A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

And I Feel Fine....

Wow. What a rude awakening. A beautiful shabbat ends, and I turn on my computer to find out that the universe may collapse. Bummer.

What a tricky cost-benefit analysis. Some great benefit to us may come from new knowlege....but there is a small chance that all matter will be consumed into nothingness.

The theological implications of this are pretty heavy: is it possible that God created a world for human beings that could be completely eliminated not by evil but by miscalculation? Questions about the persistence of evil in the world are old theological stomping ground. We know how to wrestle with the question of the relationship of God to a human species determined to do harm. But a species that destroyed all life (and all matter, and time) because of an error in calculation?

I was studying today a beautiful passage in the Talmud (in Berachot 5a-5b - apologies for the lousy link but there's no better English trans. online) about the meaning of human suffering. The authors wondered whether human suffering could be some kind of expression of divine love. Could it be that God punishes us now to reward us later? Is God refining us in some way, or testing us? To put this in language that is maybe more palatable to some of us: "can individual suffering be given meaning if it leads to greater understanding, awareness, or peace-of-mind?"

Maybe I will write about this later, but the passage is so beautiful because while the Talmud asks these theological questions, the rabbinical characters who are enduring the suffering seem to have no use for theology. Contemplating the possibility that the sufferings are "afflictions of [God's] love" they say that they that even if they are, neither the suffering nor their potential reward are desirable. That is, "I don't care if you can invent some theology that makes me feel better - I don't want your theology; I don't want God's reward; I'm miserable!" The story ends not with theology but with one rabbi extending a hand to his suffering friend to raise him up. Only human solidarity and kindness can be an answer to human suffering.

In any event, this kind of meditation is just massively insufficient to address the problems raised by this article. There's not even room for human solidarity if everything goes away. Wow.

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