I know some people who hate God right now. One lost a child to illness. Several have simply had a bad run of luck in recent years. They can’t understand why an all-loving God lets bad things happen to them.
I used to be there.
When my brother died, when my parents divorced, when my friend Sean Marley committed suicide. In the aftermath of those events, I wasn’t on speaking terms with God. At other points in my life, like my struggle to contain OCD and addictive behavior, I was talking to God, but nothing coming from my mouth was making much sense. I was rattling off prayers designed to make my life safer and more comfortable.
My relationship with God has gone through changes in recent years. I no longer pray for the safety of everyone I know. I just pray we’ll all have the wisdom to live our lives the way we’re supposed to for whatever length of time we’re going to be around. I’ve come to see life’s body blows not as a punishment but as situations we’re supposed to work through to come out stronger.
I bring this up because it was the dominant theme of last night’s R.C.I.A. (Right of Christian Initiation for Adults) class, which I’m helping to teach this year.
One of the students mentioned the recent disasters in Japan and asked how God could let it happen. She also mentioned how the death of children can be an especially bitter pill to swallow. I think we’re all with her on that one. I don’t ever want to experience that. I have friends who have been through that, and I honestly don’t know how they get up the strength to get out of bed in the morning and carry on.
My friend Peter Richardson, who has been running R.C.I.A. for several years, mentioned the greater good — how there’s a bigger plan that’s simply beyond the comprehension of mortal human beings. He noted how there’s something greater in the next life that’s simply impossible to grasp while we’re still chained to this world.
Some of you will say that’s just so much bullshit. But that’s what Faith is — the belief that there’s something much bigger in store, even if we can’t see tangible proof of it. Faith is a hard thing because we’re so rooted in our everyday chaos and hunger for things (technology, pleasure, money). It’s enough to make the brain spin off its stem and break apart.
Whatever the case may be, somewhere along the way I chose to believe. To those who think I’m crazy and living a pipe dream, I respect your opinion but don’t really care if you think I’m crazy. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.
To those who ask why it’s worth having faith when there’s always the chance that there’s really nothing there after death, I ask, what’s the alternative? Even if there’s nothing on the other side, I’d still rather live by beliefs that include treating those around me right and striving for good. I’d still rather strive for a clean soul, though I admittedly have a lot of work to do on that one. If there’s nothing on the other side, at least I’ll have taken a shot at being a better person.
But as I’ve said, I do believe.
As part of that, there’s something else I believe: The bad things we go through — and we all go through the bad — is a test. I don’t think certain things are deliberately planned out, like a natural disaster, the death of a loved one or the break-up of a relationship. But I do think we’re tasked with coming out of these things as better people who can come through when others need our help later on. That’s what Mister Rogers was talking about right after 9-11 when he suggested children always watch for the helpers in the face of disaster.
In the movie “Pearl Harbor,” there’s a scene where FDR meets with his military advisors and expresses his desire to strike back at Japan. His advisors give him all the reasons why it can’t be done. Then he mentions the polio that left him in a wheelchair and how he’s spent every hour of his life wondering why God put him in the chair.
Too dramatic? Maybe. This was a product of Hollywood and the scene was probably only loosely based on what really happened.
Still, I can totally picture FDR saying those things. He did say them at various times of his presidency.
His faith helped him deal with some of the biggest challenges mankind had faced up to that point. In that war and wars since then, faith has helped a lot of people push forward with the tasks that terrified them.
They chose to believe despite all the terrible things that happen around here.
So do I.