Rabbi Neil Gillman, my first theology professor, helped me create this response. I recall the questions he asked us as college freshmen, immature in our theologies. “Where was God on 9/11? Where is God on a pediatric cancer ward? Where was God during the Holocaust?” Rabbi Gillman never provided an answer, but always provided a space to ask these difficult yet important questions.
Here was the final assignment: Write your personal theology. The artists drew a picture of God.The musicians composed songs. The poets penned poems. The Rabbinic sports enthusiast in me saw God as a coach. When the chips are down, the coach is blamed. When life is going well, we often ignore the coach and we the players take credit for the good. I argued that we must take a more nuanced approach, players and coach being in a mutually beneficial relationship, with respect, awe, struggle, reverence, love, and faith.
This week, Jacob’s name changes to Yisrael, which translates as “struggle with God.” Yet, if you switch the vowels around, you are able to say yashar-el, “straight to God.” Thus, our direct path only becomes apparent when we learn the tools to struggle in our relationship to God.
Rabbi Gillman passed away this week. While he will no longer teach students on this earth, so many of his students now have the ability to have a conversation about God and with God.
So next time you are about to tell someone you don’t believe in God…..write your personal theology…..let God know what you believe…..because God believes the same thing you do.