I know Ann had a few friends who would describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, yet I heard from one of them that Ann's victory over cancer at three different times in her life nearly had her believing in God. But Ann's death can easily take non-believers back to square one, asking the question that even the most faithful Christians ask: "If there is a God, why do bad things happen to good people?" I'm not going to try to tackle that one on my own, and thankfully I don't need to because my friend Kim Graham, felt called to put into words:
"My Thoughts on Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen"
by Kim Graham
This week was a week spent in the shadow of hearing first-hand from my friend Theresa about the hospital being built in Ghana in memory of my friend Ann. And while there was great joy in having Theresa (and the entire team) arrive safely back at home, it also meant being aware - again - that my beautiful, smart (she was an ER doctor at duPont Children's Hospital for crying out loud), wonderful friend Ann - whose son Nick is the same age as Hope, isn't here to watch his lacrosse games, sign his report cards, spend her afternoons getting frustrated with him in some way or another and then lean over his sleeping head at night and give his forehead a kiss. (That's Nicholas in the picture, holding the soccer ball...and his new Ghanian soccer team that formed when he delivered soccer balls to each classroom at a school in Berekum in memory of his mom.)
So with that already in my mind, a bunch of other news found its way to my prayer list this week. I went with my husband to his uncle's funeral on Monday - a man who had suffered greatly and whose family is still facing heartbreaking challenges. A dear friend's father has had his (and his family's) world turned upside down within the past ten days with the discovery of a significant cancerous tumor. Another friend asked for prayer for a friend of hers - a dad in his 30s - who collapsed from a stroke and died. I spent my hair appointment giving condolences to my hairdresser (and friend) whose mom passed away just before Christmas. Finally, we found out this week that a preschooler our family knows has been diagnosed leukemia and is in treatment at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
So yes, it was time for me once again to deal with the most asked theological question in all of history: why does God - who claims to love us - let bad things happen?
I'm not a theologian by any stretch. There are also people on my Facebook friends list who have dealt with trials and struggles and sadness that I can only imagine - and those hurts are very, very real. In the worst moments - the moments when the rest of the world has stopped and you have to remember to breathe and the minutes seem like hours and you're not sure what "normal" will look like ever again - in those worst moments, these answers are not going to be quick fixes. But when the time is right, and the heart is ready, they might be worth some consideration. So here goes (in no particular order and, to be honest, they kind of overlap with each other):
1) Love. Bad things happen because we love. Generally speaking, we think something is bad if it causes us hurt. If we didn't love, we wouldn't care and if we didn't care, we wouldn't hurt...and then nothing would be "bad." But nothing would be joyful either. Or hopeful. Or tender. Or sweet. Here on earth, one has to exist in order for the other to exist as well. Maybe God doesn't allow for bad things to happen. Maybe He had to choose between making us cold, unfeeling robots that merely existed but protected from all hurts; or creatures capable of great love and connection but vulnerable to any number of hurts. Which choice shows the greater love?
2) This isn't the world we were created to be in. This is my go-to answer for any number of situations. If you believe what the Bible says, our souls literally were not designed to function in the world as it is today. They are designed to flourish in Heaven - a place best described, I think, as the removing of the bad part of #1 and just having the good part. Being able to love and love greatly with the promise of no kind of hurt - ever. Think about that for a moment. Think about what it would look like if we all loved without the fear of hurt. Without the obstacles of the walls we built up to protect ourselves. Without the worry of rejection. Without having to ever say good-bye. Without ever being lonely. It is, truly, almost unimaginable.
3) When bad things happen, we get a glimpse of #2. I'm not saying this is WHY bad things happen, but if we choose to see it, we can see glimpses of the loving community in #2 when they do. Sometimes a tragedy happens and someone is forced to ask, "If God loved us, why would He let this happen?" It's an understandable response. But the other question could be "Why would God let this happen and leave me to suffer all alone?" God sends us comfort, if we look for it. I have seen it many times. Friends of mine go through situations that make me think to myself I would just crawl in my bed and never leave...but they are the first to say how loved they felt, or how cared for they felt...how they got a glimpse of the community we are promised in eternity. And while they would never wish for the tragedy to happen again, they are grateful for the blessings that come after it. Thank God there are blessings after it...because otherwise, life would truly be miserable.
In this life, we are all broken. We are all going to be broken some more. It's not an if...it's a when. The question for me has become not "why does God let bad things happen" but "how am I going to choose to be broken?" We can be broken like a dropped dinner dish. Sharp and shattered with no usable purpose. We can be broken like a car tire with a slow leak...we can still function somewhat but we're too broken to be dependable and broken enough to always be looking for some kind of fix. Or, we can be broken like a child's neon glow stick. The kind that are a sort of milky grey at first and you can't even tell what color they are going to be. The kind that have no purpose UNTIL they are broken. And not only broken - but shaken. That's when the light shines, when the color is revealed, when the purpose comes through.
Most of the parents I know would do anything in their power to protect their child from hurt. It's not uncommon to hear parents say "if it was only me who was sick" or "I would take a bullet for my child." It struck me as I was thinking through this that that's exactly what God did for us. He took a bullet - in the shape of a cross - to take away hopelessness. To promise us what is to come. To show how things are meant to be.
I have no idea if anyone will be reading this...it was more of a cathartic exercise for myself than anything else. I realize that there may be people who read it who don't believe the same thing I do as far as the Bible...eternity...what God has done for us. And that's ok. For me, though, this is the only way it makes sense. My prayer for all the families heavy on my heart this week is that their suffering isn't hopeless...and that miracles they never would have wished for and can never explain find them at every corner of their journey.
And that, somehow...someway...in the midst of their hurt, Beauty can be found.
Just like in Berekum, Ghana.
"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5