A Jewish legend, translated from a small volume published in 1929, Judische Legenden, as told by Else Schubert-Christaller; printed in The Plough Reader, Summer 2001 (adapted).
(…continued) At this, the rabbi could no longer keep his thoughts to himself any longer. He turned and shouted at Elijah, “I tremble before you, but is this God’s justice, that the devout suffer pain, while the evil receive love? If so, woe is me, for my heart has lost God.”
Elijah towered over him. There was power in his voice as he rebuked the rabbi: “You fool! Who do you think you are to babble about God’s justice because of what you see in just a few hours with your little eyes? Did I not tell you that you would not be able to bear what I do?”
But Rabbi Joshua flung himself down on his knees and beat his head against the earth and cried out, “Tell me why you have done all this, or I shall die without faith!”
Elijah replied, “You, who just three days ago believed yourself to be a godly man, full of understanding, and now you talk like this! Do you have no trust in God? Do you know more than God? Do you think you are kinder and more just than God? Must you see and understand everything in order to trust God?”
Despairing, Rabbi Joshua kissed the dust at Elijah’s feet. Then Elijah said, “I will explain everything to you. The poor man whose cow I killed was guilty of a great sin and deserved worse. But because of his godliness, God did not want to afflict him or his wife for it. Instead, God took the cow as atonement. As for the man whose wall I straightened; beneath its stones a treasure lay hidden. Had he made the repairs himself, he would have discovered it. This treasure would only have served to harden his heart more and increase his evil. Then, I wished the arrogant men at the synagogue to become city officials, because a city with many officials will be a place of great quarreling, and they will go to ruin in conflict. Their own arrogance will punish them. And as for the good man who died here last night– God rewarded him by giving him just what he wanted. He had lived a long and abundant and godly life. And now, he desired no more than to have a quiet and peaceful death. That is what God, in his mercy, granted him last night.”
Then Elijah spoke to the rabbi for the last time. He said, “Stand up, oh man! Our journey together is ended. What you have seen with me you will see wherever you may wander on the earth. But now, when you see wicked people living in lust and happiness while godly ones live in poverty and pain, let your trust in God be great and humble. The poor farmer had no idea why his cow died, but it was God’s mercy. The rude farmer had no idea why his wall was repaired, but it was God’s punishment. The synagogue leaders thought they were getting rewarded by getting the high position they wanted, but they were being punished. And you thought the old man who died was getting punished, but he was getting his reward. Things are seldom how they seem. Who are you, who sees so little, to judge God, who sees all. Who are you, that you should have the impudence to know the ways of the All-wise One, or search the paths of the Incomprehensible? It is enough that you believe in God and trust and obey Him. Leave God’s business to God. Be silent now before God’s righteousness, which is far beyond your grasp.”
Elijah turned away from him and disappeared. But Rabbi Joshua sat still, praying to God. This time, he prayed not in despair and confusion and anger, but in faith and trust.
Job 10:1-3; 13:1…3 — (Job said), “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I say to God: Do not declare me guilty, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the plans of the wicked?… My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it... I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.”
Job 38:1-4 — Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.”
Job 40:1-5; 42:6 — The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more… Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Psalm 46:10a — He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Psalm 37:1-2…5-9 — Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away… Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
II Corinthians 4:18 — So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
O God in heaven, I thank you that you do not require me to comprehend you and your ways; for if that were required, I would be most miserable. The more I seek to comprehend you, the more incomprehensible you are. Therefore, I thank you that you require only faith, and I pray that you increase my faith in you. Amen.
— adapted from a prayer by Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)