Vayigash

December 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

An interesting thing happened to me last week: in a single sitting I read the portion of the week (which was Miketz) and then wrote a commentary on it — yet (without realizing it) I focused on the material in this week’s portion (Vayigash). I don’t know why that happened exactly. I could, of course, read meaning into my choice: perhaps it happened for a reason. Perhaps there was someone (me or someone else) who needed to hear that message in that week. That was, in fact, my first impulse when I started writing this week: to find some meaning in the error.

 The irony of it, however, is that my message last week counseled against reading too much meaning into random events. Perhaps, then, God has a sense of humor.

Regardless, we have this strong need, of course, to explain ourselves. We have this desire to make a narrative out of our lives, to provide context and meaning.

Whenever there is a catastrophe, for example, there is always someone who will want to step forward to assert that ‘this was God’s will.’ It is entirely too easy to step into the breach and declare that we had not been faithful enough, that we had somehow done something wrong, that we are at fault.

The advantage of this approach, of course, is that it takes things that were chaotic, difficult, and scary, and tames them into something we can control. If we observe the commandments, then all will go well. This is the theology of Deuteronomy; this is the theology of those who would declare with confidence that God would punish us because God does not like how we vote.

It is easy to dismiss theology – and to dismiss God – on this basis. You know, to leave God to the loonies and the wild-eyed among us.

And there is also a second position, much less confident, that God is missing-in-action. Did we not have a covenant of protection with this Being? Do we not have an agreement that tragedy should not happen to us, that the forces of chaos, the dangers of the wilderness, the demons of destruction, should all stay clear of us, so long as we ‘observe these commandments that I enjoin you on this day’?

In the wake of tragedy we are often angry with God: we had a deal. And yet it was not observed. Perhaps God is not all-powerful after all.

Why, then, should we care about theology?

What difference, really, does it make if we were to think of God as a bearded gentleman, or as an invisible force, or (to borrow an image from the avowedly secular) as a flying spaghetti monster? Why should it matter whether someone thinks this event or that event is the will of God?

Theology defines what is possible in our lives.

To give an example, one rooted in simple logic: If you believe in miracles, then miracles can happen in your life. And if you do not, then they do not. In Joseph’s world, miracles do happen: God guided him to this very moment to save his family from famine.

This is not a form of magical thinking. Rather, your decision as to whether or not miracles are possible defines whether or not events will qualify or not qualify as miracles in your life.

So, the question becomes: what kind of life do you want to live?

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