All the promises of heavenly bliss are not worth the torment of a single child, said Ivan Karamazov. The image of one drowned boy overwhelmed Europe. Only a few hundred thousand people have died in Iraq and Syria during the past fifteen years, but zeros could appear to the right of the death toll before long. Whether the migrant tidal wave arose spontaneously, or whether it was channeled by Turkey, is a secondary question. The Christian mind cannot absorb the horror of human suffering on an apocalyptic scale, and what we see now is tiny compared to what is likely to come next.
Judaism is more resilient in the face of horror, I think, because it assigns to humankind a higher degree of freedom, that is, the radical freedom to enter into partnership with the creator of the world and transform nature itself. The God that Judaism encounters in the world in which we find ourselves–this God, and not a God that satisfies the sensibilities of philosophers or theologians–left Creation intentionally incomplete so that man might have the freedom to become a partner in the work of creation. Chaos in the natural world and human wickedness are a divine challenge to humankind to rise to the status of co-creator. The possibility of radical freedom, of course, also implies the possibility of radical evil.
The Christian is reborn into the Church and enters its community as an individual. The Jew already was present in the congregation at Mount Sinai, where all Israel, including all future generations, heard the voice of God from the fiery mountain. The Christian ponders why bad things happen to good people; the Jew prays each morning in good times and bad, “How fortunate are we. How good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, how beautiful our heritage.” The deliverance at the Sea of Reeds is not a past event and Israel’s ultimate redemption is not a mere future: Judaism is simply the construction of a present in which all generations rejoice in Israel’s inheritance, and provide a context against which an individual’s suffering is measured. One might ask with Ivan Karamazov whether all this is worth the suffering of a single child. In the Jewish perception, it is worth it to God–not an abstract God, not a designer God to whom we attribute our own sensibilities, but YHWH with whom Abraham and Moses spoke ...
A final thought: At one end of the Christian spectrum, the doctrine of universal salvation requires us to believe that everyone is potentially good, or at least receptive to the good. Merkel is inclined towards this view, as are most German Christians (who believe that for them to be forgiven, everyone has to be forgiven). I suspect that Pope Francis thinks this way, too. George W. Bush, a mainline Methodist, also is a universal salvationist, judging from his Second Inaugural Address. At the other end of the Christian spectrum we have the Calvinist assertion that grace is given only to an Elect. America's Civil War was the great Calvinist crusade against evil, when Union soldiers sang a paraphrase of Isaiah 63. If we insist on believing that there is an inherent good in everyone, the likes of the Nazis, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and ISIS will provide massive evidence to the contrary, and we will be paralyzed with horror--like Germany's leaders today.