Sunday, May 26, 2013
Is Our Suffering God’s Will?
A subscriber sent me an email with an article that had appeared on CNN.com. It was pertinent, according to the sender, since the news about the Oklahoma tornado. The article was about a young man, Joshua Prager, who had just written a book about a horrible accident he has suffered 23 years earlier. His book is titled: "Half-Life: Reflections from Jersusalem on a Broken Neck" published by Byliner.
(CNN) -- At noon on May 16, 1990, a runaway truck struck a minibus at the foot of Jerusalem and bound together the lives of 22 people: 18 Israeli Chasidim, two American Jews, an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew who had just found religion. The last died at the wheel of his bus. The rest of us returned to our homes to heal -- a medical jet flying me, my broken neck and a respirator back to New York. I was 19.
… I was a hemiplegic and would be always. And when last year I returned to Jerusalem at age 40, stepping from the plane with my cane and ankle brace, I hoped to write of the crash and its place in my life….
Was it owing to the crash that I was not married, that I was ever-mindful of time, that people seemed to tell me what they told no one else? I wondered if my crash-mates wondered similar things. I wondered how they had made sense of the crash. And so, 22 years after it, I set off to look for them.
I found the Chasidim first. They were a large extended family that, together with me and my American friend, had been riding the bus to Jerusalem where they planned to worship at the Western Wall, the Kotel. I found them in the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak. They welcomed me into their home.
Surrounded by seven shelves of holy books, Yaakov, the family patriarch, told me that God had caused the crash and spared our lives. He said we had to follow the example of Job and serve God though we did not understand him.
Next, I found the widow of the bus driver. She was a secular Jew of Yemeni descent and lived in the industrial town of Petach Tikvah. (She wished to keep her name private.) She told me that her husband had feared nothing but God. And, she said, it was God who had ordained the crash. "It is written," she told me. "If you don't believe that, you will go crazy."
Finally, in the Arab town of Kfar Qara, I found the driver whose truck had crashed into the left rear of the bus where I sat. Abed told me that he had become religious after the crash and that the crash was an act of God. He then paused from his coffee and his Hebrew to speak an Arabic word: Maktoob. "It is written."
I left Abed, mindful as I drove south toward Jerusalem that, in this land of competing narratives, Arab and Jew were for once in perfect agreement.
Now -- 23 years later -- it finally is. I have written my book. And it occurs to me that whenever any of us wish to assimilate why we suffer (or prosper), we must choose between these same two narratives. We can attribute our lots to God and his writings, his unknowable ways. Or we can root them in the natural world and chronicle them ourselves -- on paper or simply in our minds. We can take comfort in ultimate if inscrutable justice. Or we can take comfort in observable reason and responsibility.
We can take comfort in some form of God’s justice or in the observable natural world of reason and responsibility. These were the only two choices he believed he had after he had rationally distilled the situation.
But what if there is a third choice?
I, like Mr. Prager, cannot believe in a God that orchestrates auto crashes in Israel or tornados in Oklahoma in order to “teach some of us some kind of lesson.” That is not the unconditional love of humankind that Jesus portrayed. That is the “love” of a God of an extremely patriarchal late Bronze Age mentality. That is the creation of a Supreme Being – male, of course – that is merely a gigantic, overblown version of ourselves: Judgmental, aggressive, jealous, power hungry and insecure, vindictive and, apparently, very finicky.
Our egos try very hard to demand answers of situations that cause grief, physical pain, emotional anguish and destruction. Our egos need to make sense of things. What else is “being in control” all about, if it isn’t this?
But grief, physical pain, emotional anguish and destruction are all an illusionary set of meanings we apply to the events of our perceived world. It is the same with the more positive meanings, as well. These meanings are of our own creation. [This was the subject of last week’s post: Why Is It So Difficult To Change What I Perceive?]
There are physical laws and spiritual laws we live by and they work whether we believe or acknowledge them. The most innocent baby will fall from a 10-story window due to gravity. God will continue to love us unconditionally whether we think we “deserve” it or not. Our egos cannot comprehend these kinds of things – so we concoct a god that plays favorites and can be rather whimsical when it comes to who lives or dies in a natural catastrophe. Thinking that way allows my ego to continue to believe it’s in control – it can still choose whether or not to believe in God or to trust Him or to love Him or to believe He truly accepts me as I am.
There is a third choice.
As ACIM has taught me, I am not an ego. I am not a human being. The True Me does not live in a physical body that houses – somewhere – an eternal soul, which God will either bless or damn at my physical death. I am an already-loved eternal spirit that is permanently connected to and loved by God – always have been and always will be. Amen.
Just because I perceive something as either good or bad, doesn’t make it so. As friends in AA used to tell me, “Don, you don’t have to believe in everything you think.”
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
PS: I will be on holiday for 2 weeks. There will be no posts from me during that time.
#4 May, 2013