Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.
QUESTION: My sister-in-law recently visited a psychic. I lost my daughter three years ago, at age 43. I lost my son when he was 3 days old, over 46 years ago. The psychic said my daughter and son were together in heaven, which made me very happy. My question is, can a person grow older in heaven? The psychic said my son was an adult now.
-- M., via email
ANSWER: Let me answer by asking you to think about the difference between knowledge and faith. Knowledge is what you can prove to be true. Faith is what you can trust to be true. Knowledge is the domain of science and philosophy, while trust and hope are the domain of faith and religion.
Some folks on both sides of this divide occasionally get aggressive and claim more for their domain than is appropriate. Some scientists, materialists and sociobiologists claim they can disprove the existence of God, and insist that the soul is an illusion, with nonmaterial phenomena like love and courage being produced by genetic material.
On the other side, some religious people think that because something is quoted in their sacred Scripture, it is, for that reason alone, true. Or they believe that because a psychic tells them something about their deceased loved ones or heaven, that the psychic is telling them the truth about life after death.
Both these examples of intellectual or spiritual overreaching are regrettable because they reinforce the false dichotomy that one cannot be religious and also be a scientist, or be rational while also being religious. The truth of human existence is complex and studded with mystery. Anything that simplifies that complexity is nearly always wrong.
I've written before about my feelings of mistrust toward psychics. I basically don't believe in them because they can't share or prove their visions, because they too often manipulate their clients for personal gain, and because they can keep mourners obsessing about death rather than moving through their grief into a healthy acceptance of death. I also can't abandon the teachings of every major faith that it's a sin to use a medium to talk to the dead.
However, my dearest friend and former "God Squad" partner, Father Tom Hartman, believes in psychics, and I love him and trust him. He saw the good they do and he witnessed psychic insights that no living person could know.
As for the fate of your dearly departed children, I trust that death is not the end of us. I don't know this but I trust it. I trust it because I believe that we humans are made up of not just material goo but also a spiritual essence, our soul, that is the sign and substance of God's presence within us and that is separated from the body at death.
I trust that our souls are what survive death. I trust that our souls are gathered close to God after death in a place we call heaven or the world to come. I trust that since our souls are nonmaterial, their age at the time they separate from our bodies is irrelevant. In heaven, I trust that our souls communicate with other souls perfectly, just as God communicates perfectly with all souls regardless of age, language or culture. I don't know any of this, but I trust and believe it.
You don't need the help of a psychic to know that your children are together and waiting to greet you one day. You don't need a psychic to claim a knowledge that cannot be claimed. You just need to trust what's rooted in your soul. There's a shepherd waiting to lead us all through the valley of the shadow of death, through the green pastures and past the still waters to the table filled with soul food. Your love for your children is just a mirror of that love God has for every one of us.
Knowing this will come tomorrow. Trusting this can come today.