I started to blog the morning after the news of bin Laden’s demise, but I found myself conflicted—frustrated and angry, excited and vaguely glad, all at the same time. Couldn’t resolve it, so I reposted a friend’s posting of a rabbi’s response instead.
Part of my disgruntlement lay in the fact that I didn’t feel like rejoicing at the news. Had I been in DC, I wouldn’t have been on Pennsylvania Avenue, nor would I have gone to Ground Zero if I’d been in New York. It’s the same paradox I’ve found myself embroiled in before. I’m intensely proud of the Navy Seals, steely-eyed missile men who went, with only a few humans knowing, into harm’s way, fully aware their lives might lie in the balance. And I’m profoundly sad that once again, a brother of ours lost touch with his own humanity to the point that killing him was the only option we believed we had. I just didn’t feel like waving the flag or shouting “USA” in the streets. I felt more like falling to my knees and begging for the Spirit of God to come in force and save us, because we are surely unable to save ourselves.
In the middle of the night, I remembered something that a wise professor once said to me when I was ranting about a psychotherapy client who wouldn’t do what I wanted her to do for herself. I couldn’t get her to see.
“She’s doing the best she knows how,” he said. “Just as we are. She doesn’t know any better…yet.”
I remember being stunned by the remark. It was as if scales fell from my eyes. My professor would have rolled his eyes if I’d said something like that. He wasn’t a religious man in any sense of the word—religion had played a wounding role, not a healing one. I remembered it, though, and it has informed my perspective in these paradoxical times.
We’re all doing the best we know how. The woman at the grocery store, embarrassed when her debit card is declined, the Wall Street mogul in his Armani suit, the Muslim boy who straps explosives on his back. The Samaritan woman at the well, the diminutive tax collector in the tree, the blind man at Bethsaida, Mary and Martha, Judas Iscariot. You. Me.
We never know what has shaped the views of another. We can’t know fully what our very own children perceive, much less those born in another place, in another neighborhood, another culture. We don’t know what they know and what they don’t know, what they’ve seen and what they haven’t seen, how they’ll act toward us as a result of all that and how they won’t. Unless we have experienced life in a remotely similar way, without dialogue, we can’t even imagine with any precision at all. But we do know one thing.
Whatever they see, whatever they feel, whatever they’ve experienced…they’re doing the best they know how, just like us.
God knows that. And despite the limitations of his humanity, I’m convinced that Jesus knew it, too. “Love others as I have loved you,” he said, in one version of his final words.
Help our unbelief, Lord. We’re doing the best we know how.