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Questions for God as America Fails

They say prayer has the power to help, so pray for me, Mother
In the human heart, an evil spirit dwells
I’m trying to love my neighbor and do good unto others
But oh Mother, things ain’t goin’ well
(Bob Dylan)

Sorry to disturb your millennial silence, Sir, but, you know, we Jews have been doing that since the time of our forefathers, Abraham and Jacob/Israel. You’ve heard it all before, I’m sure, from my brothers and sisters with whom you made an eternal covenant, as the Romans and the Crusaders were running swords through them, and Dr. Mengele was waving them to the left and their death by poison gas. And You’ve heard it too from my other brothers and sisters, slaughtered by Holy Mother Church for believing in Jesus the wrong way, starved to death or shot by utopia-building Communists for being wicked peasants, raped and beaten to death and beheaded and dumped into mass graves for the crime of being Armenians or Ibos or Aboriginal Tasmanians or freed African American slaves or Tutsis or Rohingyas or Darfuris or Bosniaks or Muslims who failed to follow the correct interpretation of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings.

O God of Silence: if we human beings are created in Your image, what kind of Creator are you? Our ancestors imagined You, after the Flood, thinking that You would not send such destruction upon the world again, “for the desires of the human heart are evil from their youth.” But who implanted those desires there? Our theologians, who set themselves up as experts on Your thinking, tell us that You “granted us free will.” But that is not an adequate answer. As the journalist Ron Rosenbaum puts it, why such extreme evil? With what warped sense of humor did You create us human beings in such a way that we have a tremendous capacity to learn the secrets of Your marvelous physical universe; yet every time we unlock one, we turn the power it gives us into a means of more efficiently inflicting terror, suffering and death on our fellow human beings, every one of whom is also “created in God’s image”? Why did You make us so that we are utterly incapable of advancing ethically, or ever “learning the lessons” of the horrors we have inflicted on one another even within living memory?

You who are said to know the secrets of every heart must know, then, that these anguished reflections are inspired, not by any personal suffering I have endured, but by the seemingly unstoppable disintegration of America, the country of my birth, due to what the ancient Jewish sages called “baseless hatred.” I’m an American as well as a Jew, and You know how we Americans have aspired for four hundred years to build a “City on a Hill,” a tribute to You and a beacon to the world, not just in brick and stone but in spiritual striving and human brotherhood. Yes, there was arrogance in the very conception, but there was something wonderful in it, too, something that moved the wicked slaveholder Thomas Jefferson to pen those magical words about how all men are created equal and You endowed us all with certain inalienable rights, and inspired Your holy prophet Martin Luther King, Jr. to demand that America keep its promise, so that all might sit down together at the table of brotherhood. It was a sublime dream that brought my forebears and so many others to this country so that they might live in a land where each might worship, or not, in her own way, each under her own vine and fig tree, with none to make them afraid. We are told that history proceeds according to Your plan, so what kind of cruel trick are You playing by allowing Dr. King to lead us to the mountaintop, so we can see the Promised Land of justice and brotherhood, and then delivering us back into the wilderness of racial and religious hatred?

O God of Silence! You who know my heart know that I have been virtually unable to pray to You for six years now, since the latest outbreak of this stupefying plague of hatred began to wash over, not America alone, but huge swaths of the world: India and China and Burma and Turkey and Afghanistan and Hungary and the Philippines, one great nation after another gleefully running from the sunlit uplands of freedom, back into the cursed dark bottomlands of fanaticism and despotism. How is this a part of Your plan, You whom we Jews celebrate every Passover as the God of Liberation? “Remember!” has been Your commandment since You inspired our holy Torah, and some of us remember everything all too well, so we watch in helpless horror as the nightmare of the past is repeated, and a ranting maniac with the evil power to turn men’s minds attracts laughing, shrieking mobs who drink in his poison of hatred and cruelty as if it was life-giving water. In their delirium of hatred they made this cackling villain president, he who is a twisted shadow of so many murderous tyrants of the past, and now that the rest of the country has come to its senses and elected someone else, they are threatening rivers of blood if that’s what it takes to restore their beloved dictator to power.

Why? The late Elie Wiesel was correct, of course, when he said we have a right to demand answers from You, but a responsibility to demand answers from ourselves, about how such mass evils arise. Nevertheless, this, now, is my prayer: How is it that You are allowing the “City on a Hill” to turn into another Sodom and Gomorrah, whose crimes, the ancient Jewish sages taught, had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with the inhabitants’ ruthless cruelty toward one another?

Can You not inspire perhaps the only miracle us skeptical moderns would recognize as such, a turning of hearts so that we might see Your image in humans of a different nation, tribe, religion or “race”? Or does being created in Your image mean that we inflict remorseless suffering on one another, forever?

Note: the quotation from Genesis 8:21 in the second paragraph is my own free translation from the Masoretic (Jewish) Hebrew text.

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