My Unknowable G-d
by Mel Waldman
G-d is unknowable and His will is incomprehensible. We have the freedom to believe in Him or not. And thus, with the passage of time, the earth is now filled with human beings who call themselves theists, atheists, and agnostics. Yet for me, my spiritual identity and beliefs are not clear-cut. I call myself a theist but most days, I struggle with my faith. And like Jacob, I struggle with the angel of G-d.
I am a Jew and I cannot reconcile the evil of the Holocaust with a loving and omnipotent G-d. I am a psychotherapist in the ghetto where most of my patients are minorities. When I sit with my traumatized patients, I cannot reconcile the violence, racism, and injustice they have been subjected to with an all-powerful and all-good G-d. But I sit with them and feel their pain, for emotions are contagious and I am a dark container of despair and hopelessness, a merciful cauldron of devastating thoughts and feelings.
As my patients release and transfer some of their intolerable pain to me, we breathe the toxic atmosphere of their anguished souls who are lost and wander in a private, bleak wilderness. Slowly, they let me into their suffocating miasma, and I discover their secret traumascape. I must understand them before I can help them heal. Later, I must safely release their poisons from my psyche.
At the end of the day, when I have cleansed and purified myself with a personal catharsis and exorcism of my own creation, I wonder if my loving G-d exists. But still I pray to Him for guidance. Yet sometimes when I pray, I rage against Him and deny His existence. In those empty moments of my life, I demand proof. Then I wait and listen to the long, lonely silence that follows. And while I wait to speak with my unknowable G-d, I devour sundry proofs for and against His existence.
Recently, I wrote a letter to the editor (Tikkun, July/August 2008) in response to an article by Michael Hampson entitled “G-d Without G-d” (Tikkun, May/June 2008). The author tries to reconcile theism and atheism by suggesting that G-d is “the ultimate mystery of existence.” He states that G-d is “the ultimate source of all that exists and the essence of existence itself” (Tikkun, May/June 2008). The author concludes that the first proof for the existence of G-d, which he calls “the argument from creation,” is “that anything exists at all, that there is even the space and the potential for anything to exist at all.”
The author’s second proof pertains to “being self-consciously alive.” He states that “the mystery of self-consciousness is the most significant experience in each of our lives, indeed the carrier of all our experience and the very essence of life. It points toward the mystery of existence itself.”
Finally, he concludes that “the name Existence or Being” is synonymous with “the name G-d.” He acknowledges, however, that “the two proofs tell us nothing of the nature of G-d.”
I do not believe that Mr. Hampson’s proposed reconciliation is complete. As I noted in my letter, it “is only a partial one at best.” Mr. Hampson believes that the atheist argument against the existence of G-d refers to “a very particular image of G-d, the G-d of presumptive monotheism.” This G-d has the following traits: “autonomous, all-powerful, autocratic, wrathful, vengeful and demanding with moments of random benevolence supposedly justifying the rest.” The author states that “all who live by faith have a different understanding and experience of G-d, outside and beyond those images the atheist rightly rejects.” Yet even if both theists and atheists agree that G-d is synonymous with Existence or Being, the nature of G-d remains a mystery that may never be solved by human beings.
In my letter to the editor, I pointed out that in a roundtable discussion between atheists and theists, “there will be diverse views about the nature of G-d. Participants who believe in the traditional concepts of G-d will state that G-d is omniscient or all-knowing, omnipotent or all-powerful, immutable or unchanging, eternal, and omnibenevolent or all-good. They may argue that G-d is all-good and all-powerful and compatible with the existence of evil although human beings cannot comprehend such a reality. Thus, G-d’s will is incomprehensible, but they are people of faith. According to the kabbalistic view, everything is for the best. Other people of faith believe in all the traditional concepts of G-d except for the divine attribute of omnipotence. In Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, he speaks of a loving G-d who is not all-powerful.
“The challenge facing those willing to sit at a roundtable discussion is that the nature of G-d seems unknowable. On The Power of Myth series on PBS, Joseph Campbell pointed out to Bill Moyers that if we could logically prove the existence of G-d, there would be no need for faith.”
Mr. Hampson tells the story of an atheist who looked at the stars and waited for a sign from G-d. The author states: “He waited, and there was nothing: only the vast emptiness of space, and the silence. And he recognized G-d in the waiting, and in the emptiness, and in the silence.”
I too wait for a sign from G-d. Perhaps, there are divine revelations around me that I have ignored. Throughout my life, I have been inspired by the vastness of the universe and the unparalleled beauty of nature. Watching the rhythmic flow of the cosmos, I see and hear, taste and smell the divine music and poetry of love and beauty and compassion.
Science cannot fully disprove the existence of G-d. It cannot rule out a spiritual cause of creation for it cannot apply the principle of falsification to the spiritual dimension. That is, empirical tests cannot show that spiritual concepts or statements are false.
Now, I gaze at the stars and wait and listen to the long, lonely silence that follows. And while I wait, I inhale the heavens above that feed my anguished soul with the celestial breath of life. And in this “cosmic kiss” (1999), for a fleeting moment of ecstasy, I feel loved and connected to the universe. In this ineffable moment, I am merged with a transcendent, loving, benign consciousness that cares for me.
I cannot scientifically prove that my unknowable G-d exists. Yet I choose to believe in a loving G-d. He is out there and inside my soul. Sometimes I feel His presence during the healing process when I sit with my traumatized patients and feel their pain and suffering. When they allow themselves to trust me and let go of shards of trauma, I too release myself to the transcendent, loving, benign consciousness that cares for us. In this sacred act of trust, I discover G-d. Each time I sit with my patients, He waits for me.
- Waldman, M. (2008). Letter to the editor. Tikkun, July-August 2008, pp. 3-4.
- Wolf, L.. Practical Kabbalah. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
Copyright © 2009 by Mel Waldman