Of all the world religions, I’ll never begin to understand or grasp the level of disdain that exists for the Jewish faith. Now maybe it was my own upbringing or simply the fact that over time my own image of God has expanded, transcending any of the ideas, theories, metaphors, or other means of trying to box God in to a convenient package that we can somehow control, and even worse yet, understand the motivation of the workings of God and Evil in our world, hearkening back to the original accounts of the desire to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, the knowledge of good and evil. The temptation to know and to control, if anything, limits our purview of God and over time distorts our ability to see clearly, a God who leads us to fall into greater depths of mystery.
Shortly following World War II, Karl Rahner, SJ, wrote warily of the shunning of our humanity, after witnessing the annihilation of our Jewish brothers and sisters in the concentration camps, recognizing that it is only in our limitation as humans where we can experience and find the existence of this mystery. He writes, “They say there is no God because they are confusing the true God with what they took to be their God. And as regards what they are actually referring to really does not are quite right. The God they were referring to really does not exist: the God of earthly security, the God of salvation from life’s disappointments, the God of life insurance, the God who takes care so that children never cry and that justice marches in upon the earth, the God who transforms earth’s laments, the God who doesn’t let human love end up in disappointment.” It is precisely, he’d go onto say, in our often felt despair when clinging to such a God where the true God, the God of this mystery, of unknowing, resides.
It is quite difficult listening to news stories of tragedies as what unfolded in Pittsburgh, PA earlier this morning, as a people who awoke from the darkness of the lingering night sky, began their sabbath as they do weekly, gathered in prayer. Who would have ever thought that their day would unfold the way it had? Who would have thought that they’d be the ones now facing that despair in the face of a God that had been faithful throughout the trials and tribulations of a people on a journey to greater depths and understanding. A people that has such a storied history in the face of evil, and more often than not, in the name of another religion, whether historically with Christians, Muslims, or the rise of atheism and secularism that has contributed a great deal of animosity towards all religion, clinging to their own Gods and yet blinded by them at the same time.
In reading of the gunman, it was rather ironic or maybe even paradoxical, that his own animosity had grown even more acutely in thinking in his own mind that “the Jews” were somehow sympathetic towards the “caravans” of people fleeing Latin America violence, blaming them in this way. If there is any truth, it’s in the metaphorical reality of a people that has the history of being a “caravan” people, fleeing the violence of Egypt in seeking the Promised Land. It’s not to say that people Israel has been perfect, rather quite the opposite. It is only in their own recognition of their limitation in fleeing persecution and slavery, that they begin to see the frail side of freedom and power, and, at times, become what it is they hated about Egypt. Their story is our story, all of us. We are a caravan people who continue to seek the Promised Land, but in the process of seeking and being found, we continue to cling to our Gods, as Rahner writes, and only then can we begin to catch glimpses, and only glimpses, of the deeper mystery we call God.
We live in an age when we find ourselves not only disconnected from our storied history but from our own humanity as well. The warning of Rahner following World War II remains a warning to us all, maybe even more so in the age of technology when a persistent barrier prevents us from looking the person we loathe in the face and seeing them for more than a religion, a belief, a color, their gender, or any other means that we’ve accustomed to separating ourselves from one another.
Certainly our own history, as a Christian, has often fed into these realities with faulty interpretations of Scripture that have long been outdated for our age and a clinging to our own Gods of dogma, security, and this senses of certainty that only gives an earthly assurance to us but never moves us to a place of trust and faith as it did people Israel in their own time of wandering. It is in wandering that we find ourselves, blindly following the Gods of our times, calling us to consume information, consume by buying, consume by taking in and hoarding, somehow giving us the satisfaction and security we desire but creating a blockage in our hearts to understand and accompany the other in the caravan we call life. The story of our Jewish brothers and sisters is our story as well, never fully known and always unfolding. When we lose sight of that, we begin to not only box God into what we want and choose to define, but we box ourselves in as well.
We are a people held captive often by our own doing. We are a people held captive by our thinking, our ideology, our politics. We are a people that fails to recognize and accept our own limitations in freedom and of our humanity, seeking a “more” that is never fulfilled, leaving us angry and resentful towards the other that we have deemed worthy of such life, resorting to violence, hatred, judgment, bigotry, and all personified by a political system that is fed in that same way. We are a people held captive by our own doing, still thinking that we too can eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, the knowledge of good and evil, taking matters into our own hands, not being abandoned by God but rather abandoning God all together.
Today, as so many in the past, one person took matters into his own hands, thinking in his own mind that what he was doing was good and failing in the way humanity has since the beginning of time. We consistently toss ourselves from the garden, the paradise we desire, in order to create our own rather than living in trust and faith. Our distorted religious culture continues to feed into a narrative that evil can be eradicated from the earth by our own doing and more often than not, violently. Despite the fact that our Jewish brothers and sisters have at their helm the celebration of their own Passover and we Christians, a Cross, we still fail to learn that the only answer, and the most difficult, is the power that comes in and through love and forgiveness. Once again we are given an invitation from the true God of our faith to respond to a senseless violent act against a people of faith, how will we respond? Do we respond by arming ourselves with guns, failing to learn from our past of becoming what we have hated or do we respond in the way all people of faith are called to respond, with love and forgiveness? If we desire to restore a humanity to our civil discourse, our religion, and even our culture, it is only through the deepest desire of our frail humanity, as Rahner states, with love and forgiveness, even in times of despair.