Sunday, April 22, 2012
I was in bed, not very successfully trying to sleep with a fever from a sudden flu, while Jill edited a California Scholarship Federation speech Rachel gave when she was a senior graduating from high school. Jill was preparing for an Every 15 Minutes presentation dedicated to the memory of Rachel in Madison, New Jersey. I heard Rachel’s sweet voice, and felt Jill’s grief through the wall of what used to be Rachel’s room.
I was not actively thinking, or praying, but as I lay there listening these words formed in my mind: “How could you?” Of course, I was addressing God. It was an honest question as much as a reproach. As distressing as such an utterance may be to many devout, I know that God encourages honesty more than false decorum. I did not recant.
I feel like so many of my half-assed prayers never make it past the ceiling, but as I lay on my side looking through the bedroom door into the dimly illumined hallway, I could visualize the words slipping through the whole-house fan grill, into the attic, out the screened vent at the ridge of the roof, and into the night sky. I waited for an answer, but I received none. I only heard Rachel’s voice...and the enormous silence.
Along with the awareness of the violent, untimely, and senseless death of my precious daughter, what continues to torment me is the pain it continues to inflict on my beloved wife, Jill. I call her Angel, because she is a miraculous emissary of God. To me, she IS, very literally, the embodiment of God’s love. A life of being loved by this woman is more than I could ever hope to deserve. It is pure grace, and I know it. I can only be grateful.
If I were God, things would be different for Jill… She has suffered too much. And if God can’t even be as good as I can imagine God should be, what kind of God do I claim?...
The answer came a few days later. Not out of the sky, but out of a book, the
Bible as it so often happens, though God undoubtedly speaks in many other ways I habitually fail to perceive.
I came across this verse, again:
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.”
What struck me as I read the passage this time is that God is progenitor of mercy and comfort. Good things. Good things that come as a response to bad things. Mercy is a restorative response to a justifiably punishable infraction of the moral order. Comfort is a compassionate, therapeutic response to pain. The passage doesn’t address the origin of evil or suffering, it only describes God as the source of the remedy for it.
Our modern western rational minds can’t help but draw the conclusion that the God who created everything out of nothing must ultimately be responsible for whatever is wrong with the world as we know it. The buck finally stops at God. Maybe it is a flaw, but this passage simply doesn’t go there. God is presented as the creator of comfort, not of suffering; God is the originator of mercy, not of the evil or the injustice that make it necessary. God is present in the cure not the disease. Wherever we discover healing in progress, we witness God in action.
For some questions, even good questions, there simply are no good answers. Not here and now, at least.
“...we also discovered how important it was not to superimpose theological truths onto hearts that are broken. To do so simply missed the mark...The need we had to somehow refer this all to God and make sense of it was amazing. The only problem was it made no sense at all.”
Gregory Floyd - A Grief Unveiled
God didn’t respond to my accusation, gave no explanation. Instead, I was challenged to entertain the possibility that my presence in Jill’s life may be the very God I questioned, comforting Jill in her suffering and grief. Just as I recognize and receive from her the love of God for me, I must admit in myself the presence of God, comforting Jill. Maybe it is just a matter of simple human kindness. Maybe such things in such a world are never quite so simple…
At the same time, as so often happens when we dare to talk to God, I also felt my own question turn on me: How could I?...fail - as I confess I so often have - to love, to comfort her as I could, as I should? I felt the shame of my own selfish betrayals.
I am convinced that in the mundane operation of common decencies we join God at work. When we feel the pull of compassion, sense the inclination to comfort, it is the compulsion of God to act, because the response of a loving God to the hurt of the world is to make it better. God feels it and wants to fix it. How do I know? Because I feel it. That doesn’t make me God, but does mean God is in and through me. The Love of God. The Body of Christ.