The Gates of the Forest

By: Gabriela Yareliz

Today, Elie Wiesel passed away, at the age of 87. Most of us remember his memoirs and the Night Trilogy. That death march in the book Night is one that few forget.

I have been fascinated by Wiesel’s writing and thoughts on religion. Being a survivor of the Holocaust hints to the fact that he was Jewish (not all oppressed and killed in the Holocaust were Jewish, duly noted). I read an interesting piece about him (cited at the bottom of the post) that walked through his beliefs, as reflected in his writings. I think it’s both haunting and healing that he wrote down his experiences to share with the world. A gift, truly.

One sees several phases in his faith: His hopes of God’s intervention in the Holocaust horrors, his slight doubt once his expectations are not fulfilled, his exposition on why God’s existence cannot be denied; and then, his attempt to reconcile God’s existence and the fact that the horrors happened, which leads to many questions about where God is in the midst of our suffering.

A quote from The Gates of the Forest:

“‘How can you not believe in God after what has happened?'”([Gates], 194)
Gregor: Man’s fall is an accusation against the Creator, who bears his share of responsibility for the betrayal.

Rebbe: All the more reason to choose faith and devotion. Be pure and God will be purified in you.

Gregor: Why? I owe God nothing. Quite the contrary.

Rebbe: That’s not the question. He owes you nothing, either. You don’t live his life and he doesn’t live yours. You owe yourself something. What exactly, that’s the question. ([Gates], 196)

“For suffering contains the secret of creation and its dimension of eternity; it can be pierced only from the inside. Suffering betters some people and transfigures others. At the end of suffering, of mystery, God awaits us…” ([Gates], 201)

I actually don’t want to debate the complex question of evil in the world or where God is in our suffering. That is not the point of the post, even though it’s intertwined with what will be discussed. Coming from a Christian worldview, I see God as a God of love. When I am in pain and horrified, He is in even more pain and horrified. I do believe God feels pain for us and with us. Pain and perfection are not mutually exclusive. And our perversion of our freedom to choose has caused God much pain. Often, we have chosen pain for ourselves and those around us.

That said, we all have our questions that arise at different moments in our lives. What I do want to discuss is the notion in the quote below… The fact that we have the right to ask.

“We do not demand answers, God. But if this is the last page of the human chronicles, assure us that we had the right to ask.” ([The Six Days of Destruction], 55)

This is where I truly believe that religion is not an empty set of rules. There are guidelines for optimal living, sure. Those exist. But if they are not rooted in love for God and our fellow man, if love is not the underlying current– the guidelines and values mean nothing. Religion, true religion, is about relationship with a Creator who is far beyond all we imagine or think. It is our expectations and ideas that get in the way of seeing the image of God. Relationship means there is a dynamic. Relationships grow, stretch, shatter, heal.

God owes us nothing and does not need to give us explanations. God cannot be comprehended by our finite minds, nor do we understand His ways. God is God. He defines Himself.

“When will you understand that you are living and searching in error, because God means movement and not explanation.”([Legends of Our Time], 93).

I have not gone through anything even half as horrifying as a Holocaust. I don’t know the pain of losing a child or the anguish of facing death, face-to-face. I don’t even know where Wiesel’s journey of faith begins or ends; I don’t need to know. I do know that I see suffering every day. I see people who seem to have gone mad from all the loss and betrayal they have experienced. I have seen people be abandoned and hurt. I have experienced pain. I have seen other versions of pain. We all have.

I just wanted to speak to Wiesel’s wisdom. We may not find answers to all of our questions. No. I mean, who are we kidding? I wonder if God ever questions why we would ever choose anything other than His goodness and love… Does He wonder why we would choose hate rather than love or self destruction rather than healing?

But the beauty about a relationship with God is that it is raw and real. We have permission to ask. Our questions do not offend God. We have permission to be our flawed selves and know we are loved. We have permission to be angry with God. Look at the book of Job. Job cries out in anguish, sickness, loss, confusion and suffering. Job wrestles with God, so to speak. God, regardless of how we feel, how we misunderstand Him, how we understand Him, how we agree or disagree with Him– He is present. That is also seen in Job’s story. I think that if we look close enough, we can see His presence in each of our stories.

God doesn’t ask us to be robots or expect us to blindly accept things. He is our Creator. He has made us to feel, question, trust, hope– and more than that, He doesn’t leave us. He can restore. He can heal. I like asking questions. Maybe, when I see God face to face, I will ask him questions from my own list. But questions don’t negate the small miracles we witness and experience. Maybe we don’t get the liberation or dramatic intervention we would prefer, but this hardly leaves us abandoned and forsaken.

A child may go to a doctor to get a vaccine or stitches for an injury. The parent may hold the child’s hand and try to distract the child from the pain. The pain is still there, but so is the loving parent.

Wiesel states in The Gates of the Forest: at the end of suffering, God awaits us… I believe that God does not await us just at the end of suffering. I don’t think life is a walk in the park, even when one chooses to honor God, however…

I do believe in the God that is described by the prophet Isaiah. A God who has promised:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…” Isaiah 43:2

So, while I walk through my own waters and flames, I will shamelessly keep asking questions. When I am angry, I may ask in anger. When I am sad, I may ask while weeping. The point is: My asking reflects the knowledge that I know He is there listening.

Inspired by (and some quotes pulled from): Elie Wiesel’s Relationship with God
By Robert E. Douglas, Jr., at: http://www.stsci.edu/~rdouglas/publications/suff/suff.html

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