If Kindness Makes You Believe, Shouldn’t Evil Make You Doubt?
Dear Jew in the City,
I recently read your article on faith, but this is where things get a bit fuzzy for me: “If reason and discernment are necessary in guiding our emunah, what pushes me towards belief (and trust) in God? When I look at the complexity of nature and cosmology; when I see certain events in my life fitting together in a perfect harmony; when I witness an exceptional act of kindness by another human being, I detect Godliness in it all.”
Whereas two paragraphs earlier you say: “I know I have it both ways, and I’m OK with that. I believe that all aspects of life – no matter how challenging or incomprehensible they are – come from a Higher place. But can she prove it, you may wonder? No, she can’t, and she’s OK with that too.”
So if the proof, or the reason you feel compelled to believe, is the perfection of nature and cosmology, aspects of your life fitting together in perfect harmony, or an exceptional act of kindness, what happens when things don’t work out perfectly, when someone acts like a jerk? Shouldn’t that compel you to not see the divine?
Thanks for your question. I’ll answer it with a personal story. I’ve been married for over twelve years. My husband is an incredible person, husband, and father, but there have been many times that I’ve wondered why I earth I married him. (Don’t worry – he’s wondered the same thing about me!) We’ve had our ups and our downs over the years like all couples do. A few months ago, we were so in sync. Everything between us just felt so perfect. So beautiful. So harmonious. I was so sure a few months ago that this man was the absolute best man in the world for me, and as I was in that blissful place, I remember distinctly thinking, “How could I ever feel differently about him? We’re so great together. I’m so in love with him. How could this feeling ever change?”
But then it did. I don’t know when exactly things changed, but a little while later, he got busy with work. REALLY busy. And then we started arguing over family issues. Everything got off. WAY off. That blissfulness was like a distant memory. I could barely even recall how it felt to be so in tune with him. It seemed like we were fighting constantly, like nothing either of us said the other could agree with. It was ugly. It was unharmonious. But this was my husband and this was my marriage. And so I had to have faith. I had to have faith in my marriage like I have faith in God, because even when I’m feeling out of love, my husband is still a good guy who is committed to our marriage and so I don’t give up on him or what we have. (Note: this analogy only works when you have two healthy people who are committed to their marriage.)
If I had never felt a harmony in the world or had never met a person whose actions were so giving and so selfless that I saw Godliness in them, I’d have a much harder time believing in God. Similarly, if I’d never fallen in love with my husband in the first place, never seen anything special in him, never felt a spark between us, then I’d have much harder time believing in our marriage. But I’ve had those experiences with God and I’ve had those experiences with my husband. And so when bad, disconnected times come, I have patience and I pray and I work to get back to the good, in sync times.
Because, ultimately, the reason I stay with God is the same reason that I stay with my husband: I’m committed to these fixtures being in my life. This is what I want my life to look like. I want a relationship and a closeness with the Almighty, and I want a great marriage with my husband. But I’m realistic enough to realize that these relationships are not static nor are they perfect. They take work and they suffer at times, and I can only be in them if I’m willing to accept them as a package deal with the ups and the downs. And the bad times don’t negate that the good times happened or that’ll come back again. And so far that’s been true over and over again for me. Closeness and distance, closeness and distance.
We’re used to “Hollywood” romance when it comes to relationships and perhaps that affects our expectation of what a relationship with God should look like. I was listening to the radio the other day and the singer sang about how the woman he loved was so perfect, and I thought how my husband wouldn’t be able to sing this song about me because he knows me too well! But that’s OK. It’s a realer love and it’s a deeper love than the guy on the radio sings of. And that’s what my relationship with God is too. It’s about knowing that dark times will come and bad people will be out there who seem to negate Godliness in their actions, and I’ll feel distant from those connected moments in the past, but I’ll wait for them until they return.
The great rabbi and philosopher Maimonides wrote about clarity in our emunah (faith) in this famous work, Guide to the Perplexed, “At times the truth shines so brilliantly that we perceive it as clear as day. Our nature and habit then draw a veil over our perception, and we return to a darkness almost as dense as before. We are like those who, though beholding frequent flashes of lightning, still find themselves in the thickest darkness of the night.”
These words ring so true for me. In those moments of clarity and those moments of connectivity, I am so sure of myself and what I know to be true. And then when the darkness comes, as it always does, I think back to the light and wait for it again.
All the best,
Allison (aka Jew in the City)