Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Nine Essential Things I've Learned About Life by Harold Kushner

I don’t agree with all the things that Harold Kushner says in Nine Essential Things I've Learned About Life, his most recent book. The guru of the limited G-d, of the Deity who does not control the world (who was propelled to fame with When Bad Things Happen to Good People) he is extremely humane and kind.  There is no doubt that reading his work is well worth the time.  But in my humble opinion, his view of God removes a vital part of much of what gives Judaism its dynamism.

Of course, if we believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, activist Deity, than 'the bad things that happen to good people' is a problem, for one could and should option attribute our misfortune to the Deity.  Granted. 

Answers that have satisfied some people over the centuries find no perch for Kushner, like the bad things that happen are part of an overall plan that we fail to understand.  Kushner fails to see how needless suffering can satisfy a plan.  Nor would he want to believe in such a G-d who would use suffering like this.  This makes sense. So his Deity is limited in power. God doesn't give us cancer. Kushner's G-d helps us face the challenges of having cancer honestly and bravely.

Again, why not?  I think that is a genuinely helpful way to view   G-d. But the Jewish soul in me resists the notion of a limited Deity. There is a legitimate, and long tradition in Judaism of holding G-d accountable for seemingly unjust actions and events.  From Abraham to Job to the Holocaust, Jews demand a moral accounting from their G-d.  They plead, seek, and rail against a G-d who will not deal justly with (his) creatures.

I want to have full control of my views of G-d.  Sometimes G-d is personal, and I am devoted to G-d like a friend or lover. Sometimes I seek G-d's succor; I can’t take any more of what the world dishes out, and ask for solace and help.  At other times G-d is a force, an impersonal entity, as the Stoics imagine the Divine.  Often G-d is Reality, big R, the sum total of all that is. Sometimes, G-d is absent, nothing, a lack and an ache.  I look for G-d and fail to find him, like a lost child.  G-d is all those things, and more; the mind fails to grasp the Divinity.   We are left with a G-d who wears many masks. Why would it be any other way?  Why should G-d only wear Kushner's mask?

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