as a Pastor and an Evangelist in Communist China.

But I also think there are times when the weight of a thousand, thousand problems, pressures, hurts, injuries, depressions, and hopeless situations land with a solid “thunk” on our chests and threaten to smash us flatter than a hockey puck and all we can to is cry out to God. Sometimes we can’t even do that and as we feel faith and even life oozing out of us, the only thing left is to give in and say, “God, do as You will,” and then let whatever’s going to happen, happen.

The trick is to know the difference. Neat trick. I wish I could learn it.

Or maybe I don’t. I’ve noticed that those people who have sincerely asked God to use them in a powerful way often experience trials and circumstances that were and are a lot tougher than they anticipated. Brother Yun made such a request of God and if you’ve read my review of his book (see the link above), you’ll know that he suffered tremendously.

For that matter, look at the lives of Paul, Peter, John, and the other apostles. Most of all, look at the life of Jesus.

During a sermon a few weeks ago, my Pastor told a story. The story was about a Pastor who was giving a preaching series on discipleship. The series took many weeks to complete and was very thorough. When the Pastor finished his series, one of the long-time church members approached him and said:

Thank you Pastor for giving such an informative and insightful sermon on discipleship. Now that I understand what a disciple is and what it takes to be a good one, I don’t want to be a disciple anymore.

That’s supposed to inspire a “knowing” chuckle from the audience.

heavy-burdenWe always say that we’ll pick up our cross and follow Jesus anywhere, but how true is that? Do we put limits on how far we’ll go for our faith? Do we ever ask Jesus when we’re following him, why the territory seems to be getting so gloomy, scary, and dangerous looking?

Probably. Expecially in America and other Western nations, Christians aren’t used to having to work too hard at that “picking up cross and following” thing. Frankly, we should be afraid of it because we don’t really understand the implications, and if we did, we wouldn’t want them.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

Luke 22:31-34 (ESV)

I think we all know how that one turned out. Actually, in an ultimate sense, it turned out well, but not in the short run.

So what does that mean for us? Should we limit what we do for God because of the potential consequences? Should we stiffen our spines and just take what God gives us, no matter what, and be happy about it? I’d like to say the latter, but it scares me. I know faith demands the latter, but what will happen?

Becoming a Christian is like getting married. When the idea comes up and even as you approach the wedding day, everything seems great. You look forward to it. You see only the rewards. Then the big day comes, there’s the ceremony, all of your friends and family are there, you have the reception, you get lots of gifts and attention, sure there’s stress involved, but it’s hardly noticable in the whirlwind of activity.

Then there’s the honeymoon, setting up housekeeping, everything seems wonderful at first, you see only the good.

Then you have your first fight. A year passes, children a born, other years pass, you change, your spouse changes, and something interesting happens.

Stuff that you never, ever imagined would happen, happens. It could be stuff people, your parents, your Pastor, a counselor, tried to tell you would happen, but you didn’t listen or figured it would be no big deal. It could be stuff that you never imagined would occur in a million years. Stuff that only happens to other people. Stuff that you didn’t even think was possible.

But all that stuff makes your marriage hard!

You even think of divorce.

Actually, lots and lots of people get divorced and lots and lots of people stop being Christians and leave the church. End of story. It was too hard to be married. It’s too hard to be a disciple of Christ.

But then there are many, many other marriages that last thirty, forty, fifty, sixty or more years. Some of these marriages have managed to retain the love and devotion that the couple felt from the start, although the “magic” comes and goes periodically throughout the relationship. And then there are many, many other marriages where the relationship lasts just as long but the couple have drifted apart. Maybe some big problem forcefully inserted the initial wedge between them and then they traveled in different directions or maybe the initial “disconnect” was so subtle that neither husband nor wife noticed.

And now they live in the same house, eat the same meals, maybe even sit on the same sofa and watch the same TV shows, but they are actually living two separate lives. They never fight. They never argue. They never cuddle. They never make love. They’re just there.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

Revelation 3:15-22 (ESV)

goldilocksThat probably describes a lot of Christians and a lot of Christian churches. The real tragedy is that these folks actually want it that way. A lukewarm bath is comfortable. Kind of like Goldilocks and the porridge. Not too hot and not too cold.

And not too demanding, stressful, or dangerous.

Lots of Christians describe themselves as “on fire for the Lord.” But fire burns out. Coals grow cold. Fuel turns to ashes.

