Yesterday I attended a celebration of life service for a former co-worker. We were never particularly close, but friendly colleagues and I genuinely enjoyed working with her. We stopped working together, were Facebook friends, and lost touch after her cancer diagnosis; I did reach out several times to offer support for her boys (my boys are all too familiar with the “my parent has terminal cancer” situation and are actively involved in a support group for kids who are dealing with a parent who has cancer) and was gently told that she didn’t need it for her kids at that time.
Honestly, dealing with my own life situation, I do not have the reserves to be a dependable source of support for anyone dealing with significant long-term issues. So, while I thought of her (and her boys) often, that was the extent of my support.
When I heard of her passing, I wanted to pay my respects and attended, with much anxiety, her celebration of life service at a local church. For the most part, I felt that the service did celebrate her life. The Pastor was visibly emotional during the service, the stories told were funny and described my colleague, much as I remembered her. It was emotional and I cried at the loss of a beautiful, passionate educator who touched so many lives.
And I was struck by the enormous contradiction being told – there was a larger purpose, a plan for my colleague. She trusted G*d and she felt that her cancer was a gift because it helped her see the larger purpose of her life. She wrote, the Pastor shared, that she felt extremely selfish that she wanted to stay on Earth, rather than receive her heavenly reward because what was more important than her relationship with him?
I was raised in a culturally Jewish household. I have raised my children to be Freethinkiers and to come to their own decisions about their beliefs, but to be accepting of others. I have learned and grown from my desire to have my children determine their own understanding of the concept of a higher power, and my beliefs have evolved and changed as a result of their journeys. And I have experienced my own crisis of faith – and have tried on other religions to see how they feel. At almost 46, I do not feel any closer to resolving my beliefs than I was at 18. While I truly respect those who have different beliefs than I do, and am sometimes jealous of those who have faith in a higher power, have found acceptance within a community that believes the same things that they do and understand the purpose of religious beliefs, I cannot help but question.
We know from Mythology, that men created gods to explain events that they could not explain, in an attempt to make sense of their surroundings. How is belief in a single god any different? It is comforting to know that there is a greater purpose for our suffering, that there is an all-powerful being that hears and answers our prayers. That he forgives us for our mistakes (sin) and loves us unconditionally, if we accept him. But, if he loves us unconditionally and is all-powerful, they why have us suffer? Why are innocent children abused? People starving? For what purpose?
Yes, I realize that that the purpose is not to be understood or questioned, as that is faith. But why not? We are intelligent creatures, with extraordinary minds. We are curious, creative and resourceful. So, if there were a higher power, wouldn’t he (or she) expect that we would wonder and question and require some answers?
Why do we accept things from this higher power that we would not accept in other areas of our lives? For example, if a company claims that their cleaner will perform in certain situations and it didn’t, we would stop buying the product. We wouldn’t accept that we didn’t understand how the cleaner was supposed to work or that the cleaner worked in ways that we couldn’t see. Although this is a simplistic example, it follows the same logic – if a higher power doesn’t answer our prayer, why do we think that we are asking the wrong thing or that our prayers are answered in ways we might not yet understand? That there is some purpose we cannot see? We are intelligent creatures, but we cannot understand what G*d has in store for us? There is no logic that can explain that kind of thinking.
If I accept that G*d meant for us to suffer for a higher purpose, than I cannot accept that he loves us unconditionally. I have watched my children struggle and it result in understanding and growth. But to watch a child suffer, in pain and agony, that results in death – I cannot believe that any parent would stand by and believe that it was necessary. As a parent, I would take that kind of suffering away from my children, if I had the power to do so. So why would we accept that an all-powerful being would choose to allow us (his “children”) to suffer?
If we were to talk about a ruler that allowed this to happen to his subjects, there would be outrage, there would be a coup; people would rise up and demand justice. But from a higher power, we just accept that this is the way of things? It does not make sense.
As a result, I find that I am no closer to understanding than I was. I question organized religion and anyone who tells me that they know what I should believe. I question societal understanding of a higher power. And I haven’t even discussed questions of morality.
I do believe that my purpose is to be the best person I can be, here and now. I believe that I should do good when I can and touch as many lives as I am able. I believe that I should do these things, not because I am told to do so, but because they are just and right. I do not believe that there is anything beyond my life here on Earth. And you know what, that is ok because if I do it right, there isn’t any need for anything else.
I welcome your comments and responses to this post. Please remember I respect your right to voice your opinion and beliefs in a respectful manner, as I believe I have done so.