Voices of Faith offers perspectives from religion columnists. This week’s question: What about your faith makes you despair?
A violent, broken world
The Rev. Paul Rock, Second Presbyterian Church: As a pastor I’ve made a career out of faith, and some days I struggle with despair.
There is just too much that is not right. More often than I want to admit, I find myself responding to someone in a manner inconsistent with what I know to be right and true. There are days at church when I shake my head over the way petty grievances hijack the greater purposes of the kingdom. There are violent conflicts in our world that don’t seem to respond to sacrifice, prayers, education or good intentions.
Sometimes I rage at a God who seems unwilling or unable to show up when needed. Sometimes the strong, ancient beliefs I profess feel pretty flimsy, and despair seeps into the sanctuary of my faith. So why keep it?
Thankfully, there are far more days and experiences where faith inspires forgiveness, creativity, love and hope.
And despair? For my faith and the faith of my mothers and fathers, desperation has always been an honest and anxious thread woven throughout our belief.
If Jesus himself felt godforsaken and lamentations are sprinkled throughout our canon, then perhaps despair is not antithetical to faith, but rather the mark of an honest faith not yet satisfied with this beautiful but broken world. I am thankful for others on those desperate days, those who encourage me and even hold me for a time in the larger faith that is not mine alone.
For while ours is a faith well acquainted with desperation, the final word will always be resurrection.
No solution to mortality
Rabbi Mark H. Levin, founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Torah: I do not feel despair about liberal Judaism in North America, but two aspects concern me. Judaism relies upon a culture of study. For over 2,000 years, Jews have built upon the literacy of the masses to study and live according to sacred texts: the Bible, Talmud, midrash and prayer in particular.
Jews guided our lives by examining the subtleties of life’s complexities through comparing rabbinic opinions recorded in Hebrew and Aramaic over centuries. But this literacy is disappearing among North American liberal Jews, except among rabbis and a select few. More than anything else, ignorance will cause the assimilation and disappearance of liberal Judaism.
Secondly, any religion at its core must provide meaning for life in the face of human illness and death, such as a belief in afterlife. Fifty years ago, working toward social justice and continuity of the Jewish people in the shadow of the Holocaust provided religious meaning and purpose.
But social justice has faded as a motivator, and liberal Judaism has not provided a broadly accepted solution to the problem of human mortality to replace it. Facing life’s anxieties leading to despair, many turn to other providers of comfort such as psychologists or meditation to explore and explain life’s mysteries.
Liberal Judaism must provide a satisfying theology, like firm belief in afterlife, that will motivate believers confronting the mysteries of life and death.