How do we respond? First off, we should be careful what we ask for. Secondly, we should ask to be built up, so when God really does ask for something outrageous and spectactular from us, it doesn’t come as a complete shock. We’ve been prepared.

We should ask for mercy. Paul asked three times that his “thorn” (whatever it may have been) be removed from him, but the Lord said that his grace was all Paul needed. Pray that when the moment comes, we can let the Lord’s grace be all that we need as well.

And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:30-31 (ESV)

Each of us is fighting a hard battle in our lives. Pray that God will show compassion and mercy to us all, for if we haven’t realized it yet, we have all failed and will all fail…and then fall into the hands of the living God.

43 Days: Dust and Ashes in My Own Universe

I am but dust and ashes.

Genesis 18:27

Everyone must say, “The world was created for my sake.”

-Sanhedrin 37a

Rabbi Bunim of Pshis’cha said that everyone should have two pockets; one to contain, “I am but dust and ashes,” and the other to contain, “The world was created for my sake.” At certain times, we must reach into one pocket; at other times, into the other. The secret of correct living comes from knowing when to reach into which.

Humility is the finest of all virtues and is the source of all admirable character traits. Yet, if a person considers himself to be utterly insignificant, he may not care about his actions. He may think, “What is so important about what I do? It makes no difference, so long as I do not harm anyone.” Such feelings of insignificance can cause immoral behavior.

When a person does not feel that his actions are significant, he either allows impulses to dominate his behavior or slouches into inactivity. At such a time, he must reach into the pocket of personal grandeur and read: “I am specially created by God. He has a mission for me, that only I can achieve. Since this is a Divine mission, the entire universe was created solely to enable me to accomplish this particular assignment.”

When presidents and premiers delegate missions to their officials, those officials feel a profound sense of responsibility to carry out the mission in the best possible manner. How much more so when we are commissioned by God!

Today I shall…

keep in mind both the humbleness and the grandeur of the human being.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Kislev 1”

I guess that answer a query I made recently.

Is it arrogant and self-centered to believe that God has a plan for my one, small, individual life? After all, there are billions of people who live on Earth today. Untold trillions and trillions of human beings have been born, lived, and died all throughout the history of the human race. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of them have been mentioned in the Bible (or any other holy book), and of those people, we sometimes don’t know which ones we can take as literally being real humans who lived real lives, vs. some unknown scribe somewhere writing an allegory about someone named “Job” to make a moral point.

Not only is it incorrect to consider ourselves to be insignificant as individuals, it could actually be sinful. Faith and trust in God includes the belief that we are not only significant, but possibly very important since we have been commissioned to perform deeds in the plan of God.

There’s a certain amount of “mysticism” in the statement, “[s]ince this is a Divine mission, the entire universe was created solely to enable me to accomplish this particular assignment.” At least from a human point of view, it is extraordinarily unlikely that the entire universe was created just for me to do whatever God put me here to do. I suppose if we start winding down the road of some serious metaphysics, it might be seen otherwise, but I don’t think my brain can bend in that direction.

So here we are (I am) performing a balancing act, again. Running on the edge of a razor blade, trying to keep my balance and avoid being sliced to ribbons (by concepts, consciousness, or other people). Is that too dramatic? Maybe not, if I’m trying to assess and moderate equal portions of humility and being an agent on a “Divine mission.”

But that may explain our different experiences when at times, nothing seems to go right, and at others, when nothing seems to go wrong. Paul’s infamous “thorn” in his side (2 Corinthians 12:7) was what balanced him out and we know that he really did have a Divine mission (see Acts 9). We have the Bible to tell us all about the details Paul’s mission and for a Christian, it’s almost “old news.” However, for the rest of us, our particular “mission” can seem like something of a mystery.

Oh, it gets worse.

How many Christians “feel” as if they have a mission. A lot of the time, it’s to go into the ministry. We Christians sometimes get this weird idea that only Ministers can minister. But what do we do that doesn’t minister if we’re doing God’s will?

Well, right now I know why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because enough people have told me it matters to them that I do this. If that’s also the voice of God, I’m fine with that, too.

That’s how I summed up my response to the question I asked myself the other day: “Why am I doing this?”

I suppose I could just need constant reassurance that I’m doing the right thing, but that’s no way to run a “ministry” let alone a life. There will always be times when there will be no reassurance, when it seems as if the whole world is against your (and my) Christian faith, and you (I) have to depend on whatever internal moral compass God has provided to continue the journey so that we are (I am) walking in the right direction.

Not that the right direction is always easy.

