I know the Sunday school answer for why bad things happen like the back of my hand, that our Creator gives us free will so that we can choose to love him and that a consequence of that free will is that we can choose to do what is evil. And God doesn’t reach down and stop it every time someone chooses to do the wrong thing, it wouldn’t be free will anymore. I get it. I used to be the type who could rattle it off all matter-of-fact like, with no hint of empathy. But even though I think at the end of most days I still more or less agree, I can’t keep pretending it doesn’t infuriate me sometimes. Because bad things SUCK and real people feel real pain as a result.
This summer I interned for an agency that helps refugees resettle in the United States. In the midst of loving what I did and finding my life calling, I also encountered people who had suffered and who were suffering. People who were being persecuted for a variety of reasons and forced to leave their homes because someone was going to kill them or their families. People who had no choice but to come to the U.S. and now are stuck trying to figure out the job culture and rent and social security and health care and how to support their little kiddos–often times all in a language that isn’t their own. Sometimes they worried for family members who were stuck back home (getting permission to settle as refugees in another country can be a terribly long process) or grieved over those who had lost their live back home. Sometimes they were dealing with serious health issues from living in a refugee camp and catching diseases or being raped and getting aids or being shot by the government. Other times they were carrying around less visible but just as serious post traumatic stress wounds.
For the most part, I’m the type of person who can keep moving when I face stuff like that, which is I think a good thing considering I want to be a social worker. But one day, I finally just word-vomited all over God. I told him all the questions and doubts about him that had been stirred up.
I informed him that it’s very hard to believe that he loves us when he lets such bad things happen. And I know I heard someone once say that when he asked God why he let bad things happen, God turned the question around and asked him the same thing. Which is neat, but I’m not the one who is all powerful and loving and responsible for everyone being here, you know? I told him I get to the point where I don’t bother praying for him to change anything anymore, because I wonder how many times other people have prayed endlessly for God to let their misery stop and he never did make it stop. Why would he answer my prayer and not theirs? How do I trust him, how do I have that faith? With all this evil mess in the world sometimes it feels like God has just left us here to our own devices.
You know what God said to me when I was done? He said, “Good. This means you’ve encountered suffering. I would be more worried if you DIDN’T feel this way.”
After rolling my eyes and feeling annoyed that he didn’t actually address any of my question, I got to thinking. The fact that I’m wrestling with these things is evidence that I’ve been where there is suffering. And that’s where I’m called, that’s where I go to be obedient. I think if I insulated myself from the suffering of others, it would be quite easy for me to write off why bad things happen. When you keep out of the thick of evil, you can maybe ward of the discomfort and heartbreak of hope gone unanswered or vulnerable humans falling victim to those with power. But that’s not exactly the right thing to do. It’s really rather selfish and cowardly if you ask me.
Someone advised once that when you see tragedy, you will also see people helping. That works some days. I don’t know why bad things happen, but you know what? I don’t know why good things happen either. All I know is I can’t deny goodness anymore than I can deny evil. I believe in perfect goodness, and I want to be like the One who is this perfect goodness and I want submit to this perfect goodness. Because any good that I could do, isn’t my own. I didn’t invent goodness, you know? Any good I do is just a reflection of something bigger than myself. And, man, do I want to be good. I want to be gracious and compassionate and brave, even thought it’s difficult and I have approximately 234,234,654,103 questions. What else can I do? Sit at home and feel sorry for myself that the world is so broken? That only leads me to apathetic, selfish living. Even if I’m going to be carrying around the burden of my questions about evil my whole life, I want to make the most of what I can offer.
All I know is that if the goodness I believe in has come to me as the spirit inside me and if the spirit inside me comes alive when I read the words of Jesus, then I’m going to chase after Jesus til my feet bleed and I can’t breathe, I’m going to love and help where I can until my heart breaks and the Spirit has to mend it back together again. And in the meantime trust that God is going to be merciful where I’ve gotten mixed up, stubborn, or have doubts–and who knows, perhaps if I am obedient in following Jesus’ most simple command about loving others, he will trust me with deeper understanding of the world (perhaps not, but you never know).
Maybe that’s not enough for my religious friends, maybe it seems pretty shaky. And maybe they’re a little right. Or maybe it’s too much for my non religious friends, maybe it seems rather silly. Maybe they’re a little right too. But for me, anything else would seem like a waste and seem like a lie.