Pardon me as I go all God-talk on you. It's part and parcel of what I want to say right now, and it needs to be said.
But please, take a look at Psalm 92, verse 2-3. (We'll use the linked version for the translation as it's more accurate, and I will take liberties in re-translating bits of it. One cannot learn Old Testament without reverting back to the original language, and any language straying from it takes away from the exegesis.) Heck, I'm sure I've done this post before, but I'm a lazy motherfucker and don't want to look back through the 2,243 blog entries to this point. (Oh yeah, just because I'm talking about God, doesn't mean I won't be swearing a little bit. Deal with it.)
A long, long time ago, in a continent far, far away, I was all depressed and fucked up and in NCSY. And I was struggling to retain some sense of God and religion and Judaism, despite the fact that I was suicidal and pissed off at everyone and everything. I'm pretty sure that I was in a day program then, the one at Sunnybrook Hospital. Around Chanuka time, I had some kind of major breakthrough that allowed me to at least see through the veil of tangled thorny brambles that was my depression, and I wrote a dvar torah (literally, "a bit of Torah", basically, a small sermon) to remind me that not all is amiss, that despite it all, I still believe deeply in God, and that I didn't want to completely lose every last ounce of myself to the depression.
I didn't get a chance to present it to anyone, because the topic was so morbid and depressing and not everyone wants to hear about psychiatric illness because it's a taboo thing that doesn't happen to nice Jewish children like me. Way to go, modern Orthodox Judaism!
Needless to say, ten years later, I haven't a clue where the initial dvar torah has gone, but I'll try and reproduce it in current terms, to accurately reflect how I felt then and how I felt now.
God, you see, is a fascinating creature. I've always liked the classic interpretation of God as a father-figure, but at the same time, I've also viewed Him as a brother, a best friend, a confidant, and a punching bag. An amorphous non-entity is good for that kind of thing, especially when you're really, really pissed off at the world and want to beat someone black and blue until you know that even the most intensive medical interventions will render it a vegetable, doomed to live the rest of its life a vegetable, feeling only great physical pain. It's especially helpful when that someone you want to pound the living shit out of is oneself, as was the case with me. But back to the point, God can play many roles, depending on how you want to see Him.
The important part isn't how you feel about God. What matters is that you believe in Him, in a single Entity that set up the universe with all its natural laws, and occasionally tinkers with them to mess with the little players in His game. And I do. I wouldn't be able to call myself an educated person otherwise - it just doesn't jive with my understanding (or lack thereof) of the universe. Evolution? God's work. Evolution doesn't make sense on a basic chemical level? That dastardly God again, letting us think we know what's going on but He's got a bigger plan. We can perform amazing feats of technology, and yet we can't achieve world peace? Hey, it was God's idea to make humans like this.
לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ
To declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning.
When all is bright and sunshine lollipops and rainbows everywhere and candy this and happy that and everything's all wonderful, it's easy to praise God and thank him and declare that he's the bestest evar. But what's the point of that? God doesn't need us to acknowledge how great He is, He already knows that. This is a running philosophical question in Judaism - why praise God? What does He get out of our constant prayer? The answer to this knotty question tends to be not so much that He needs our prayer, but rather that we need to be reminded that He's the one in charge, that everything's awesome because He's just cool like that. Call it a way of reminding us to at least try and be humble.
and Thy faithfulness in the night seasons.
But what about when life is shit, and you hate everyone but mostly yourself? Everything and everyone sucks, and you couldn't care less about it because you're in the depths of a deep, dark, filthy depression, and barely have the energy to claw your way out of it. What about God then? The classic response is to go all Job on the Creator, curse him out and say, "This whole faith thing? Not working for me. I just don't believe in God anymore." But no, even in the night, when we can't even see past our own nose, we must remember that God is above us and looking out for us. Well, sort of. As the classic Chabad philosophy goes, God doesn't give us more than we can handle. (No, it was absolutely not something Sarah Palin came up with; she doesn't have that kind of mental capacity.) So much like the point is to cause humility in the daytime, the point here is to not lose faith.
Here's a tip: in order to not lose faith, change your perception of God. Drop the whole "all-benevolent deity" thing for a second. Fact is, in daily life, when one person wins, another person loses. Life is a zero-sum game. The hunter-gatherer nabs a rabbit for lunch, the rabbit loses his life. The drunken homeless bum wins the big lottery, the hard-working single mother of three doesn't. And so on. Someone's gotta lose. And all that's left is for us to believe that in the divine plan, it all works out for the better in the end.
Two very dear friends of mine lost their son after 79 days of fighting for his life in a NICU. Their response? "Statistically, we prevented someone else from having to go through this."
Well fuck, if they can come up with that, then I'm thinking there's something to that whole optimism thing.
So yes, I'm right now in the depths of the worst depression I've seen since I was 17, when I was truly suicidal and ready and willing to slit my own wrists, and if I wasn't such an egotistical coward, always thinking about the impact it would have on everyone else, I would have done it. Same deal right now, though thankfully the egotistical coward is winning through with much higher success than previously. I'm all but ready to give it all up and jump, but I've got my daughters and my wife and my family and friends to think about, and I won't. I also won't because no good will come out of my untimely death other than a legion of teachers that will, once and for all, be proven right that I'll never graduate university.
And sure, my current depression is a near-perfect victory for the Dean and her minions, but so what?
I have faith. I believe in God. I believe that despite this crap, he's still got my back, and he's got my interests out for me. I believe that it's bad, really bad, but it isn't going to get much worse than this. I believe that this may be the break that I need to get better. I believe that God, for as pissed off at Him as I am right now, and for all the cursing I've been doing, and for every single slur of "asshole", "prick", "cunt", "motherfucker", and other choice phrases I've been throwing at Him, I'm gonna prove everyone wrong, get better, and finish my degree.
That is the meaning of declaring one's belief at night. That is the importance of it. At night, when things can't get much worse, fall back on your faith in God, and know that for as hard as it is to see it right now, and for as big of a dickhead as He's been to you lately, He's still got your best interests in mind.
טוֹב לְהֹדוֹת לַיהוָה וּלְזַמֵּר לְשִׁמְךָ עֶלְיוֹן.
It is good to give thanks to God, and to sing praises unto His most high name.
Even if you can't do it right now, in the future, it will still be possible.