Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Is There Any Way We Can Believe in God Today?
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD ENDED one Passover night. That Seder meal was in fact different from all others in a very real sense. In every previous year, as my grandfather chanted every Hebrew word from the chicken-stained Haggadah text, my cousins and I would distract ourselves from boredom and hunger with a variety of games and pranks. The Passover following my Bar Mitzvah, however, I started to really pay attention.
As the plagues descended upon Egypt, my consciousness snapped to attention. I felt genuine outrage when I read in the Haggadah that the God who heard the suffering from our people would "pass through the land of Egypt on that night and [would] smite the firstborn in the land of Egypt from man to beast...I and not an angel, not a messenger, I and no other, will execute judgment."
To free the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, the Haggadah was saying God murdered the babies! Of course, the Passover narrative was not a new story to me, but somehow, that day, this divine retribution penetrated my senses as a startling revelation.
Perhaps I should not have been so shocked by my own reaction. After all, many reasons exist to harbor supreme doubts concerning the God we read about in the Hebrew or Christian Bible. You probably share some of these and could add your own healthy dose of skepticism. Here is a good starter list of reasons to doubt God's very existence:
- The biblical God seemed to have a close, direct, and personal relationship with scriptural heroes like Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. God "spoke" to them all the time. In all my years, I have not had my first one-on-one with God. So, if there is a God, why doesn't He talk to us now like He talked to them?
- God appeared to have performed countless miracles thousands of years ago, like dividing the Sea of Reeds and engineering the virgin birth. Because God is on record as a performer of such highly unlikely feats and because, seemingly, they have ceased to take place in our day, God must not be around anymore to actively hone His craft.
- Life disappoints, sometimes in tragic ways. People who are pretty confirmed agnostics have made requests of God at one time or another. These petitions range from the rather inconsequential-help me with the science test that I did not study for-to the consequential-even though my son has a pretty lousy SAT score, I should have enough contacts to get him into the Ivy League school I attended, but one more letter of reference from a really high-up source can't hurt-to the truly momentous-"Please, God, save my father from suffering and death." When these requests are not granted, we often feel angry and betrayed. Asking "Why do bad things happen to good people?" rarely produces salutary results. If the answer is "It's God's will," God gets dissed. If the answer is "God did not come through," God gets dismissed. Either way, whatever belief we have been able to muster can disappear very fast.
- The state of the world hardly reflects God's love and care for us. There's a story told about a man who hired a tailor to make a pair of pants. Every week, he stopped in to find out how his pants were coming along, only to find they were not yet ready. Finally, totally exasperated, he blurted out: "I can't believe this is taking so long. After all, God made the world in six days, but you can't make a lousy pair of pants in six weeks." "Yes," the tailor replied as he slowly worked on his unfinished sartorial masterpiece, "but look at the world and look at my pants."
Take a good look at our planet. Terrorism, the war in Iraq, massive slaughter and genocide in Darfur, and other man-made atrocities are leading indicators of a world in need of a makeover or a miracle. If there is a God, why is His masterpiece such a mess? The Holocaust is still the greatest challenge to the existence of God. The Bible says that God made the Jews His treasured people. If that is true, why were they selected for genocide? The Holocaust was so devastating to the Jews and their faith that little was written about this unbearable tragedy until 1958, when Elie Wiesel published a riveting account of his experiences at Auschwitz in his first book, Night. In this autobiographical account, Wiesel relates a poignant scene in which three people were hung in the assembly place-one being a child with a refined and beautiful face.
"Where is God? Where is He?" someone behind Wiesel asked... For more than a half hour, the child stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony. He was still alive when Wiesel passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed. Wiesel continues: "Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
'Where is God now?'
"I heard a voice within me answer him:
'Where is He? Here He is-He is hanging here on this gallows...'
That night, the soup tasted of corpses."
Powerful narrative, powerful challenge to God and belief. This is the very package of theological doubts I carried with me through college, even through the year I spent studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. All through that period, I continued my observance of many Jewish practices: I kept kosher, observed holidays, and prayed regularly. Such practices gave me a structure, solid grounding beneath my faith. Candidly, however, that prayer was not usually directed to a powerful, transcendent God. Even when I had a sense of the divine during services, I felt God more as a searing presence inside, a force that would not be denied, a type of guiding power. Yet, I did not feel I could petition or even give thanks to this God because I had no real relationship with Him. That bond ended one Seder night years ago, and neither of us could yet find our way back to the other.