Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Problem of Evil

For as long as I've considered myself a Christian, which has been the vast majority of my life, I've struggled with what we do with evil. I don't mean the evening news kind of stuff. Although, that too is problematic. No, I mean the run of the mill tough stuff that many of us endure in our lifetimes. The crap of life that seems to go on unabated for some people.

It seems some days to be all around me. Children who have been battered or molested or just plain not cared for. Women who are manipulated, controlled and mistreated. Parents whose children have gone astray somehow. I still don't know what it all means in the grand scheme of things. I cannot reconcile what I see with who I believe God to be. It seems incongruent.

Sometimes it doesn't bother me. The not knowing of this life. Why *this* child? Logically I know this kid didn't do anything so terrible to deserve what has happened to him or why? And where is God in the mess that exists? I don't have soft, easy answers to that. At times I'm able to live in the not knowing.

But on other days I become overwhelmed with it all. Why doesn't really sum up my questions...although it seems a good place to start at times. It's not as simple as why do bad things happen? It's more specific than that. Why do bad things happen to people if God is so good? If I believe that there is this Being/Light/Source that embodies love - where is the divine intervention to stop this madness?

And if God doesn't intervene ever, then what's the point in all this? Surely God is God. He/She can step in. After all who wants to be Superman if he can't really fly? If God is God, and therefore always present, always able to aid us in the time of fear and trembling, what's the hold up?

I think these sorts of ideas started bouncing around in my brain years ago - when I was a kid. God, the Church, was my refuge. I remember sitting in the balcony of the sanctuary in the quiet of a night. I was not able to speak most of what I thought about back then. It was too much, it overwhelmed my sensibilities. But being in that place, I felt some sort of Presence. It just seemed things would be ok. In the end. Looking back though, things weren't ok.

I recently heard God compared to a father who tries to shelter his child. During the analogy the speaker talked about how perhaps in our most terrified moments, God is there holding us. He stopped just short of suggesting that God is ok with our being terrified, because he gets to be the one to carry us through those times. These sentiments disturb me on some very fundamental level. If my darkest hour was God's greatest hour...well that seems more than just a little sick to me. I would compare it to taking one of my children into a horrific place just so I could protect them from the worst of the horror. No, I hope that's not how the story ends.

In my darkest moments, I still believe God exists, that He is present. Perhaps the painful realization I'm coming to lately is that I don't trust God very much in those moments. Such a realization shakes me up and springs tears to my eyes. I want to trust God, but sometimes I have to wonder. Does He know how much it hurts? Why didn't He/doesn't He intervene? While the image of a parent holding his child close to try and protect and love him is of sentimental value to me as a mother, I have a hard time being in that picture. I have a hard time being the child in that picture. I'm not certain how that looks or feels. It certainly strikes some fear in my heart. The out-of-controlness that such an idea evokes is terrifying to me.

As I sat today with a young boy whose heart is hurting, I recalled a scene in Forrest Gump where the young girl kneels in the corn field and prays, "Dear God, make me bird, so I can fly far, far away from here" over and over. As Forrest notes, "God didn't make Jenny a bird." No, Jenny endured sexual and physical abuse by her father. And as a result, Jenny was pretty screwed up. It took the whole rest of her life to figure out how to undo the damage done to her.

Here I sit at age 35. And I wonder if I'm any closer to understanding me, God, God and me than I was at 25 or 15 or 5. I hope so. But still I'm plagued by the doubts of my childhood. And maybe if I had chosen another line of work...I could forget all the bad things that happen to the least of these. Unfortunately I'm slapped in the face with the realities of ugly human behavior on a very regular basis. Why didn't God rescue me? Where is the redemption? If the word "redeem" means "to make worthwhile" - how is that possible? How can any of those experiences be made worthwhile? It reminds me of my days spent in evangelical land where we were told that "everything happens for a reason" and "if you just believe the right stuff, God will bless you." I always wanted to stand up and heckle the guy spouting this crap. "Really?! Everything happens for a reason? Let's start with the Holocaust and work our way up to today."

I'm still uncertain what to say to these kids. The ones who look at me with tear-stained faces and ask "Why?" I'm not certain what to tell myself in the dark nights, when my heart hurts from the memories I carry deep in my soul. I'm tempted to say, have a little faith. It will be ok.

But I worry about what I will say when it's not ok.

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