We recently had a bit of a health scare.
Don’t worry, everything is fine. We are all fine. But about a month and a half ago, things weren’t so fine. We were worried that maybe our good run was over.
We were waiting for test results. Waiting to find out if I would have to take a leave of absence from work. Waiting to see if life was going to try to kick us down the way it has in the past.
Whenever there is some sort of chaos or crisis in our lives, well-meaning friends are quick to come out of the woodwork and remind us of some things we should do. Pray. Say Psalms. Give charity. And the all-important, always doable: Check your mezuzahs.
We checked them a bunch of times since moving into our new home. Removing them from the doorposts, bringing them to a rabbi who either tells us they’re kosher, or finds some letter scratched out, some phrase that is missing (thereby negating the mezuzah’s supposed protective qualities). And so we replace these doorway sentinels, hoping that repairing the letters will repair whatever ailments are plaguing us.
But not this time.
This time, when things started going south, we didn’t share the grim news with anyone. I had called my husband from the hospital with news that the PET scan had lit up where it wasn’t supposed to and that we needed to follow up with more tests. Either everything was fine, or everything was not fine; there was no in-between. Before he responded, I warned him: “If you take one mezuzah down from any doorpost, I’m divorcing you.”
I could not take down those mezuzahs again because I could not believe that a letter scratched out had cursed us in some way. I would not buy into the idea anymore that God would choose to punish us over something so small. That if only we had checked them earlier, maybe my son would not have had a brain tumor. Maybe I wouldn’t have had breast cancer. Maybe.
I decided right then that I couldn’t believe in that God of superstition and amulets and magical talisman. That isn’t my religion. That isn’t my God.
My friend Rachel said it best. When I told her a bit of what was happening, and my changing feelings about the protection those mezuzahs were supposed to give, she agreed. Not everything has a clear reason. We don’t know why bad things happen. And more importantly, she explained, “The God I believe in is crying with me. He’s sad, too. And He certainly isn’t blaming me.”
The theological crisis that arises from tragedy and pain is an old story. I’m not one to pontificate on where God was when I was going through difficult times. In fact, I didn’t really have much time to think about where He was other than to pray that God would come through for us. But while I can question why things happened the way they did, why we keep finding new battles, I can’t buy into the simple notion that “if only we had checked the mezuzahs” or “if only we had prayed harder” or “if only I would have worn longer skirts” than none of this would have happened.
It’s easy to try to rationalize suffering. It’s a natural desire. “Fix this and all your troubles will go away!”
But my God is much more complex. I would much rather file my troubles into a folder that’s labeled “I Don’t Understand” than point to an imperfect talisman and blame it on that. I don’t mind having a God that I sometimes don’t understand. A God that I sometimes question. A God that angers me.
Blasphemy? Not really.
More like authenticity. More like the God I know.