July 22, 2012

Confusion of the Blessed: Part 2 (Why Bad Things Happen to Good People)

This has nothing to do with my blog--I just thought it was funny
Click here for part 1.
 
When I was in sophomore in high school I had this wonderful, yet perhaps slightly over-zealous bible teacher. I can't quite remember the context of our conversation, but one day he said to me, "You want to know something, Keith? God killed your dad. Doesn't that make you feel better?"

I wish I was making this story up.

To him, the fact that God not only allowed this to happen, but somehow facilitated it should have caused me to trust Him more, because really He is in control of everything. At least, I think that is the point he was trying to make. Really, it just sounded a lot like this (Lucille plays the part of God and I'm Gob):


In a way, he was trying to "intellectualize" God and suffering. He thought that if he could find a reason, and explain this reason to me, I would be at peace with God.

I can't help but feel like my attempts to reconcile suffering with God's will in this blog isn't that far removed from what my bible teacher did to me. Because really, a rational justification or explanation of suffering can only go so far. I've spent the last week thinking through this and talking to various people about it. To be honest, I think I could make a somewhat compelling case. I could never fully parse the existence of evil, but I think I could make a decent argument. But honestly, the more I thought about it, the more and more it felt like I was just saying, "You know what, God killed your dad, caused famine in this country, gave HIV to this child, etc. etc..."

Then this happened:


 Is it possible to create an equation in which free will and God's plan for eternal life explain this situation? Possibly but at the end of the day who really cares?  The more I thought about writing this blog post, the more I realized I couldn't in good conscious attempt to explain why this happened, even if I could explain why this happened. To put it bluntly, who cares? What argument can possibly help here? I do believe there is a place for this discussion. In fact, I think it's a discussion that everyone should have. But they should have it with their professor/closest friend or family member with a beer soda in a pub somewhere. Because really when something terrible happens nobody cares if you wrote your dissertation on suffering--most people are much more concerned about whether or not you are capable of calling the Domino's guy.

Sometimes I would rather see this guy than read C.S. Lewis
Is there a time to ask questions--a time even to challenge God and his supposed goodness? YES! In fact, I think it is the reluctance of many Christians to do this that causes them to be perpetually frustrated and unsatisfied with the church, and more generally speaking, their faith. I don't fully understand why terrible things happen, but I HAVE to believe that the God that I believe in wont take his ball and go home if I in a moment of utter frustration I question His ability to do His job.

But I'm getting distracted, allow me to refocus (admittedly, it's hard for me to focus when I can overhear Sarah watching the Bachelorette in the other room. I still can't believe Emily didn't choose Sean).

The most important question to me is not, "Why do bad things happen?" I think we would all agree that all is not right in the world. No, the pertinent question is, "what do we do about?" This is what is most interesting to me.

When I was a freshman in college I took an Old Testament class. It's a generally accepted truth that OT is one of the most difficult classes a student will take at Gordon College. Being warned of this ample times, I was eager to exploit any "strategy" that would enable me to receive a passing grade from this particularly challenging professor. I was told by a student that had passed this class a few years back, that if I visited the professor there was almost no way he would fail me. Obviously, I chose to visit this professor.

I had to pretend I was actually interested in the class (and not merely interested in receiving a passing grade), so I asked some question about how present-day Judaism fits into God's plan for Israel. I think he was on to me because he kind of gave me the confused dog look (see below). Not because he didn't know, but more because he wasn't convinced I cared.

The look I got from my professor
He took a deep breath and was about to offer an explanation to my question when his phone rang. Aside from "hello" he didn't say much. He gave a couple "MmmHmmm's" a few sighs before ending the conversation with an "I see" and "I will talk to you soon." He hang up the phone and slouched in his chair.

"Is everything OK?" I asked.
"Well, no not really, Keith. I just learned that the wife of one of my closest friends just died."

I didn't know how to respond, so we both sat in silence for about twenty seconds. I debated leaving the room but my professor's posture didn't seem to suggest that I needed me to leave. After what seemed like ten minutes, I decided I should ask him a question.

"Professor, what do you say to someone that received this news?"

After staring at his shoes for quite awhile, he slowly looked up at me, squinted his eyes, brought his hand to chin and began speaking very softly yet incredibly firm and deliberate.

"At times like this, people don't need the bible. They just need to know you care. They have to know you care."

This man is responsible for translating part of the NIV. He literally worked on shaping the way we read the bible, yet he acknowledged that perhaps the bible wasn't in fact that most helpful tool at this time. I can't shake this. Maybe "truth" isn't actually helpful in moments of grief and pain. The more I thought about this blog the more I realized that I didn't want to regurgitate C.S. Lewis. My goal became much more simple.

I realized that I wanted to apologize to people that have been burned by the church, pastors, "religious" people, Christians, authors or anyone else that brought them a copy of "The Problem with Pain" before bringing them a gallon of ice cream and a frozen lasagna. I've done this before, and if I've done this to someone that is reading this blog, I am so incredibly sorry. I guess you could say I realized that I wanted this blog to be more baked noodles than a shaky attempt a theology.

I hope this post wasn't too much of a letdown. If it was...I'm sure you can find some author somewhere that has figured this whole thing out.

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