One of my favorite questions to ask is, “Tell me your definition of God.”
During rabbinical school, after a long day of classes, a classmate and I gravitated to a cozy diner in New York’s West Village. Twilight rolled in as we sought escape from the dreary gray slush of that February afternoon with mugs of steaming cocoa cradled around our fingers.
When I asked my question, her eyes lit up as she spoke of drawing comfort from the Divine who was all-knowing and ensured that everything happened for a reason. I remember both wholeheartedly disagreeing and wishing I had that kind of faith . It provided her with a comfort which seemed so reassuring.
And yet, certainty that things turn out the way they “should” or that an all-knowing God has a pre-ordained plan for every life is not my understanding of the Divine. I struggle with this theology implying that evil and pain and suffering in the world are part of God’s pre-determined plan.
This is not my God.
For me, the Divine/Eternal/Transcendent/Mystery is an internal force, my innermost intuitive sense, the moral thread of goodness coursing through each human . Divinity is found in the magic of deep connection with others where time stops, the world drops away, and both people leave changed. God is pure openhearted love. Most of all, the Divine is the Mystery—coincidences, the miracles within creation, all that we as humans cannot understand, but sense something larger beyond ourselves.
I cannot say God is pure loving-kindness and also orchestrates suffering and evil. While the Divine is certainly present in the outpouring of love, connection, and growth during and after a tragedy, the notion that the tragedy was meant to happen disturbs me . And so, I strayed from equating my understanding of the Mystery with “having faith.” Faith was a theology different from mine.
Many, many years after this West Village wintry diner cocoa conversation, I was journeying through a broken heart. And I realized that—maybe for the first time in my life—I felt a confidence that something beyond me was whispering affirmatively, “This is the journey you need to be on. Stay patient, let your soul guide you. You got this.” We can call it intuition. We can call it finding hope and beauty in our struggles. But for me it felt deeper. It was Faith: Surrendering to the Mystery and honoring that which will be revealed .We will never know why things unfold the way they do. Faith bows humbly to that. Walking through the unknown, we honor the Divine presence along the journey as we open ourselves to discover connection and comfort.
Theologian Martin Buber said that the world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable. This is faith—allowing Divine Mystery into our lives, in celebration and in sorrow; acknowledging God’s presence in all of it, and deciding to believe in a future better than today. Faith is summoning the power of our human agency and accepting that there are things we may never understand.
A colleague recently asked if faith for me implied Divine faith or faith in people. To that I answer both! Faith is comfort that I can open myself to greater wholeness as I weather all that life presents. I can invite the Eternal to gently hold me as I journey. Faith is the solace that a community grows stronger as they support each other through hardship. Faith reassures that I always have the power to choose hope and optimism. It reminds me that love is always stronger than hate. Choosing faith is the only way I want to live.
Today, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment—more connected than ever and more bifurcated than we could imagine. Hatred and intolerance between humans staggers me. And yet, outpourings of love and solidarity continually inspire.
What might it look like to choose faith?
Imagine summoning the Divine quality of loving-kindness and the commands to pursue equality and care for the needy in our midst. Imagine not letting fear of an unknown future eclipse our hope. Imagine taking what seems unfathomable and finding a way to embrace it—infusing goodness, connection, hope, and love .
Living with faith is when the town of Billings, Montana takes an atrocious act of anti-Semitism and turns it into an outpouring of communal solidarity. Living with faith is grieving a loved one’s tragic death and knowing that somehow, we will journey through it with our own surprising strength and grit while allowing the outpouring from caring friends to nourish us through the pain. Living with faith is the steadfast belief that we have the power to change our current reality and to feel the Divine by our side as we do it.
“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable . . .” May we each find our own authentic faith inspiring us to embrace the Mystery with openheartedness and hope .