(other people’s children mentioned)
A while ago I went to the dentist for my hygenist appointment, and got into conversation with her. It turns out that her son has a kind of disorder I’d never heard of – something about not being able to make oils, so his skin is extremely dry & prone to eczema. He needs to be slathered in a perscription lotion, have baths infrequently, and make regular visits to the children’s hospital about an hour away. It sounds pretty miserable all in all.
My hygenist mentioned that when her son questions why he ended up with this disorder – and the other things that affect him – she tells him “you go through this so that others won’t have to.”
Now, let me make the disclaimer that I know we are all different; we all find different ways of making sense of the world and our own situations. The above explanation appears to work for my hygenist and her family, and I don’t want to minimize that. I want to say, however, that it really doesn’t work *at all* for me.
It’s too close to sentiments like “God only gives you what you can handle. He knows your strength better than you do.” In my view, God doesn’t dish out the pain, misery and tragedy in the world. I think most of that is evidence that evil is at work in our world – sometimes in an individual, often because of the overall sum of how humankind works. For example, I think alot of infertility could be traced back to pollution issues, pesticides, etc. I do think that sheer random back luck happens. I suppose God sometimes does send us trials, but I just can’t imagine a loving God planning and sending the most terrible experiences that some of us undergo.
Much of my thinking for this comes from the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” That book was critical in the search for my own faith. If I accepted the view that God is loving – which is what I felt to be true – how could I understand all the terrible things that happen in this world? This battle with evil, affecting all of us, was part of my answer. As I studied science, it was also important to me that these answers made sense with what I knew of the world tried by experiment. Thus came the idea that God created the universe, and set the laws of physics etc. in motion, and put the power of self-determination in our hands. The theory of evolution makes sense to me; I really have a hard time seeing why people find science & faith to be opposite sides of the divide. The more I study science, the more it seems to me I see God’s signature in everything. Watching cells under a microscope still takes my breath away.
But God isn’t going to contravene the laws of physics to make miracles happen just because we pray for them. That’s not to say I don’t believe miracles ever happen, but just to say that I don’t think God is like a gumball machine. Enter the correct number of prayers, out rolls the desired answer. It isn’t that simple. We are in the world as it is, as it has come to us from countless ancestors, and future generations will inherit the results of our decisions. We are caught in that current. I can’t stop myself from praying for miracles for those I love, and for myself too, but I also put faith in the decisions made by others that will bring light, love and hope into this world. I sure pray for the scientists working on ways to help those with infertility, asthma, allergies, and many other things. Perhaps the Spirit will give them a flash of inspiration that will lead to a great discovery – within the laws of the universe. (and I do think prayer is very important, but more because it develops our relationship with God, than for deal-making. Of course, I can’t deny I’ve tried making deals at times too.)
I also believe that no matter how grim the situation we are in, if we can offer it to God and come to Him(Her), it can be made better. We can get through it more easily with His support – we can find peace. He is with us in all of the most terrible times. I believe He sheds tears with us, holds us when we are sobbing, and guides us towards the peace, hope and strength to go on.
If someone seriously told me that the struggles that we have are ours so that others wouldn’t have to deal with them – well, I’m afraid I’d return a pretty uncharitable response. I did not choose to have these struggles. It is not fair that we have them – it is not fair that others struggle with their health issues, watch their children starve, or suffer war crimes. Instead of bringing me comfort, this kind of statment makes me angry and resentful. How do you react to this explanation for the question of WHY? Do you have a different answer?
What is my answer? I suppose, part of it is the wide-spread and often random effects of evil, and the randomness in nature too. Maybe exposure to pollution, mass food production, and very different challenges to the immune system than what we used to have. I guess we all have to find our own answers. And anyway, I think the really important question is how do we move on, how do we cope? For me, prayer and asking for help in the struggle is part of the answer. Others perhaps find their way in advocacy, fund-raising, supporting other people. All of these are life-giving ways to take a personal tragedy and help others and ourselves.
I volunteered for about a year with a shelter for street youth. Some of them were refugees from other countries, some were home-grown Canadians. Many of their stories would break your heart. One boy in particular had been forced to be a child soldier, and faced all the horrors of war, his family & hometown and everything torn apart. He had escaped to build a better life here. His determination, courage and perhaps even desperation really struck me. I think about him sometimes and hope he has found his way.
But I would never have told him that he went through those experiences so that I, or anyone else, would be spared from them.