Monday, December 13, 2010

Wrestling with God

Collegeman is angry. It happens whenever a religious holiday occurs. Having just finished Hanukkah, Collegeman is really annoyed. He rejects the religious reasons for holidays. He rejects the miracles and the wonders of God. He rejects that there is not a scientific reason for the strange happenings and odd occurrences in the Bible. The history he accepts, it’s the unexplainable that he has no use for.

This of course is nothing new. I have written about Collegeman’s rejection of God many times (here. here, here) Friends tell me that I shouldn’t worry, that I shouldn’t be concerned. Everyone at some point, mostly the young and mostly those in college, decide that they are smarter than everyone else, including God, and have no use nor need for religion. These friends reassure me that by the time he is 24 he will return to the fold and God will become important in his life.

Truthfully I don’t think that God is not important in his life. What collegeman is, is angry with God for the Holocaust, for terrorism, for anti-Semitism, racism and hate. Ultimately what collegeman is, is angry with God because God did not make humans better. When lighting the Hanukkah menorah collegeman says the prayers. He knows them quite well. He recites them in both Hebrew and English. This year all three of the men in my home lit their menorahs. By the eighth night the house shown brilliant in the glow as you are commanded to light the way and welcome the joy of the season.

But it is so much more for collegeman. He argues with himself. He fights with himself. He wrestles with his own sense of anger and questions the reality that is his world. I finally turned to him after his nightly diatribe about God and told him:

“You are not an atheist, you are not even an agnostic. You don’t question the existence of God, you are angry with God. These are two different thing,” I told him.

“How could God save the Jews from slavery in Egypt and let 6 million die in the Holocaust? I agree with Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust destroyed my love of God,” he answered.

So there we had it; the reason why collegeman in all his autistic obsessive glory cannot come to terms with God and holidays and the celebrations of the moments of the year. He cannot forgive God because God was not there when the Jewish people needed God the most. I try to tell him; perhaps it is God who gave the allies the ability to win WW2 that that was God’s way.

“No,” he says,” the allies did not save the Jews; they refused to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz. The allies fought but it was not about the Jews.” Well he was right WW2 wasn’t fought about the Jews.

I have a girlfriend who leads groups of teens on The March of the Living through Poland, culminating in Israel, every year. Young Jews from around the world gather in Poland to visit Nazi death camps. To keep the memory of what happened alive. In today’ world of Holocaust denial that is a very necessary happening, but I am not sure that I, or the boys, could ever do it. When I told her that collegeman was going to minor in Holocaust studies she warned me that he was going to get angry. That he was going to reject God. But it is different for collegeman. You can’t reject that which you are angry at. The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is indifference. You hate someone when they hurt you, when they abandon you, when they leave you in misery. You hate someone when they disappoint you in unfathomable ways.

Collegeman in his own way does not reject God, he rejects that God cares. He rejects that God loves. He rejects that God is God, not that he ever existed. In many ways collegeman’s wrestling with God reminds me of the story of Jacob. Jacob was returning to Canaan to beg his brother Esau to absolve him of his sin of stealing his inheritance. Jacob spent a night alone, just outside his brother’s land, the night before he was to reunite with his brother Esau. When a stranger suddenly confronted him. The Bible does not tell us why there was a challenge. The story does not tell us of what went between the two men when they met. But Jacob ended up challenging the stranger and spent the entire night fighting with the man.

The Bible doesn’t even describe who the man was or was not. Theologians throughout time assume it was an angel of God, but when asked for his name, the man replied it is not for you to know. But we know the names of angels, in fact we are told specifically the name of each important angel that God sends to Earth. What we do not know is the name of God. Rabbis tell us the reason we do not know God’s name is because to know someone’s name is to understand their essence, and it is not for us to understand God’s essence. Not sure that is the real reason, God could just be messing with us humans once again. Or it could be as simple as when Moses asked God his name on Mt. Sinai, God replied, “I am that I am.” Perhaps a name is not as important as we think. Perhaps whom we are inside is not in a name but in our soul. (Only God really knows.) On the other hand, it is the fact that we give ourselves names in order to express our own individuality, which is a huge part of being human. Thus to take from someone their name strips them of their humanity. Considering we are talking about the Holocaust, it is a lesson the Nazis learned well. The first thing they did to those they left alive as slave laborers in the death camps was to strip them of their names and instead tattooed numbers on their arms. They also turned the dead to ash dispersed in a river or threw the dead into unmarked graves. No grave stone, no recognition, no place for society to mourn, thus depriving them of anyone knowing that they once existed. It is why the Memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem is called Yad v'Shem, in English it means a Monument and a Name.We give the unnamed dead a place to be remembered and a place to be mourned.

The avenue of the Righteous Gentile at Yad v'Shem. For every gentile that is known to have saved even one Jewish life during the Holocaust, a tree is planted in their name at the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

The story continues that Jacob would not let go of the stranger. He hung on to the stranger with all his might and refused to give in and refused to give up. Until the stranger hobbled him by touching his hip and Jacob was forced to let go. The stranger then turned to Jacob and told him that from then on his name would be Israel. For Jacob wrestled with God, and he did not let go, he did not give in, he continued to fight for what he believed in. Jacob, now Israel, became indicative with the idea that you stand up and question and ask why. You can stand up to even God. (Perhaps that is where the idea of being stiff-necked comes in. If you can question the essence of God’s purpose and never let it go, then stubbornness is part and parcel of your genetic code.)

So, Collegeman and Jacob have a lot in common. We are taught that we are allowed to bargain with God and that we are allowed to question why God does something. We are taught that God has reasons for what and why he does things, but that in and of itself doesn’t have to suffice. The legacy of Israel, nee Jacob, is that he embodied the right to ask why, wherefore, the essence of existence perhaps. We do not have to accept simple answers to complex questions and we do not have to give up our anger, except that it may harm you personally in the end to carry this hurt around in your heart. So for collegeman I am trying to get him to understand his hurt. He does get angry, but I think it’s more of an anger born of a pain that he doesn’t yet truly understand.

So collegeman carries in his genetic code the legacy of Israel. Collegeman continues to wrestle with God because of his anger about the Holocaust (My anger is about the boy’s autism. Personally I dealt with the anger over the Holocaust along time ago.) Collegeman wants answers, real answers and doesn’t accept platitudes and doesn’t accept condescension. What makes collegeman even angrier is that perhaps there are no answers to his questions and that is why, like Jacob, he wrestles so much with God and just won’t, can’t, let any of it go. Collegeman truly is a member of the People of Abraham, a descendant of Isaac, and a true Son of Israel. Of course when I tell him that he just thinks I’m an idiot. But he will learn. Meanwhile, I can’t wait for him to get to age 24, but he has a lot of  questioning and wrestling to do before then.

Until next time,