My Personal Cantor

Where is God in Tragedy…How to find God in Our Darkest Hours

Finding God in the most tragic events


I was in hell.

As a Spiritual Leader in the Jewish community in South Florida, I went into crisis mode when news struck of last week’s tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.  I immediately began checking in with all of MY PERSONAL families, the ones I have worked with over 15 years, who lived anywhere between Coral Springs and Boca, as I knew they would most likely be impacted somehow. Thankfully, in less than an hour, I learned all of MY students were home safe with families, but that was not the case for all families.  Some of my students were in the same classroom.  They watched their friends get shot, and die.  Their lives changed instantly in those moments, and that, alone, was tragic enough. The first questions I heard was How does God let this happen? Where is God at this moment?   How do we find God?

How do we find God in this tragedy?

When I work with my students, one of the most important components of teaching them for their B-Mitzvah, is to help them find their own personal image of God.  Finding Him, seeking Him out, connecting to Him in prayer, and building a relationship with God is so important.  Not in a religious way. But in a faith way.  It’s not easy to find God, especially when you cannot see Him.  But I teach my kids that by connecting, by “going there”, to a place you think God is, to simply sit in silence and wait for God to touch you – is the most effective way to find God.

But when tragedy strikes, we believe God has left the building.  Or worse yet, He doesn’t exist at all.  Or even more unthinkable – did God ALLOW this to happen?

All I could do at that moment, was go where families were most in pain.  I went straight to the Marriott in Heron Bay as a clergy and chaplain, as someone who could simply sit with these families, and share their pain with them.  To hold space for them, as they knew in their hearts, that if they hadn’t yet heard from their children by 9pm, then the worst possible news might be on the horizon.

What could I do?

I felt helpless, but purposeful.  Does that even make sense?  As if just being there could possibly help – but I know, somehow it did.  I couldn’t change the outcome, but I could simply be with this family, to let them know that in a world that seemed so dark, so full of hate, there was still love.

In that moment, I just had to share what I was feeling.  It was literally HELL.  A feeling of calm, suspended between hope and tragedy.  Nobody was really speaking of the darkness yet, but it loomed.  And you felt it.  It was palpable and evident.  But if you spoke of it, it might come closer.  If you held out hope, and held a vision of your child walking through that door, then suddenly – God would return as well.

I grabbed my phone.  I wrote.  Whatever flew through my fingertips, I memorialized the feeling.  I.  Was. In. Hell.

I wasn’t just a Spiritual Leader at that moment.  I was experiencing the tragedy, at one with my community.  Facebook allowed me to share my feelings

I. Am. In. Hell.

Or, perhaps the closest I’ve ever been. But I’m pretty sure, this is hell. I am in the room where families of children and staff are waiting, because they haven’t heard from their children or loved ones. According to the sheriff, nobody has been identified but they are asking 1 member of each family to email a picture of their child to [email protected] with the parent name, child’s name, grade and date of birth. If you know families with missing children that have not been notified, please direct them here.

I’m grateful for the generosity of Publix and many local pizza places, as the food keeps arriving to sustain the families, but let’s not forget. This. Is. Hell. The families in this room don’t know where their children are. They feel helpless. And hopeless. There is not a single word I can say to make anyone feel better, but I am here. Because maybe I can make it a little less like hell if I offer a shoulder or a hug. Nobody knows how long it will be. The crime scene is still under investigation. The FBI and BSO is on full scale presence, with thousands of law enforcement, Red Cross, Chaplains and more. But I cannot bring myself to leave, even though I can’t change the outcome.

Today is a day of love. But it has been eternally marred by hatred, mental illness and a machine gun. You may ask… “How does God allow this to happen”? God doesn’t. He creates humans that choose good or evil. God doesn’t choose this hell for anyone. An evil human chose to destroy. God is in despair, at what a human has done. I must stand strong, unwavering in my faith at this moment, clinging to my belief that God is good. God is with all of us as we experience joy and tragedy.

Today, in this place, God is here. And so, that makes me feel hope. I will try my best to look for the light, and to be a light for someone else. But for right now, This. Is. Hell. May God answer the prayers of the families here today, but may we all choose to be the light for those whose worst nightmares may come true.Cantor Debbi Ballard

find God

My words of comfort during tragedy

In my job, people ask me all the time…”How does God let this happen”? How do I find God in times of tragedy such as this?

There is a wonderful book I read, that once provided me with all the answers I needed to this question.  It is called “I Have Some Questions About God”, published by Torah Aura Productions

God doesn’t let this happen.  He does not control every human (or any human), or outcome or occurrence in the universe.  God created humans, and while we were created in His image, we are yet, imperfect.  We have the capacity to choose good – or evil, as humans, and what created this evil was a human, not God.  When 2 students were killed at FSU, I wrote these words

God, I believe, is equally as much in despair as you and I, at what a human created.

When CNN called me, they had read my post.  They wanted to hear words of comfort they could share with their viewers.

This was my response, when they asked me for my words of comfort as a Spiritual Leader in the community.

Cantor Debbi on CNN

God is where you choose for Him to be

I can’t think of any other way to say it.  God can be your refuge, or God can be your scapegoat.  He will be whatever you make Him.

Today, and always, I choose God as my refuge.  I choose God as my light, and comfort.  He is a parent.  He is a friend.  And while He is a judge, the Almighty Judge, there is no judgment here.  There is only tragedy, created by a human.  And God is waiting for us to lean on Him.


Cantor Debbi Ballard

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