21 Dec Spiritual growth-level four
Judaism elevated me far above the secularism I had grown up with by expanding the boundaries of my heart and opening me up to an unseen reality. When I found the synagogue experience disappointing, I took refuge in prayer and reading the Bible. Rather than encountering legalism, I uncovered kernels of grace that would later come to fruition.
However, Michael’s depression in sixth grade, served as a reminder that Judaism had never answered my questions about life’s injustice. Because of this, I reached a plateau in which Judaism could no longer sustain me. I watched Michael as depression enveloped him, settling into his mind and sucking the lifeblood out of his personality. His eyes betrayed what he couldn’t or wouldn’t express: He would have preferred death than to wake up another day.
My prayer life, at this point, turned dry and shallow. With an impenetrable river of fog separating me from God, I wondered, “Was He simply hidden or absent?” Assuming I’d missed a critical piece of the Jewish spiritual puzzle, I delved deeper. With a ray of expectant light pushing me forward, I read Eli Wiesel’s book, The Night. I had neglected reading it during my Holocaust study, and several of my fellow-students had spoken of its power.
In a gripping section, Wiesel described how the Nazis hung two men and a boy for possessing a cache of stolen guns. They forced thousands to witness their deaths. The two men died immediately, but the boy struggled in tortured agony for more than half an hour. Wiesel wrote that the boy had the sad face of a little angel. When someone rhetorically asked, “Where is God?” Wiesel responded, “Where is He? He is hanging here on the gallows…” God, for Wiesel, was dead.
Instead of providing enlightenment, The Night added fuel to my fiery angst. Knowing that the Old Testament patriarchs struggled with God, I began reading the prophets. I focused on Isaiah 63:9. “In all their affliction, He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy, He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.”
Simone Weil, the Jewish Christian philosopher, described one category of affliction–that of waiting for God and getting no response. She wrote, “The pain is irreducibly private and isolating, taking a bite in the substance of a soul, more than mere physical suffering.”
My condition mimicked the very affliction Weil wrote of.
In my Jewish understanding, divine pathos stood as the one harmonic chord representing God’s suffering love. However, I was tortured by a vague apprehension that God couldn’t possibly fathom my spiritual despondency. The writings of theologian Terence Fretheim brought clarity to the issue. “Because we are made in God’s image, then we have permission to reverse the process and know God’s nature. God cannot know human attributes like sexuality, sin, or guilt.”
With great vexation of soul, I realized that spiritual despair fit the above category. God, even in his infinitude, could not contain, encompass, or override this type of affliction. This dreadful prospect brought me to an impassable divide, causing my entire framework to crumble. With divine pathos failing me, something broke inside of me. My relationship with God came to a standstill. I would have preferred sheer torture to the cold vaulted emptiness that lay waste to my interior. As part of some otherworldly conundrum, I longed for the Almighty to experience the ultimate, psychic insult of separation from God. Nothing else would satisfy.