In 2008, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg were among 200 people killed when terrorists attacked Mumbai, India. The Holtzbergs selflessly ran the Chabad house, a beacon of hope and kindness in a city filled with poverty and despair.

Day in Jewish History: Kislev 1

Most of us won’t have to face death in the service of God. Most of us won’t have to face the death of loved ones in the service of God. Most of us won’t have to raise grandchildren because our children died in the service of God.

But it does give you pause. I mean, there’s no promise intrinsic to our faith and trust that limits how much God will ask of you (or me). Especially in the western nations, people of faith aren’t used to working really, really hard in the service of God, at least not most of the time. Sure, we may go on the occasional mission trip to a “third world country” and for a week or two, live in conditions that are a far cry from our comfortable homes in our middle-class suburbs.

But as you may have noticed recently, just being a Jew and living in or visiting Israel can be very dangerous. One of the horrible ironies of this latest terrorist attack was this:

The names of the three people who were killed Thursday by a rocket attack in Kiryat Malachi have been published, and one of whom, it was just discovered, was an emissary of Chabad involved in outreach in India, and was in Israel on a short visit in order to give birth and pay respects to the Chabad victims of the Mumbai terror attack in 2008.

Mirah (nee Cohen) Scharf, the 26-year-old victim of today’s attack, was a “shlucha (female emissary)” to New Dehli, India, visiting Israel for the memorial service of Gabi and Rivka Holtzberg, the Chabad emissaries who were victims of the Mumbai terror attack. The Hebrew anniversary of their brutal murder is today.

-Annie Lubin
“Mirah Scharf, Killed by Missile, Laid to Rest”

God, please be merciful to the injured and dying of your people Israel. Be merciful to those who live in harm’s way. Be merciful to the children who wake up every morning wondering if today they will be killed, and go to sleep each night fearing that they will be murdered in their sleep.

There were periods of time when R. Yekusiel Liepler, a chassid of the Alter Rebbe, davened Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv one right after the other; there was no time for intervals.

“Today’s Day”
Sunday, Kislev 1, Rosh Chodesh, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Compared to that, the uncertainty in attending a local church and sometimes being criticized for it doesn’t seem so intimidating.

Blessings upon Israel and her people, the children of Abraham, and of Issac, and of Jacob.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.

Psalm 137:5-6 (Stone Edition Tanakh)


TrustFor the conductor, on Jeduthun, a song by David. For God alone my soul waits silently, from Him comes my salvation. He alone is my Rock and my Salvation; my Stronghold, I shall not falter greatly. Until when will you plot treacherously against a man? May you all be slain – like a leaning wail, a toppled fence. Only because of his loftiness have they plotted to topple [him], they delight in deceit; with his mouth each one blesses, but inwardly they curse, Selah! For God alone, waits silently, my soul, because my hope is from Him. He alone is my Rock and my Salvation; my Stronghold, I shall not falter. Upon God rests my salvation and my glory, the Rock of my strength, my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at every moment, O people! Pour out your hearts before Him; God is a refuge for us, Selah! Common people are but vanity! Distinguished people are but a deceit! Were they to be lifted up on scales, together they would be lighter than vanity. Trust not in oppression, and in robbery place not vain hope; though wealth flourishes, set not your heart on it. One thing has God spoken, these two have I heard: that strength belongs to God; and Yours, O Lord, is kindness, for You repay each man according to his deeds.

Psalm 62 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

I’m continuing my pursuit of restructuring the meaning of storytellers so that I can better understand and incorporate the lessons of God into my life. I have previously written about my need to find my own metaphor in the multitude of spiritual, religious, and psychological messages available so that I can better focus on what is important in life, and minimize or disregard all of the other “bothersome” minutiae.

It isn’t easy.

Life, or rather my approach to it, is a decades-long habit and like all “bad habits,” it’s difficult to break. It’s like quitting smoking (which I did decades ago). I know it’s good to break a bad habit, but I have to give up its secondary benefits and focus on what I’ll gain, even while “mourning” what I’ll be losing which, if nothing else, is the familiar. However, quitting smoking is child’s play compared to what some people call “making a paradigm shift“. This is a fundamental changing of perspective on how to approach and respond to not only circumstances, but to all aspects of existence.

Like I said, it isn’t easy.

There are a lot of elements involved but the first one is trying to find a starting point. There are all kinds of places that you might think to begin a journey of self discovery and self change. In yesterday’s morning meditation, I focused on prayer. That’s a good place to start since, for me, any shifting in paradigm also involves a change in my relationship with God.

