God and the Big Bump
As a rabbinical student, I was required to defend anintellectual argument for my personal belief in God, aposition which my instructor thoroughly annihilated witha few well-placed philosophical thrusts. Theologically traumatized, it was many years before I understood that God is not so much what we can prove via our cerebral prowessas what we can deeply feel inside--about ourselves, the world we live in, the people we share it with and what we'd like our role in it to be. Since even the soundest intellectual constructs of God are susceptible to being deconstructed, I've since chosen to build my relationship with God onadmittedly flawed, inconsistent and contradictory feelingsabout the universe.
For the first fifty-two years of my life, I grew pretty comfortable living in a world I felt to be of God's making and expressing gratitude for the gifts bestowed by our Creator day in and day out. The particular gifts about which I prayed were perhaps more familiar in a science lab than ina worship space: laws of gravity, thermonuclear dynamicsand quantum mechanics. They may not seem much like the warm and fuzzy birthday presents we receive from peoplewho love us, but they're the basic building-blocks of life which we humans rely upon to get out of bed each morning and do constructive things with our days. My theological outlook was that our Creator has granted us a great gift called life, and we ought to do worthwhile things with it while we're alive because when we die, it's all over.Scientifically, an after life never made sense to me, and Iwas more than okay disappearing into the earth upon myphysical demise.
What I hadn't counted on was someone dying whose life was more precious to me than my own, turning my comfortable theology on its head. In March 2009, my son, Jonah Maccabee Dreskin, died while he was away from home for his freshman year of college. An amazingly bright, funny, talented and exceedingly kind young man, Jonah's death left me with a broken heart and more than a handful of questions.
The first question, "Why?", although it certainly came to mind often, was never the one to which I seriously needed an answer. I respect the laws of nature that manage our physical world, and I'm grateful that God enforces them (i.e., that they remain in effect forever and for all of us). So as much as it hurt when Jonah died, no explanation was asked for, or needed by me, from God.
The question that dogged me took me by complete surprise:"What happens after we die?" Since I had assumed that the death's significance with which I needed to grapple was my own, I was comfortable leaving this question alone.Whatever happens, happens; I'll see it (or not) when I get there. But now it's my son who has gone "there" and,contrary to every reasonable idea I've ever had about where we go when we die, I now find it's become incrediblyimportant to me that we go on existing in some familiar way after we've left our earthly body behind. Simply put, my head may not think an after life exists, but my heart pumps a much louder, more emotionally compelling, message: I want to see my boy again.
God may exist at some infinitely great distance from us that precludes our ever knowing or understanding just what God is or does, not at all unlike the distance between the Big Bang and science's ability to see the universe 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang ("Planck's Constant"). For most of us,while the Big Bang is an important challenge to how we understand God, it's likely that the Big Bump--the scrapes and bruises life hands us as we scurry and stumble from its greatest heights to its most awful lows--will play a leading role in what we find ourselves choosing to believe about God. For me, it's the distance from my heart to a 19-year old I won't ever get to hug again, at least not in this lifetime, that these days fires my theological quest and my leaps of faith.
Reprinted from Torah at the Center, Vol 14 No. 1