Our instinctive response to crisis and tragedy is to look for people to blame and to think they are the sole cause of our difficulties. We say to each other, “If only they would have acted differently, things would have been different.” But this is a mistake.
The underlying cause behind everything is G-d. Things happen because G-d made them happen; all other causes are superficial. As the prophet Jeremiah said, (Lamentations 3:37), “Whose decree was ever fulfilled, if the L-rd did not will it?”
The prophet Amos echoed this idea when he said (Amos 3:6), “…Can there be misfortune in a city, if G-d had not brought it?”
There are two reasons why people often have a hard time accepting that everything ultimately comes from G-d, even the evil acts of others. First, they think this lets people off the hook. Nothing could be further from the truth. G-d holds evil and negligent people accountable for their actions (and so should we). Nevertheless, G-d uses them as His tool or sword to bring about His desired result. As King David said to G-d (Psalms 17:13), “…Rescue my soul from the wicked one, who is Your sword.”
When wicked people’s evil acts are needed, they are successful, when not needed, they are not. This explains the countless times people have plotted to commit a crime and failed. Whether they are successful or not, because wicked people have chosen to pursue evil, they will be severely punished, either in this world, in the next or both. When we are uncompromising and unyielding in eradicating evil, we are doing G-d’s work. That is what King David did and what we must continue to do.
The second reason people have difficulty with this concept is they don’t understand why a loving G-d would cause pain. But do loving parents never cause their children pain? Sometimes, painful actions are necessary for a child’s growth or well-being.
G-d is our Father in Heaven. The whole reason He created us and put us in this world is so that we can earn the bliss of the Next World through the choices we make. He wants nothing more than to give us this bliss. He is willing to do whatever is necessary, even send us periods of temporary pain, if that will help us make the most of the opportunities of this world and earn eternal bliss.
When G-d sends us pain, this is something He does reluctantly and with a heavy heart. The Sages teach that G-d is pained by our suffering, even more so than we are. But as our Father in Heaven, who is totally devoted to us, He does not allow His own pain to hold Him back from doing what is best for us.
There are general principles as to how suffering elevates us and helps us earn eternal bliss. For example, suffering can remind us to increase our repentance, prayer, and charity. A key High Holiday prayer states that those three things can annul a harsh decree. Use suffering as a catalyst to repent for misdeeds, pray with greater fervor and give charity more generously.
Understanding why specific difficulties are needed and how they benefit us is beyond our ability. Because G-d is infinitely wise and we are not, there will be times we do not understand His ways. In fact, we never fully understand His ways. Sometimes, we get a glimpse of why events occur, other times, we don’t.
The awareness that G-d is behind everything is borne out in the blessing mourners recite, where they refer to G-d as, “The true Judge.” By referring to G-d in this way, we state that regardless of the superficial cause of death, ultimately, it was G-d who called this person back to Heaven.
G-d’s essence is love and mercy. There are times though when this essence is clouded over and we perceive Him as a strict judge. But even then, even in the depths of our pain, we still acknowledge that G-d is a judge of truth; that there is a truthful and good reason for His actions, even though we do not understand His ways.
Believing everything comes from G-d for our benefit does not mean we sit back and let life happen. G-d wants us to make spiritual and material efforts to protect ourselves, improve our lives and help others in need. He also wants us to look for ways to grow from challenges.
The next time you read about a tragedy or crisis, say, “This is from G-d for our eternal benefit.” Then ask, “What can I do to help those affected? How can I use this difficulty as a catalyst for growth?
This attitude toward adversity is tremendously liberating. It enables us to read the news with compassion, and at times grief over a loss, but no longer worry. We no longer feel compelled to read the news obsessively, anxiously following every development. We realize that G-d is completely in control and will not allow anything to happen to us that is not for our ultimate good. We just have to do our best, pray, and look for ways to grow; leave the rest to G-d. When we do that, we will reach the level described by King David, (Psalms 112:7), “Of evil news – he is not afraid. His heart is steadfast, trusting in G-d.”
Trusting in G-d means believing He is guiding your life and doing what is best for you, even though you do not understand how. Do not resign yourself to a situation. Instead, make spiritual and material efforts to enhance your life and help others. While making those efforts, realize G-d is by your side, encouraging and strengthening you, every step of the way.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.