Look back at the psalm I quoted from at the beginning of today’s blog. Look at what David’s saying.

For God alone, waits silently, my soul, because my hope is from Him…Trust in Him at every moment.

It’s not only hope and trust that belong to God, but salvation, strength, and kindness are His and His alone. In fact, David goes so far as to say that for “God alone my soul waits silently.” He is not depending on anyone else but God for hope, trust, strength, kindness, and salvation. David proclaims that even “distinguished people,” if you put them all on a scale, would still be “lighter than vanity.” Part of what I get out of this, is that there is no one to depend upon except God. Each person waits alone for His response.

I want to take all that and reduce it down even further to a single element: trust.

Churches talk an awful lot about having faith in God or having faith in Jesus, but they don’t mention the word “trust” at all. What’s the difference? I found an excellent metaphor comparing faith and trust, and I encourage you to read my wee missive on the difference before continuing here. It’s easy to have faith that God exists. It’s not so easy to actually trust God with everything that’s important to you…especially your life.

I know this sounds terrible, but I don’t think I trust God very much. Yes, I acknowledge and have faith in His existence and sovereignty over the universe and everything in it, including me, but I don’t trust Him to keep me safe in an absolute sense. After all, bad things happen to people all the time. Even people who have an amazing faith and trust in God suffer horribly. People get all kinds of hideous cancers, get in car wrecks. lose loved ones tragically, have heart attacks and strokes, are in hurricanes, have their homes wiped out by tornadoes, have their emotions utterly shattered, are reduced to nothing anyone wants to get close to.

They trusted God to keep them safe and look what happened.

Actually, the record of the “saints” in the Bible, the record of the lives of the Prophets, show that holy people who had faith and trust often came to rather “difficult” ends and in fact, their lives might have been a great deal more peaceful if they hadn’t been such significant servants of God.

So if I do or don’t trust God to protect me, I’m still vulnerable to everything. Anything could happen at any time. Any disaster could strike. Any illness or accident could occur at any moment. No one is safe, whether you have faith in God or not.

I realize that God “never promised me a rose garden” and that God doesn’t owe me (or anyone) a “safe” life. I know that life involves taking risks. All that is very rational. So then, is faith and trust in God all about the “afterlife” and our lives in the here and now are identical to those of our secular counterparts? Are both the saint and the sinner equally libel to get mugged, raped, or murdered?

But is being safe the point? God does what He does. In Romans 9:15, Paul quotes God’s conversation with Moses when He said, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19 ESV) God grants mercy to or withholds mercy from people in accordance to His will. That makes God rather unpredictable. So is the only thing I can trust the fact that I can’t trust anything? Depending on how you translate Job 13:15 it can read Though he slay me, I will hope in him,” or it can be understood as, “Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope.”

So whether you trust in God or don’t trust in God, God will still do what God will do, so what’s the point?

But all of these “holy guys” seemed to think there was a point and they faced all kinds of horribly difficult situations depending on God to either get them out of it, as David did, or continuing to cling to God even if God chose to kill them.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” –Daniel 3:16-18 (ESV)

So how do you learn to trust God under these circumstances? If you are a child, you trust your parents, in part, because they keep you safe (I realize this is overly simplistic, since plenty of parents are untrustworthy for a lot of reasons, and plenty of children are hurt and even killed as a result). Children learn to trust their parents as their parents build a track record of keeping them safe and providing for their needs. Trust in any human relationship is based on experience. The longer we are in a relationship with a party who does not harm us physically or emotionally, and who provides for our needs, the more we tend to trust them and feel safe around them.

FallingBut how does that work in a relationship with God, who is so totally and completely alien to us and who, for any reason or for no reason at all (or for no reason we can understand), could allow us to be thrown under a bus (sometimes literally) at any moment and without warning?

It goes without saying that we cannot trust someone we don’t know, and therein lies the secret of learning to trust God. When someone says, “Trust me,” we have one of two reactions. Either we can say, “Ok, I’ll trust you,” or we can say, “Why should I?” In God’s case, trusting Him naturally follows when we understand why we should.

The main reason we should trust God is that He is worthy of our trust. Unlike men, He never lies and never fails to fulfill His promises. “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 89:34). Unlike men, He has the power to bring to pass what He plans and purposes to do. Isaiah 14:24 tells us, “The LORD Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.’” Furthermore, His plans are perfect, holy, and righteous, and He works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His holy purpose (Romans 8:28). If we endeavor to know God through His Word, we will see that He is worthy of our trust, and our trust in Him will grow day by day. To know Him is to trust Him.

