In the story we were reading, the main character was grappling a little with what God meant to him. I stopped at the end of the paragraph and laid the open book on my lap.
“What do you think about God?” I asked him, admittedly a heavy question for a few minutes before bedtime.
“Like, do I believe in God?”
“Yeah. Or, what do you think God is?” I have heard him talk about God before, referring to God in prayer or in song. It’s not unusual, given that he is being raised Jewish in a congregation with many Jewish friends.
“I guess he’s like…wait. Is this conversation going to count against my reading time?”
“No,” I laughed. You’ll still get your full ten minutes.”
“Ok. Good. So I guess he’s like…a person kind of. Like, a person’s features, but not an actual human person.”
“Is he a ‘he’?”
“Yeah. I think so. But not like a boy or a man. But he’s definitely a ‘he.'”
“Where is God, do you think?”
“Up there, I guess,” he said, sort of shrugging and looking toward the ceiling. “Or, everywhere, like the song.” (He was referring to a song we had both learned when he was in preschool: “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere. Up, up, down, down, right, left, and all around, that’s where he can be found.”) “Why?” he asked. “Where do you think he is?”
“I think God is everywhere, too. I believe in God as not a person or a he or a she, but as a force. Like something around me, something bigger than me, but not a person.” I paused. “Do you think God made the world?”
He had to really think about this one. He’s a smart kid. I mean, like scary smart sometimes. He can make logical deductions and do complicated math that makes my head spin. But he also takes a lot at face value. He questions everything, but also nothing at the same time. He is a rule follower. He stretches rules (does he ever!) but never breaks them. And if someone (or something) told him that God made the world, especially if it was something that he has been taught to love and honor (the Torah, for example), chances are that he would believe it. Simply and with blind faith.
“Well,” he said finally. “I mean, it’s been scientifically proven that the world wasn’t made by God, but…” he trailed off, and I sensed some conflict in his tired eyes.
“It’s ok, you know, to be a Jew and not believe all the things the Torah says.”
“Sure. I don’t believe that God created the world. And I don’t believe that God created people.”
“People came from Saudi Arabia,” he said, certainly. I made a mental note to follow up on that one later.
“Well, I think that people evolved from animals. I don’t know about the Saudi Arabia thing. But that’s just it. You can believe whatever you want and I can believe whatever I want and we can both still be Jews. People have been grappling with the Torah for thousands of years. I think that questioning it and interpreting it and trying to understand it is actually the coolest thing about it.” He took a minute and let that sink in.
We went back and forth a little bit then about theism and atheism and agnosticism and I shared my theory about why the stories in the Torah were written and why they sustain, even after science explained away most of them. We went back to our book then and after a few chapters, I put a bookmark in and tucked him in. I leaned down to give him a goodnight kiss and told him I loved him, just as I do every night.
“I love you, too, Mama,” he said, rolling over and snuggling in. “And Mama?” he said, yawning.
“People really did come from Saudi Arabia.”