Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
The late Father Andrew Greeley wrote, “We are born with two incurable diseases, life, from which we die, and hope, which says maybe death isn’t the end.”
With Judy recovering from her surgery and things looking much more positive than a few weeks ago I have been doing some reflecting. One thing that really impressed me was how Judy handled this from beginning to end. She was concerned and worried much of the time, of course, when you get diagnosed with Cancer you should be worried, because you never know what course the disease will take, and what might even happen during surgery or subsequent treatments. I know people who thought that they were on the way to recovery who died unexpectedly due to an adverse reaction to chemotherapy.
That being said Judy never asked “why me?” nor did she attribute this to “God’s will” or try to rationalize it by saying that “God was testing her faith” or any of this other quasi-providential but really fatalistic bullshit. Her reaction to this mirrored much of what I believed when I returned from Iraq when there were times that I easily could have been injured, wounded or even killed in incidents that were all too similar to others who were injured, killed or wounded. Of course here I am referring to visible physical wounds, not the Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury that has so messed with my mind. Like Judy I never asked “why me?’ of attributed what happened to me to being “God’s will” or the “providence of God.”
I tend to agree with Confederate Colonel William Oates whose 15th Alabama fought so bravely and unsuccessfully against Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine at Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863 at Gettysburg. After the war, Oates, who was a Christian, reflected about God’s role in the battle and noted that he believed that God, “endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….”
I apply that to all of life, I do not believe that God intentionally afflicts people with disease, or directs events so they are killed. I don’t believe that it is God’s will for people to suffer from terrible diseases or directs bullets, speeding cars or other things which kill young men and women, children or other innocents.
I know that from the beginning of time that people have attributed things that they cannot endure to God, the Devil, or in some cultures gods and devils, or even to attribute such things as God’s punishment for the “sins” of individuals and even their descendants. I know that helps some people, sometimes I think even some of the writers of scripture to frame suffering; as a whole people need to credit or blame someone for terrible things that happen.
I cringe when I hear people say that they are suffering because it is God’s will, or that God is testing them, or I see something that a terrible natural disaster that kills thousands of people is an “act of God.” To be truthful I cannot believe that God is so cruel and capricious to be in that kind of business, and if indeed God is really that way I would rather be an atheist than go to seek a heaven ruled by such a being. And yes, I know that as a Christian that this puts me in a minority. I simply believe that as Jesus so wisely noted that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike,” in other words that it is called life, or the human condition, and all of us have to deal with it. To be somewhat crude I believe that shit happens and we have to deal with it.
I cannot imagine a God who wills, plans, and condones genocide, slavery,Infanticide, wars of aggression waged in his name, and every imaginable form of suffering known to humanity. I cannot image a God who so so earnestly believe inflicts such grievous suffering on his children. If we were to apply the standards of justice that we apply to human fathers who abuse or kill their children to God we would do ourselves good and we would probably lock him away for consecutive life terms, but our human need for explaining this prevents us from asking hard questions to the God that we claim to believe. Mark Twain wrote: “The best minds will tell you that when a man has begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly care for it, protect it from hurt, shield it from disease, clothe it, feed it, bear with its waywardness, lay no hand upon it save in kindness and for its own good, and never in any case inflict upon it a wanton cruelty. God’s treatment of his earthly children, every day and every night, is the exact opposite of all that, yet those best minds warmly justify these crimes, condone them, excuse them, and indignantly refuse to regard them as crimes at all, when he commits them. Your country and mine is an interesting one, but there is nothing there that is half so interesting as the human mind.”
That being said I do live in hope, which is a part of my faith, a faith which is in things that I cannot understand nor can I prove. In this I do believe that God somehow gives people, even people that religious people call “non-believers” a grace to deal with tragedy, illness, suffering and death. I have to believe that because I have often seen non-Christians endure suffering and tragedy with a grace that many Christians, intent on finding a biblical or theological reason for such events do not display. When I think of this I am reminded of Jesus’s remarks about the Centurion who asked him to heal his servant and when Jesus offers to come tells Jesus that he is not worthy for Jesus to come under his roof, but to only speak the word and his servant should be healed (Matthew 8:5-13). The interesting thing about the passage is that the word used for servant is a Greek word for servant which only occurs once in the New Testament, the word Pais. In ancient Greek literature the term denotes a homosexual relationship, that of a man with his houseboy. In other words, Jesus healed a Roman, gentile, pagan Centurion’s homosexual lover, and had the nerve to say that he had “not seen such faith in Israel.” Since the writer of Matthew used the word Pais instead of the word doulos for servant it had to be deliberate and he had to know what he was doing, but I digress…
While I do not believe that God directs or permits death and suffering, I do believe that God is not absent in suffering that people endure, that God “Emmanuel” is with us, all of us; that God suffers with us, for that is the message of Jesus, the crucified one. I also believe that God who is with us, weeps with us as well as rejoices with us. That may not be a good answer for some who want to prove that God is behind everything, nor for those who do not believe in God at all.
I’m sure that some will consider what I wrote today as blasphemy, but then I have to agree with Mark Twain who wrote, “Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if He is as little as that, He is beneath it.”
Have a great night,