“It was God’s will” is a terrible thing to say to the bereaved no matter the intention. Piety is sometimes simply wrong. But that’s what we hear over and over on the news this week, from religious leaders, politicians and pundits, talking to/about the parents, friends and shocked neighbors in Connecticut. Does this kind of faithful lingo ultimately help or hurt? What does this form of soothing do to our souls, to our minds, to our ability to try to heal and fix our world?
Some things are best left unsaid. Even, sometimes, truths.
The claims by some to know what is God’s will when bad stuff happens are pure heresy and very bad taste. Stephen Prothero, one of my favorite writers on religion wrote on this yesterday: “Much better to say there is no God or, as Abraham Lincoln did, “The Almighty has his own purposes,” than to flatter ourselves with knowing what those purposes are.”
What I’m left with, beyond the frustration with this abusive and violent God language (did I mention “God hates fags” and “God loves guns”?) is the big messy question of faith: Trying to make sense of the incredible human yearning and at times, capacity, to create comfort in times of crisis, to make meaning of loss, to get up in the morning and find ways to hope and cope and strive for better. Is all that grounded in the thought-out mental leap of faith that everything happens for a reason? Or are we just on auto pilot because the other alternative is too horrid to live with: that chaos rules our lives?
I am struggling with faith, with the courage to believe or not, to trust that there is possibly a plan in motion and that there’s reason for whatever happens, even when it makes no sense and worse.
But sometimes, often, it all feels like a mass manipulation. Like a pious lie.
The longest night of the year, coming up this Friday, let alone the big question of what will or won’t happen as the Mayan calendar ends only adds to the rumble in our collective belly: The solar systems circle on, but is anything in charge?
And so I wonder – when did this notion of the “Big Plan” start? I may be wrong but I think that this week’s Torah text, Va’yigash,describes the first such bold theological assumption in the Bible: Joseph comes out to his brothers as that Hebrew boy they once sold as slave. “But it’s all good, my brothers”, he assures them: “how else could I have saved you now? It is all God’s bigger plan. ” Gen. 45:5
This may be the first time that God (here referred to as Elhoim), gets full credit by a human for the running of the show.
The brothers are silent with shock: A reasonable reaction.
Really, Joseph? Hindsight is 20/20. 22 years after the pit, this ruler of Egypt has perspective and trusts the Higher Power. But can one hold to this type of faith when deep inside the pits of grief and trauma? Did he, like Job, bless God inside the pit and had faith in the big plan or did he lose it as so many of us do when it hits the fan?
Perhaps the brothers, in their silence, got it right.
They were not just shocked to see their brother – they didn’t know what to make of his claim that every little plot twist is the work of God.
And even if, let’s say, this IS the Truth – even then: Some truths, are better, sometimes, left unspoken. Words of faith, spoken at the not so perfect timing, can hurt instead of heal, close the heart instead of opening it to the possible.
Even if one is 100% sure that there is a plan and horrors have a reason – saying this at moments that are too raw is rarely helpful. The ability to deal with these big questions is an intimate act, and it deserves the bravest of attentions, quietly, with some healthy distance from the wound.
Faith is not an auto pilot nod. It’s a private work in process.
“You gotta have faith” Paul Rudd tells me in the back of the cab this morning, “and also – you need a backup plan.” It’s an ad for a play on Broadway called ‘Grace’ that I hear is awesome but what sticks with me when I get out of the cab on Union Square is this simple not so simple message: Have faith in something bigger than us all, but pull in your own weight. In other words: Whether there’s a big plan or not, and no matter what happens this Friday – how we each take care of each other, comfort the sad, make each day count more is all about us. And sometimes the humble honest thing is just to hug and not say much, and be grateful for what we’ve got. Maybe that’s what helped Joseph get through his ordeal. Maybe that’s what will help the the good people in Newtown. It isn’t much, and there’s still the big question – but for now, that’s good enough.