-quoted from GotQuestions.org

That works if everyone who ever trusted God remained safe and nothing bad ever happened to them, but the person who answered this question never got around to explaining why people who trust God still end up hurt and dead. The quote does say this, however:

A third reason to trust God is that we really have no sensible alternative. Should we trust in ourselves or in others who are sinful, unpredictable, unreliable, have limited wisdom, and who frequently make bad choices and decisions swayed by emotion? Or do we trust in the all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, gracious, merciful, loving God who has nothing but good intentions for us?

So, this person says we should trust God simply because we have no choice. But that comes back to God doing things to us (or allowing things to happen to us) whether we trust in Him or not.

But the person I just quoted did make one good point. You can’t trust someone you don’t know.

That goes back to yesterday’s “morning meditation” about prayer. Without an ongoing, continual “dialog” with God, how can you know Him? That’s the same for any human relationship. If you don’t communicate in a meaningful and frequent manner, how can you get to know someone and then maintain a relationship?

You can’t.

So prayer is just as good a starting point as any.

The GotQuestions.org person describes God as “all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, gracious, merciful, loving” and a God who “has nothing but good intentions for us.” Sorry, but I’m having a difficult time reconciling that statement with the reality of the world in which I live; a world where six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, a world where Christians have historically been tortured and executed for their faith, a world where people living in terror pray to God for them to be delivered and instead, are left to die alone in agony.

I know, I sound grim.

The supreme irony is that, at least as far as the Biblical record is concerned, people continued to trust in God, no matter what. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked into Nebuchadnezzer’s fiery furnace, believing that God either would save them or wouldn’t, and subsequently the King saw four men walking around inside of the flames unhurt, including someone who had the appearance “like a son of the gods.”

Sometimes trust works.

I remember sitting in church when the Pastor would say stuff like, “surrender all of your cares to Jesus and just let them go.” I heard similarly phrased “flowery speeches” like this time and again in various Christian venues and never had any idea how to accomplish such a feat. How does one simply “let go” of problems, worries, cares, sorrows, and so on? What is the mechanism of release? How can you simply and suddenly “stop worrying?” Where does the “worry” go?

I now realize what was really being said is to “trust Jesus to take care of your worries.” Jesus himself said something similar.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. –Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

But verse 34 is the kicker:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

And yet people die of starvation and thirst everyday somewhere in the world. People of faith do go without adequate clothing or sustenance. We do whither away like grass before a raging fire, and no one walks among the living and the dead who looks like a “son of the gods.”

But we’re supposed to trust anyway…I’m supposed to trust anyway. Peale’s book has the reader recite and repeat the various “promises of God” to empower believers and keep them safe…engendering trust in God, and supposedly, in spite of the long and difficult world history of men and God, it works. Rabbi Tzvi Freeman wrote a multi-part series on Jewish Meditation and Prayer which more or less says the same thing, in spite of the long and torturous history of the Jewish people and God.

(I suppose I should mention at this point that multitudes of secular people have also gained great benefits from following the advice in Peale’s book, substituting “higher power” or even their actualized selves for specific references to God. It’s astonishing then, that these people learned to shift their paradigms and improve their lives, not by trusting in God or any external source, but by trusting themselves! Does this mean that who or what you trust is irrelevant as long as you trust something? If a religious person and a non-religious person achieve the same self-improvement goals using identical processes but different targets [God vs. the self], is that saying God is actually doesn’t matter as long as you trust something? I know, these are horrible questions.)

The only thing I can get out of this is that, like Job, I am compelled to trust God, though He may slay me, just because I have no choice. Or rather, I have a choice: maintain my faith in God and learn to trust Him, or surrender my faith and trust no one, least of all me. Since the latter choice results in only despair, the former choice is my only real choice. It’s like allowing someone to tie me up, hand and foot, blindfold me and gag me, stand me at the edge of a mile-deep cliff. Then they say to me that even if they push me over, I’ll still be safe. I wonder if that’s how Isaac felt at the Akedah?

In that situation, I can’t even scream in terror or beg to be released. My mouth is stuffed with cotton and my throat is full of sand. All I can do is hang on and trust…or continually, moment-by-moment, be terrified. Like the title to Harlan Ellison’s classic science fiction tale, I have no mouth, but I must scream.

What would you do?