Choosing to Keep the Faith | A Reflection on the Death of a Child
Bad things happen to good people. This truth cannot be denied.
As a young person, I often heard that "everything happens for a reason" and that its "all part of God's plan". More recently, a certain internet evangalist suggested that bad things don't happen to good people, because no one is really "good". (Yes, I googled "why do bad things happen to good people". I learned that googling questions of faith is akin to googling medical symptoms. A mild stomachache can turn to colon cancer very quickly.)
It's not these attempts at answers that bother me (even though I do find them to be weak at best). It's that these answers effectively shut down further questions and discourage doubt. They attribute to God a plan that involves our profound suffering and wrap it in explanations that ring of platitudes. And, that makes me angry. I don't want to just swallow these truths without tasting them. And, its hard for me to respect a theology that doesn't encourage me to properly chew my food, you know.
Bad things happen to good people. My friends (my beautiful, loving, generous and gracious friends) recently suffered a devastating and senseless loss. In the wake of this tragedy, I find myself grappling with the why. Why!? The God I know and have experienced is a good, gracious and loving God who also appears to let really bad things happen to really good people. How can all of this be true at once? I don’t know. This God is the only God I have any experience with and any faith in, and, yet, there is terrible, unbearable suffering in the world. And, I don’t understand why. I am so very sad. And, I am so very angry. I’m angry with God.
The God I know is omnipotent and omnipresent and, yet, doesn’t stop horrible things from happening. But, I don’t believe that God causes horrible things to happen. I don’t believe that this suffering is part of God’s plan. I believe God is at times (at this time) a grieving God, a God who weeps with us. But, what lies between the omnipotent and omnipresent God and the grieving and weeping God, I can’t begin to understand. Somewhere in there is an answer maybe, but I don’t know that I get to know it. And, I’m angry about that.
Here is what I know about God. God is love. I read somewhere that the love of God is a thing so impossibly simple and pure that we cannot comprehend it. I always liked that. You often hear that the painful bits are incomprehensible mysteries. But, even the love of God is incomprehensible. There is something that comforts me in knowing that I can’t know. It is an invitation to let go and to stop looking (but not a demand to stop asking). To feel as I feel without guilt that I'm not doing enough or trying hard enough to have faith. I am angry. And, I’m going to sit in that for a while. But, I believe God can take my anger. I’m grieving. I hurt so deeply and so profoundly, and I’m going to sit in that for a while too. And, I believe God will sit here with me even as I actively try to push God away.
I haven’t really been able to pray since what happened. For someone starting seminary in August, this is probably an issue. I’ve wondered if I can’t pray because I’m angry and that’s how I’m taking it out on God or if I’m in disbelief that there is anyone there listening to me. But, even when I’m sitting in this place of anger and disbelief, I can’t help but know that there is only one choice for me - to believe in a God that is with us in our suffering and is loving us through our pain (and even our anger). I don’t know if what I have right now could even be called faith. Instead, I choose. I choose to believe. This doesn’t make it easier. It makes it more difficult. It does not bring me much comfort right now and it does not offer answers. But, it gives me company in my struggle and my grief. And, maybe that is comforting. I just don’t know how to be in this world without this God.