Last Friday I attended a service at the local synagogue. It’s a reformed Jewish community, and I followed the prayer book carefully throughout the service. At the bottom of one page, I noticed this quote from Martin Buber:
When people come to you for help, do not turn them off with pious words, saying: “Have faith and take your troubles to God!” Act instead as if there were no God, as though there were only one person in all the world who could help - only yourself.
This is one of the most profound statements of compassion I think I have ever read.
Too often I have heard someone dismissively suggest something like “God never gives us more than we can handle.” Perhaps this gives comfort to someone, but I know too many people who have suffered mightily under the weight of their lives to believe it. It sounds rather unsympathetic to my ears.
Buber believes in God, but suggests that piety is not what is called for when someone is struggling. Rather, compassion is called for. It is not our job to tell someone to feel differently because God will handle it. We should instead listen to the person, not dismiss their pain. After all, they have come to us for comfort. It would seem heartless to pass the responsibility on to God.