Debbie’s father would beat her almost daily for looking “too happy.” Over forty years later, she is asking, “How am I supposed to believe in a G-d that’s described as an all-loving Father?”
Yaakov volunteers as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse. He has heard so many chilling accounts that he is feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of his mission. “Is G-d in the closed dark rooms where children are having their innocence stolen from them?” he asked last week.
As the relative of a recent victim, even later in my life, I suddenly found myself, not only experiencing profound disillusionment, but even having a very shaky time continuing to believe wholeheartedly in an all-merciful G-d. And I was surprised to find out pretty quickly that I had PLENTY of company in that too.
Yes, even for many adults, an image of a vengeful G-d can still override all the other ways in which
G-d can be understood.
It was astounding for me to discover, as I began to unexpectedly meet more and more survivors of abuse, how common it is for those survivors who still believe that G-d exists to picture G-d as a powerful and often cruel tyrant.
I began to struggle toward a new way of picturing G-d to help these survivors, and to help myself as well. I learned that imagining G-d very differently can transform lives – and this is possible even for those that have been deeply scarred from abuse in their childhood.
The key, it seems, is remembering that our souls are a part of G-d.
And since who we really are is our souls, who we are, essentially, is a part of G-d. Having anger toward G-d for letting cruel things happen, loses its force, the moment we see ourselves as being a part of G-d too.
Like G-d, our souls transcend the physical world. Like G-d, our souls go on forever. Like G-d, our souls can see and yet they cannot be seen. Our souls are a part of the endless spiritual entity that we can’t possibly grasp, and yet, at the same time, they are the deepest truth we know.
So it turns out, our souls are the best understanding we have of what G-d could be.
And since our souls are a part of G-d, they are made of the same infinite and invincible stuff that G-d must be made of. So our souls will never give up. Our souls are the sparks that can never be snuffed out, no matter how searing the pain has gotten in areas that cover our souls. Even the souls that have left this world as a result of the abuse on their bodies – those sparks are still shining too.
It’s not easy to comprehend that we are souls, as we live in a physical world that is constantly reminding us that we are bodies. And it certainly is not easy to understand that even the horribly painful things, happen for an ultimately good purpose. But not believing that, leaves everything arbitrary, random, and nonsensical. Our souls can’t buy that.
“As I wander through the dark, encountering difficulties, I am aware of encouraging voices that murmer from the spirit realm.” These words were written by Hellen Keller. Darkness can surround a person physically or emotionally. Yet no matter how many difficulties we encounter and no matter how much suffering is endured in this lifetime, there is always one still small spiritual voice that never goes away.
One’s self esteem can be trampled on, but the blows can never reach one’s innermost core because that’s untouchable. Harsh messages can muffle the inner voice that is still, miraculously, continuing to give us encouragement to go on. Abuse in dark rooms can obscure one’s inner light. But a person’s pure spiritual essence continues forever to remain as unsullied as ever. And maybe the most amazing part of all is, no matter what we’ve been through, down deep, we continue to know this.
We are not able to see why very painful experiences may be required in order to reveal our purest essence. Maybe the crucible we pass through can help our entire being ultimately emerge in our most sensitized, integrated, and compassionate state. We only get glimpses into the purpose of our soul’s journey in this lifetime. What we can readily discern, though, is that our soul only wants what is absolutely best for us, since it is us, in our most unpolluted form.
Picturing G-d differently, for those whose trust was broken early, begins by recognizing that there is a “piece” of G-d within our souls. Getting in touch with the part of us that nobody could touch in a demeaning and destructive way – helps reveal our hidden radiance. Through regaining trust in our pure souls, we let calmness, love, and joyfulness stream back into our lives.
Instead of picturing G-d as the sadistic abuser known too well, those who have been deeply crushed – even closest to their core, as innocent, purely trusting children – can come to picture G-d like the indefatigable souls that never deserted them. Then even without yet fully understanding why the suffering had to be, we can all become capable of shining our obscured light once again. And each time a soul’s light manages to still shine in this world – miraculously – and heroically – it’s light can even shine into a closed dark room.
Bracha Goetz serves on the executive committee of the national organization, Jewish Board of Advocates for Children. She also coordinates a Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program in Baltimore, Maryland and is the author of fifteen children’s books, including Remarkable Park , What Do You See in Your Neighborhood? and The Invisible Book.
This article was originally published in the Jewish Press on February 25, 2011.