One of the greatest sentences of the Bible is Abraham’s J’Accuse of God, haShofet kol ha’aretz lo ya’aseh mishpat? – “Shall the Judge of all the earth not act justly?” (Gen. 18:25). It is bad enough when a human judge is accused of injustice, but God Himself? Leap across the centuries, and the accusation arises from the Holocaust with such topicality that it is almost unbearable.
Abraham’s question may be seen as part of the “God is dead” movement. In her “History of God”, Karen Armstrong’s last two chapters are “The Death of God” and “Does God Have a Future?” Yet to religious believers the very thought that God might be dead is scandalous. Surely He cannot have decided to do away with Himself! But Armstrong quotes Nietzsche’s story of the man who goes through the market-place at midday with a lantern crying, “I am looking for God!” When passers-by laugh, he says, “Where has God gone? We have killed Him – you and I. We are all His murderers!”
In which way have we “killed” God? In the secular society, people are managing without Him: it is as if He did not exist. The scientific society cannot prove Him, which means He is not there. The pedantic society cannot find words to define Him, and what cannot be defined cannot be.
There are answers to these problems, but for Jews the problem lies elsewhere – not in sociology, science or linguistics, but in history. We look at our times and say, since we see such evil, how can there be a God? But there is a paradox. With God there seem to be no answers, but without God there are no questions. If there is no God, why protest when we see evil? There is no-one to protest against! If there is no God, surely evil is equally acceptable as good!
The Jewish answer is to echo Abraham, not to deny God but to quarrel with Him. Eugene Borowitz says our choice is between explanation, which is elusive, and indignation. Our task, instead of declaring God dead, is to say with Job, “Though He may slay me, yet will I believe in Him, but I will argue my ways before Him” (13:15). Our task, too, is not merely to be affronted when He seems absent, but to acknowledge that He emerges; to affirm that He cannot be dead, because there are also events of which we are witness which prove it is impossible to deny His presence.