When We Are in Travail With God’s Dreams

Rabbi Abraham Heschel gives a definition of human beings which gives reason to pause. He says that the Bible has “given the world a new concept of God. What is not realized is the fact that the Bible has given the world a new vision of man. The bible (sic) is not a book about God; it is a book about man.”

Heschel’s words bring to mind the words of the late Dr. Peter Gomes, who charged that people worship the Bible, not God. This he calls “bibliolatry,” and suggests that humans, in our endeavor to be “holy,” end up worshiping the book and not God. But if the Bible is really a book about man, what are we working with?

Heschel goes on to say that man (human) is a being who is in travail with God’s dreams and designs, with God’s dream of a world redeemed, of reconciliation of heaven and earth, of a mankind which is truly His image, reflecting His wisdom, justice, and compassion.”

No wonder the world is in such turmoil.

In trying to understand the pervasiveness of evil, the lack of clarity about why such evil exists in spite of God becomes clearer. If we, in fact, worship the Bible and not God, and if we are at odds with what God wants, and if, in fact, the text upon which we depend for direction is about humans and not God, then it is easier to grasp the fact that too often we find ourselves in a quagmire of unanswerable questions.

How many of us are actually struggling against God and God’s will for our lives? How many of us are in travail with God’s dreams?”We strive to be independent; we do not want anyone – including God – to tell us what to do. We want to do what we want to do, the way we want to do it, and when. We reject any intrusion upon our independence, regardless of what our lack of direction might mean for us or for those around us. We have to find our way, regardless of the cost.

Watching toddlers is a window into how we act throughout our lives. Pediatricians call toddlerhood the “first adolescence.” During those years, the human who was once a helpless babe in arms begins to embrace his or her sense of self. Though they need their parents, they reject their parents in almost every way possible. The lessons learned must be their own, ingested and digested because they want to, not because of what any grown person might say, even if that person is the parent. When my daughter was a toddler, she not only insisted upon dressing herself, as toddlers are wont to do but also insisted on picking out her own clothes! I tried at first to guide her to what I wanted her to wear, but she staunchly rejected my choices and would erupt into a fit of tears if I intruded on her freedom and independence. I cringed with the color combinations, the backward tee-shirts, and pants which were also put on backward. We bought little feet stickers to put on her shoes so she wouldn’t put them on the wrong feet, but she ignored them. So, picture this beautiful little girl with the most wretched outfits on, shirts on backward, pants as well, with shoes on the wrong feet. I was mortified and a little afraid; I had to take her to daycare and didn’t want the folks there to think I was a negligent mother.

But over my angst, I noticed her face; she was so pleased with herself. She needed to find her worth, her gifts, her direction. I was there only to help if needed and requested. I later wanted her to be a dancer as I had been. She hated it. She was in travail with my dreams, and I had to let her be.

God lets us be; God lets us find our way, and we feel some sort of power in our independence from God, but oh, how the world suffers! God created us for the purpose of making life “on earth as it is in heaven.” We reject God’s dreams for the most part, and walk through our lives with “clothes that don’t match.” We view God out of the corners of our eyes, knowing that God is there when we want and need Herbut for the most part, we are content to ignore God and go our own way.

Our independence keeps God’s world away from its ideal. Without direction from God, we fall into base human behavior, denying love, compassion and care to others, causing conflicts, ignoring the poverty and suffering of others. Because we are in travail with God’s dreams, social systems and ideologies evolve, like Nazism, racism, and sexism. We oppress each other and think nothing of it. We do not and cannot see God’s dreams because we maintain our estrangement from God in order to keep on acting, doing, and believing as we desire.

God allows us to be. God embraces us if or when we turn to God and stop fighting, and God stands ready to embrace us even when we turn away. But God mourns. God worries as we fight with God’s dreams and purposes for us on this earth. There are too many of us walking around with our tee-shirts on backward, causing God’s dreams to become secondary to our own.

What would this world be like if more of us were in alignment with God’s dreams? Surely, God is waiting for us to realize that God’s ways are better than our ways. God’s desire is for us to know how much we are missing as we turn from Her, but God will wait, and perhaps, as evil goes on its merry way, gleeful that we are more interested in our own will than with the will of God, some of us will realize that we need to change course and stop fighting with God, lest we, like the Israelites, end up by a river called Babylon, remorseful that we did not listen and trust God when we had a chance.

Amen and amen.

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