In America today, belief in God is both communal and intensely private.
We wear our religious symbols proudly and publicly, although there is a tinge of fear among those of us who practice non-Christian religions. We never know when an angry Christian, usually male and almost always white, will lash out at us, potentially with violence.
It has led many Jews to stop wearing jewelry that betrays their beliefs, and men to hide their kipas (yarmulkes) under baseball caps.
And not believing in God at all? This is often met with shock and disbelief. “But, if there’s no God, where is your moral compass??” a woman once shouted at a friend. “You have to love Jesus to be a good person,” she added before stalking off.
That’s the public side. The private side is more nuanced. It’s one thing to say you believe in God. It’s another to explain what that means.
Religions try to help, and indeed quoting one’s sacred text is a good answer.
But it’s also self-referential. To say that I believe in the God of the Torah because the Torah tells me to believe, is a circular argument. It presumes belief in the authority of the text. What gives the text that authority? The text itself.
In other words, I have to believe in Judaism’s sacred texts in order to believe in Judaism’s God.
For me, this is where it gets difficult. Over the years, I have written often about taking issue with how God is presented in the Torah, and in religions writ large.
Fortunately, Judaism gives us a way out of the dilemma. We call ourselves God-wrestlers, likening ourselves to Jacob who struggled through the night with someone or something — an angel? his own conscience? God? a man? — and in the morning received a blessing from his unnamed assailant.
Being a God-wrestler gives me freedom to speak my truth. And my truth is this:
Do I believe in the God of Judaism? Sometimes.
Do I believe in God? Always.
Can I explain the God I believe in? Not at all.
I’m better at explaining what God is not. To me, God is neither a “who” nor an “it.” God has no gender, doesn’t walk and talk, isn’t inclined to pay attention to any one group or person. Certainly doesn’t prefer one group over another.
God doesn’t tell people to hurt one another or destroy each other’s religions. God doesn’t belong to any one religion. God is too big for that. God is too big for me to grasp at all.
I don’t believe that God loves me. Instead, I believe that Love is God. When I love someone and they love me back, we are channeling God.
I believe in the God-In-Between. The God that can be experienced, if we open our hearts and our minds. The God that is a bridge between me and you. The God we can share in our lives’ journeys.
There is something that happens within ourselves and between one another. Especially when people come together in communities to share a common purpose and goal. That Something? That’s God.
That is the God that appears with almost an electrical jolt when a community prays together, or studies together, or donates food together. That’s my God.
I can’t explain God or convince anyone else to believe in God.
But I can see God. Not directly — God is too big for that — but in the smiles of my loved ones, in the movement of the ocean, in the pinpricks of light that are distant suns, in the eyes of the man with a cardboard sign that says, “Please help.”
I can hear God in the wind, in a song, in a companion’s gentle snoring, in a kind word from a stranger.
I can touch God when I hold a sick person’s hand, feel the rough bark of a tree that caught my sleeve, feel the warmth of the sun on my skin.
How could I not believe? I experience God in so many ways, every day.
I don’t expect to understand God because I am a mere human with a finite life span and limited powers of understanding.
But I know that somehow, in a way that I will never grasp, God is with me always. And that is enough.
Melvyn Bloom said: