Yes and no. Is that cheating? Having my cake and eating it too? In shul yesterday morning I spoke about the issue of השגחת פרטית, the idea that God watches over our individual lives, determining what happens with us on a day to day basis. I personally do not believe this. Why would God be so interested in Schwartz that God notices when I do or do not do something, that God takes a ‘personal’ vested interest in my life, that God decides I will pass the intersection just 8 seconds before an accident happens? I can’t quite get myself there.
But even more challenging for me is this: if it works for positive things, philosophically it also has to work for negative things. That is to say, if you believe God made sure that you were saved from being in the accident, you must also believe that God ignored the people that were not spared. Are we willing to say that about the Holocaust, for example? That some people in the camps had God’s attention, and so were spared, while others, for whatever reason, didn’t and were killed? That is not a God that I can believe in.
My problem, however, is this: I do believe that we can feel God’s presence in a personal way, that when we are blessed, we can sense God’s ‘hand’ in that blessing. Yesterday morning I spoke to a couple celebrating their 40th anniversary. One of the things I said to them was that they have been truly blessed in the time that they have shared. After services a congregant challenged me – Rabbi, what you said to the couple contradicted what you said in your sermon!
OK, OK, you might be right. But then again, maybe not. The question in my mind would be this – can we sense God’s presence without believing that God is controlling, deciding, granting or taking away, involved with the minutia of our lives? I think we can. God as a source of strength. God as a source of inspiration or wisdom. God as a reminder to be grateful, that most of what comes to us in life is not earned. This God doesn’t save or spare, grant success or doom us to failure. Instead, this God does something much more difficult. This God reminds us of our humanity.