… God knows the secrets of the heart. (44:22)
The image of God knowing all of my secrets, knowing everything I have done wrong down to the last sordid embarrassing detail, is not comforting. Instead, I understand this verse in the light of a story told about the Hasidic Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Leib.
R’ Moshe Leib used to tell his hassidim that he learned what it means to love a fellow Jew from two Russian peasants. Once he came to an inn, where two thoroughly drunk Russian peasants were sitting at a table, draining the last drops from a bottle of strong Ukrainian vodka.
One of them yelled to his friend in a slurred drunken drawl, “Igor! Do you love me?”
Igor, somewhat surprised by the question answered, “Of course, Ivan, of course I love you!”
“No, no”, insisted Ivan, “Do you really love me, really?!”
Now feeling a bit cornered, Igor assured him, “What do you think? I don’t love you? Of course I love you. You’re my best friend Ivan!”
“Oh yes, yes?” countered Ivan. “if you really loved me … then why don’t you know what hurts me and the pain I have in my heart?”
Reb Moshe Leib is speaking about a kind of knowing that implies a close, caring connection between two people. This is the kind of knowing that I prefer to read into the verse from Psalms – that God knowing all of my secrets means that God knows what hurts me. When I am hurting, I am never hurting alone. God shares my pain; God suffers with me. Pain that is shared does not hurt as much as pain suffered alone.
When I am in terrible emotional pain, I sometimes use a practice that I learned in interfaith dialogue with Christians, who know a lot about a theology of a suffering God. Jews know suffering; Christians know a God who knows suffering.
My Christian friends taught me how to offer up my pain to God. Essentially, the practice is to share the pain and its causes with God; to talk to God about the hurt, what I did to cause it, and what I can do to relieve it. The practice is to lift the burden of the pain through honest prayer and share it with the Holy Blessed One. It may not remove the pain entirely, but putting it into words and offering it up can be, at least for me, a kind of healing ritual.