Jurgen Moltmann has famously said that he is doing ‘theology after Auschwitz‘: he writes of faith and hope in a world grappling with theodicy. And I’m certainly no Moltmann, but I have realized during several recent visits to Children’s National Medical Center (where we spent so many months caring for our late son) that– in my own small way– I’m doing theology after Children’s Hospital. Every theological proposition is seen through the vision of those who wander those halls. Every would-be encouragement (“God never leaves us,” “Prayer changes things”, “Trust and obey”, “God has a purpose in this”, et al) is tested in light of that place. Every hope is tempered by the reality found in ORs and waiting rooms and ICUs and the euphemistically named ‘consultation rooms’. Because I remember myself before I visited there– a cynic to be sure, but a person with a fundamental understanding that everything generally works out in the end. Now I look into the eyes of the folks in the cafeteria there– doctors, nurses, chaplains, patients, parents, family members– and know what it is like to see something awful afflict someone who is utterly innocent, and to know the silence that comes when you beg God to change it.
Which is why the closing words from a recent interview with Rabbi Harold Kushner still take my breath away, even after hearing and reading them so many times.
“My sense is God and I came to an accommodation with each other a couple of decades ago, where he’s gotten used to the things that I’m not capable of and I’ve come to terms with things he’s not capable of,” Kushner says. “And we care very much about each other.”
In that very relational accommodation that he describes, there is terrible pain and wonderful freedom. To conclude that God must somehow be limited, and to not hold that against God (or against the theological systems which told you otherwise) is no mean feat. Conversely, for God to see my incapabilities (including what might become my inability to completely forgive God for not intervening at the end of my son’s life) and to likewise give grace to me must be exceedingly difficult. We need to forgive God, and God needs to forgive us, if we are to have any real relationship. In this way, we follow after our father Jacob, whose wrestling with God earned him the new name Israel– “one who struggles”. Yet in this tense space in between God and people– in the uncomfortable negotiations implicit in any real relationship– there is deep relationality and great hope.
And uncertainty. When I listen to the audio version of the interview, I’m undone by the Rabbi’s final breath. Because it seems clear to me that he doesn’t know if he’s right about this. And neither do I, and neither do you. That is relationship.