One night my friends and I were walking down Yafo street—Jerusalem’s main drag. The street often attracts a young crowd at night as it’s the connecting road between downtown’s bar alley and the Machane Yehuda outdoor shuk.
Both destinations offer specialty beers, Israeli music, and delicious warm Belgium waffles with a famous Israeli chocolate spread. The scene is young, fresh, and always fun.
On this particular night I was out with my friend group celebrating someone‘s birthday. As we were walking up the street, we encountered two young yeshiva boys, dressed in black and white, sporting long drooping tzitzit and with their pe’ot flapping in the wind. “Hey!! You guys!” they shouted at us in Hebrew. “Whats up?” They approached us and asked outright, “Tell me … do you guys believe in God?” No introduction; no name exchanged, just a plummet into one of life's greatest questions: faith.
“I do, yes,” I answered back in Hebrew. The young boy‘s eyes got fiery, and I could tell he was asking the question from a place of hurt and genuine curiosity.
Immediately detecting my American accent, he asked in broken Israeli-English, “But, how can you believe dis if God does bad things to good people?” He continued, “I cannot have faith in a God that allows evil in this world.”
“So if you can’t believe in God, why do you still wear a kippah?” I asked him, knowing that in traditional Judaism wearing a kippah means that you at least acknowledge the God of Israel.
“Because I want to believe in God,” he said. His reply made me smile and warmed my heart. I told him that the fact that he wants a relationship with God and has the courage to ask such hard questions shows that his faith is bigger than he thinks. We continued the conversation for a while before parting ways.
How can God allow bad things to happen? If God is in our lives, wants a relationship with his people, then why do bad things happen?
Unfortunately, I do not have a simple, straight answer. Nor do the great thinkers and scholars from ancient times until now. But perhaps it's not so much the answer that matters but rather the question itself.
Bad things do happen; horrible things happen. The world is broken, and people are broken. When we see so much sorrow, its normal for us to ask, “Why God?” Sometimes we might look back on human suffering and, in hindsight, understand some higher purpose, but more often we will never know or understand why. God chose to make us human and being human means we are not God, and we do not have the capacity to decipher every riddle.
It's important to know that we are not alone in our questioning. The biblical hero Job questioned God about suffering and even confronted him. Jacob wrestled with the angel of God, like someone struggling to hold on to faith, and David’s psalms bemoan the hardships he endured and the pain of feeling God’s absence.
In our young lives we seek the black and white, the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. We want a direct answer for everything. Having gray areas can be very hard for us; they cause anxiety, depression, and even, at times, draw us to walk away from faith. On the other hand, it’s the hard questions that teach us to exercise faith.
Faith is not simply accepting what is told to us. Faith has the courage to ask, and to continue in faith despite not having every answer. Faith has the tenacity to wrestle with the hard questions. Use the hard questions as opportunities to seek God in them, to find motivation for reading his word, and to identify with his servants from the past who asked the same questions.
To me, that young boy‘s faith was great. He was not afraid to wrestle with God. He had the presence of mind to look at the world objectively and ask “why?” Nevertheless, despite the lack of clear answers, he still wanted a relationship with God.