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My Spiritual Journey

Rabbi Van Lanckton

July 23, 2013

Category: Philosophy and Religion > Belief Systems

I grew up in a religious Protestant family, believing that God watched over everyone and performed miracles.

I struggled, however, with undeserved suffering. In 1957 I learned the Nazis murdered millions. Did God not know, or not care, or have no power to intervene? Did God choose not to intervene?

I found no satisfactory answers. In the Christianity I knew, we did not challenge God. We said, "God has a plan we can't understand, but it's for the good." I rebelled against that attitude. For the next ten years I had no religious faith.

By 1967 I had had many positive encounters with Jews. Joe Lieberman was a good friend. I learned about kashrut as Joe ate his kosher meals delivered for him to Morse College. I learned about tzedakah as he made sure to have change to give beggars.

My law school roommates and my girlfriend were all Jewish. I started studying Judaism. It provided no easy answers. But unlike Christianity, I found that Judaism valued questions.

I learned from Rabbi Beryl Cohon that we could challenge God. Abraham argued with God to prevent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses argued with God to spare the Israelites after the Golden Calf.

I decided that my place in life was as a Jew, not a Christian. In 1967, I converted to Judaism.

From 1967 until 2003 I lived an active life as a Jew, taking leadership roles in my synagogue and in Jewish organizations. By 2002, after a heart operation, I chose to become a rabbi in order to invest the balance of my life with greater meaning.

I entered the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in 2003. My studies led me to a different understanding of God. I no longer think of God as having supernatural power to alter events through external, conscious intervention. I believe that we can never know God fully; God would not be God if humans could do that. I hold instead, informed by Rabbi Harold Kushner and Rabbi Art Green and Rabbi Neal Gillman, among others, that God operates as a force to reduce chaos, just as imagined in the opening verses of Genesis. Humanity acts as God's partner in that sadly incomplete work. The disorder that remains is the cause of suffering, random consequences for which I don't blame God.

Today I can make three statements about God:

  • First, God is the focus of my gratitude. To express my gratitude for the many blessings of my life I use the language of Jewish liturgy by directing my thanks to God.
  • Second, God is the underlying force that animates the world. God functions within the world in a way similar to the function of the human soul within the human body.
  • But God is not a conscious, sensing entity existing outside of the natural order. God does not have will, does not exercise choice, and does not have the power through conscious decision to cause any particular outcome.