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Suffer the little children

Q: I'm a Holocaust survivor who made it to the United States through the Dominican Republic by a big miracle. As time went by, I realized one thing: God did not let the Holocaust happen; we let it happen. Recently, I read a newspaper article about the death of a 6-year-old child. This child had been suffering since the age of 2. She'd done nothing against nature. Her parents didn't even have a chance to teach her the difference between right and wrong. Why do children have to suffer before they even have a chance to enjoy life?

-- A., Farmingdale, N.Y.

A: Sometimes people are saved by miracles, and sometimes not. The ways of God are beyond us, but I do agree that the suffering of children is the most spiritually challenging form of evil in the world. The death of children like the one you mention from incurable diseases is terrible, but it's a fact of our biological fragility that people of all ages succumb to disease; however, the death of children from avoidable and savage cruelty, such as during the Holocaust, is morally and spiritually numbing.

If I were an atheist, I would certainly use the murder of children as my checkmate move -- even though, ultimately, I don't think it succeeds.

What I would humbly suggest is that our agony in the face of all suffering, particularly that of the young, comes from an understandable but incorrect and scripturally unsupported belief. Contrary to the teaching of Scripture, God does not promise us all a long and untroubled life on earth. God promises all of us a life accompanied always by God's love. God promises us a consoling partner as we live through life's troubles and, after death, eternal life in heaven.

I understand that it's easier to believe only in a God who gives us our lives and blessings and not in the God who will reclaim those lives and blessings some day. I try to believe in God's giving and taking equally, and I pray that you might do the same. Justice for the evildoers among us is our responsibility. Eternal, unconditional love is God's responsibility and remains God's only and best gift.

I know a story told by the Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel. He said that the first time he heard the story of the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22) read in the synagogue, he cried. His father asked why he was crying, and he answered, "I'm worried that the angel will be too late to stop Abraham." His father calmed him by saying, "Don't worry, my son. Angels are never too late. People, people can be too late."

My prayer: May we never be too late again. God bless you.

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Q: I'm confused about the fourth commandment, which begins: "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." Most Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday, while Jews and a few other groups observe Saturday as the Sabbath. However, no one can explain to me when or if the fourth commandment was ever canceled. Can you explain?

-- J.

A: The commandment for Sabbath observance is equally strong in both Judaism and Christianity. The change from Saturday to Sunday in some forms of Christianity was necessary and typical as religious traditions changed. The change did not occur until around the fifth century, though it may have arisen as early as the second century in some locales.

The New Testament in Luke (4:16 and 23:56) makes it clear that Jesus and his followers observed the Sabbath on Saturday. For many centuries, Christian communities, particularly in Rome and Alexandria, seemed to observe both Sabbath days. Constantine's edict in 321 gave Sunday a real push, but the impulse seems to have been the pagan practice of considering Sunday a "Day of the Sun."

Today, the only mainline Christian denominations still observing the Sabbath on Saturday are the Seventh Day Adventists and the Seventh Day Baptists. Changing the calendar was a clear way to assure that followers of one religious tradition cannot at the same time follow another. The religious calendar both divides and defines.

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