Faith that we will learn something along the way
I've been angry with God for a few years now.
It started when a dear friend — warm, talented, outgoing and in all ways a wonder — lost her husband. She hadn't had things easy for a long time but had found this man — caring, quiet and understanding, the perfect foil for her exuberance — and at last found happiness. Their son and ours were born two days apart, and they've been like brothers ever since.
And then her husband died.
He had a heart attack on Valentine's Day and never recovered, despite weeks of valiant efforts by doctors and specialists. He hung on for almost two months, rarely conscious, and then slipped away. He was 30-something.
Another friend who took weeks off work to be present with her through endless hospital visits was diagnosed with breast cancer.
A neighbor, one of the most godly men I have ever met and an absolute joy to be around, was found to have a brain tumor. Surgeons and chemotherapy reduced its size and kept it in check for a while, but it is now growing again. He and his wife have three adorable little girls and a ridiculously cute little boy.
None of them deserved this.
A few years before this chain of catastrophes, I read Patrick Henry's The Ironic Christian's Companion, one of the only spiritual books I've read that actually spoke to me and the blundering, stumbling, lost-in-the-dark kind of faith I have. Because of this, I knew the old saying, "All things work together for good," for the insult it is to someone experiencing something that no good can possibly come from. There is, after all, no good in the Holocaust, in genocide, in children afflicted by hunger and disease, in the violence and death in the Middle East and Central America that has sent millions of people on the run in the hopes of not a better life, but a life, period.
None of those victims, those refugees, those innocents, deserve this.
Week after week in this space, I bring you news of new catastrophes and new horrors in the world, and though I try to focus on the relief of suffering, on those who help those who need it, it nonetheless has become a sort of catalog of mass grieving, a first draft of the history of the maladies that can strike our frail existence.
And so I've been angry with God. Not because he did these things — I know he didn't — but because he allowed them. How do I square these realities with my belief that he is so caring, so giving, so selfless that he sacrificed his own earthly life for us? It is hard to understand how salvation and death by cholera can exist in the same world. My idiotic, repeated sins can be forgiven, while my son's best friend grows up without his father.
But God also made us with a desire to understand, and for some things, there simply is no understanding. Some things just happen. Some things just are.
Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer at age 42, wrote in her autobiography, It's Always Something, that she wanted to be able to write on the book jacket, "'Her triumph over cancer' or 'She wins the cancer war.'" But she didn't win.
"Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle and end," she wrote. "Like my life, this book has ambiguity. Like my life, this book is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next."
And that's where my faith — however small and pitiful it seems at times — finally comes in. My faith is not that it will all work out, or that God will make it all better, or that all of this tragedy will work together for good, or even that I will someday understand it. It won't all work out, God won't miraculously make everything better, and I will likely never understand any of it.
My faith is that God, even when we're angry with him, loves us. That's it. That despite what seems to be all evidence to the contrary, he cares and suffers along with us. That he wishes it could be different. And that someday — someday — all our suffering, all our tears and all our heartache, will find solace in his arms. That all of this will be as the blink of an eye. That this present darkness is somehow our purgatory, purifying and preparing us for the great Something Else.
I also have faith that we will learn something along the way. That by doing our best to relieve others' suffering, that we'll learn something about God and What It All Means.
My faith, I guess, is not so much that we will find the light. My faith is that even though we're wandering in the darkness, lost, alone and failing to understand, that God — creator, savior, God of both smoke and fire and the quiet whisper — is there with us in our darkness.
And for me, that is enough.
Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.