I do not understand.
I live uncomfortably with mystery, feel threatened by confusion, and troubled by the limitations of my ability to comprehend. Life is an endless series of incomprehensible conundrums and unanswerable questions.
Human questions are puzzling enough. Who can begin to make sense of the ways of we humans on this earth? But, when we move out beyond the confines of human experience, the depths of our ignorance reaches profound proportions.
Elie Wiesel has spent a lifetime struggling to come to terms with the tragedy of the Jewish Holocaust of 1939 to 1945. He has poured out millions of written and spoken words in his attempt to find some rational explanation for this unspeakable horror. But he has always come up against the same blank wall of silence and death.
Wiesel wrote in his essay “The Death of My Father”,
Perhaps some day someone will explain how, on the level of man, Auschwitz was possible; but on the level of God, it will forever remain the most disturbing of mysteries. (Legends Of Our Time, p. 6)
In a later essay in the same book, Wiesel explains our desire for understanding saying that,
We want to know, to understand, so we can turn the page: is that not true? So we can say to ourselves: the matter is closed and everything is back in order. (Legends Of Our Time, p. 184)
I struggle to understand in the hope that I might make the universe seem a safer more inhabitable place. I long for the predictable. I want life to unfold along rational lines, clearly governed by reasonable principles.
Wiesel suggests that the horror of Auschwitz must put an end to any attempt to arrive at understanding.
In truth, Auschwitz signifies not only the failure of two thousand years of Christian civilization, but also the defeat of the intellect that wants to find a Meaning – with a capital M – in history. What Auschwitz embodied has none. The executioner killed for nothing, the victim died for nothing. No God ordered the one to prepare the stake, nor the other to mount it. During the Middle Ages, the Jews, when they chose death, were convinced that by their sacrifice they were glorifying and sanctifying God’s name. At Auschwitz the sacrifices were without point, without faith, without divine inspiration. If the suffering of one human being has any meaning, that of six million has none. (Legends Of Our Time, p. 183)
But I do not need to look all the way back to Auschwitz. Most days, many times, even small M meaning eludes me. I simply do not understand why life unfolds as it does.
All I can do is hold the questions and allow them to bring me to a deeper more genuine experience of life. Indeed, Wiesel suggests this is the purpose, perhaps even the meaning, of questions.
I have nothing against questions: they are useful. What is more, they alone are. To turn away from them would be to fail in our duty, to lose our only chance to be able one day to lead an authentic life. (Legends Of Our Time, p. 181,182)
The words “I do not understand” need not be a cry of despair. If they bring me to the place of surrender, they can become a door opening to deeper vulnerability and greater trust in the forces of life.