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Dear Emuna: Losing Faith

July 6, 2010 | by Emuna Braverman

Struggles with faith and concerns that a neighbor is harming his children.

Dear Emuna,

The fact that your name is Emuna, faith in Hebrew, must mean that you have a strong connection to the word. I have been struggling for a LONG time with my belief and trust in God. I have a hard time with the why bad things happen to good people. I have had to deal with many tough life circumstances (no worse than many others, I guess), but I still cling to the fact that God runs this world (since He created it) and knows what's best, and we only see a fraction of the picture, etc. So my question is, how do I know that God is pleased with me or not? In other words, I feel like I'm doing all the right things to serve Him, yet I keep getting sent difficulties that supposedly I can overcome, although sometimes I feel totally helpless. Can you help?

-- Struggling

Dear Struggling

I’m not sure whether my name is a help or a hindrance on this issue. We all have the same potential for deep faith and trust in the Almighty. It is our spiritual inheritance from our forefather Abraham. Having the potential and accessing it are of course not the same. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that there is just one more thing I need to do and then I will have acquired emuna. It is a lifelong challenge and a constant choice. I have to choose it at 3:01 and then again at 3:02 and if I’m lucky maybe not again until 3:05. It is the willingness and determination to keep making the choice that forges our trust and our relationship with God.

As you mention we all have tough life circumstances; no one has a carefree existence, whatever the external appearances will be. You’ve probably heard the famous parable where a group of people is told to put their troubles in a bag in the middle of the circle and then choose which bag they want. Everyone, of course, chooses their own bag. On some level, we recognize that the situation we are in is tailor-made for us and offers the best opportunities for growth and closeness to the Almighty.

While I understand your pain and confusion, I don’t think your question is that right one to ask. If you are serving the Almighty to the best of your ability then you can be confident that He is, so to speak, pleased with you. The fact that you continue to confront challenges does not invalidate that. As my husband is fond of pointing out, the Almighty is not a coke machine. We don’t put in the prayers or the mitzvot, push a button and get what we want.

In the first place, what we think we want may not ultimately be good for us and so the Almighty won’t give to us. Secondly, our desires, prayers and mitzvot are only a piece of the puzzle in the Almighty’s accounting. He has to taken into account the implications of every action and event on all the people affected -- on the family, the community, the Jewish people…Divine providence is a complex phenomenon and can’t be analyzed or described in simple mathematical equations.

As far as feeling helpless, there is both a positive and negative aspect to that. On the one hand, we need to make our effort. We need to make our choices. On the other hand, we need to recognize that the outcome is NOT in our hands; it is completely and totally in the Almighty’s hands. And that sense of powerless is good for us. That gives us perspective and should ultimately allow us to relax. It’s not up to us; it’s up to our wise and omnipotent Father in Heaven who only wants and only does what’s best for us.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna

I live in apartment building and late one night, walking by the door of a family that recently moved in, I heard some terrible screaming and yelling. The father was berating his 10 year old daughter, cursing her out in a manner that sent chills down my spine. This wasn't just a typical parent losing his cool; it was scary. I didn't hear any evidence of physical violence, but I am concerned. Should I call child services? Or is that jumping the gun and not very neighborly?

-- Concerned Neighbor

Dear Concerned Neighbor,

Not knowing where you live makes the answer more difficult. In Los Angeles, the Jewish community has representatives who have made themselves experts in this area and have also made relationships with the appropriate government departments. The advantage of this is that they are the first step in referral; the case doesn’t land immediately in the lap of some faceless government bureaucrat.

Even if there is no official system in place, I would recommend speaking to a community leader – the rabbi of your community, the school principal, someone in a position of authority who has likely dealt with similar situations like this is the past – and either ask their advice or, even better, hand it over to them to take responsibility.

We don’t want to close our eyes to any type of abuse, but we also want to be careful not to interfere inappropriately or even, God forbid, destructively in someone else’s family. We don’t know what actions will put the children at greater risk or when the government mandates removing them from the home, no matter the psychological and spiritual cost.

This is definitely a situation calling for professionals and even they need to proceed with caution. They should be your first line of inquiry; child services is for when all other options have been exhausted.

-- Emuna

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