The cruel God. The harsh judge. The unfeeling absolute.
I can’t say I blame most people for thinking of God this way. We experience the world as a cruel place. Senseless tragedies occur every day. Corruption surrounds us. All things fail us and all people.
God is the Creator, we believe. He is the Master with power over all this madness we call life.
Christopher Hitchens has put it eloquently in his book God is Not Great:
There is a central paradox at the core of all religion. The three great monotheisms teach people to think abjectly of themselves, as miserable and guilty sinners prostrate before an angry and jealous God who, according to their discrepant accounts, fashioned them either out of dust and clay or a clot of blood. The positions for prayer are usually emulations of the suppliant serf before an ill-tempered monarch. The message is one of continual submission, gratitude, and fear. Life itself is a poor thing: an interval in which to prepare for the hereafter or the coming – or second coming – of the Messiah. (p.73).
It’s not a pretty picture, is it?Where can we find a reason for the hope that lies in us? Where can we find not proof but hope?
Rumor has it that the power of God should not be a source of comfort to us in this. The philosophical “problem of evil” is a problem because God is powerful and yet does not stop evil. So maybe it is strange, but I find hope amidst painful reality in the second benediction of the Amidah, the powers of God, or in Hebrew, the G’vurot:
You are eternally mighty, my Lord, the Resuscitator of the dead are you; abundantly able to save.
He sustains the living with kindness, resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, heals the sick, releases the confined, and maintains his faith to those asleep in the dust. Who is like you, O Master of Mighty Deeds, and who is comparable to you, O King who causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout.
And you are faithful to resuscitate the dead. Blessed are you, HaShem, who resuscitates the dead.
We should put Christopher Hitchens on notice. I’d like to ask all atheists to hear. We do not bow down to a God who misrepresents himself. We don’t bow down to a God who ignores and covers over the truth of misery.
We prostrate ourselves before a God who is honest. He says there will be death. He speaks of saving and thereby admits we will be in pain and in need of rescue. He sustains the living, admitting that we need help in our miserable condition. He releases the confined, admitting we will fill as though imprisoned in this cruel world. He comes right out and says it: HE CAUSES DEATH!
Now, we might complain. We might say, “God, you made it too hard. God, how can you allow this? God, are you unfeeling about our pain?” We might wonder why God does not make all things bearable and easy and good.
It is a legitimate complaint. Everywhere we look we find God encouraging us to think this way. God does not demand that we keep silent about our suffering. He praised Job for his honesty. He inspired Psalms of lament. He inspired the writer of Psalms to complain about him, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?”
Think about that: God inspired someone to complain about him.
The G’vurot prayer is an honest prayer. The G’vurot prayer is a protest against the darkness. The G’vurot prayer is faith when faith seems impossible.
The G’vurot prayer looks at the graves of loved ones and says, “God will raise them.” The G’vurot prayer takes a different path than the atheists. They see cruelty in the world and decide God must be fiction. The G’vurot prayer sees cruelty in the world and vocalized faith in the coming redemption of this broken world.
Atheists would probably laugh at this kind of faith. It is not rational, they would say. I have two things to say about that.
#1: Atheism is not the rational option either, but an angry or sad overreaction.
#2: Love is not rational, but I believe in it all the same.
Next time: more on the G’vurot prayer and its scriptural themes.