I’m wondering if it’s your time to ask Rabbi Kushner’s question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Maybe you ask that question all the time.
The question has come my way lately, with a big challenge suddenly faced by a friend I care for and deeply admire. It’s basically inexplicable. At times, maddeningly sad. I’m guessing you know about such challenges. They come in great variety. As one of my mentors says, suffering is the promise life keeps. How’s that for a cheery kickoff to Monday morning?
Part of why I spend time reading the Bible is because scripture knows and shows that these kind of questions make up our stories. Most famously, the book of Job raises the question but resists any neat answers. Psalmists repeatedly ask where God has gone. Jesus posed the question, echoing Psalm 22: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
In such moments, about the worst response one can offer is something that tries too quickly to make sense of it all. Job’s friends, prime example, offering something that ties it up in a neat package, often more about easing one’s own discomfort than supporting those who suffer. I have in mind sayings like: “God never gives you more than you can handle.” “God never shuts a door without opening a window.” All feed into the Gary Larson cartoon image of God at the computer, watching the falling grand piano about to smash an unwitting pedestrian, God pressing the smite button. Do we worship such a God?
If you’re asking the bad things/good people question, there may on occasion be explanations for the challenges, something we have done or something done to us. Too often, there are no available easy answers. So we are led to the prayer from the burial service which asks for God’s help in the midst of things beyond our understanding.
And we withstand when we can’t understand. We proclaim when we can’t explain. What we proclaim is God’s presence, often felt most deeply in love and prayers of others.
We proclaim resurrection, which literally means “to stand again.” When folks we love get knocked down, we move forward with them and for them, helping them stand again. We say our prayers with them and for them, prayers with our lips and with our lives, prayers that may be no more or less than silent, faithful, loving presence.
We give thanks for what we are able to give thanks for. And if the attitude of gratitude is too hard, we let someone else do the thanking and praying.
With courage (it suggests both bravery and heart), we hold on to hope. St. Paul, who knew suffering and challenge, prayed about it, occasionally whined about it, asked for relief from it and didn’t always get relief. He referenced his own suffering in the letter to the Romans. Speaking of his own experience, he said suffering brings endurance which brings character which brings hope because God’s love has been poured into our hearts. (Romans 5).
When we find ourselves in times of trouble, when understanding or explaining elude us, when we can do no more than withstand, in those moments a positive spirit, a sense of hope and promise becomes our guide. Easier said than done, I know. But something we are each and all given to do at some time. Maybe this Monday morning is that time for you. Blessings in this time.
Elie Wiesel died one year ago, a holy man whose survival of the Holocaust forged such an authentic response to the mystery of suffering. Here’s a sampling of his wisdom, from his book entitled Night:
I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.
I was very, very religious. And of course I wrote about it in ‘Night.’ I questioned God’s silence. So I questioned. I don’t have an answer for that. Does it mean that I stopped having faith? No. I have faith, but I question it.
When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.
Don’t lose hope… Have faith in life… Help each other. That is the only way to survive.
For me, every hour is grace.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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