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A mother , whose 3 year old daughter has been diagnosed with a terminal disease, writes into an advice columnist and asks “Is there a God?” and “If there is, how could God possibly allow my beautiful, innocent daughter to suffer and die?” The advice columnist wisely avoids any simplistic answers to a couple of difficult questions and describes a feeble attempt to tell her own daughter about Jesus and matters of faith.
Behind the mother’s question about God is a deep hope that her daughter will be saved from such a fate; that some type of supernatural power will intervene and save the daughter from suffering and save the mother from the profound loss that is inevitably experienced by someone who loses a child. Another way to frame the question is “What is the nature of this strange and mysterious power that seems to control our fates. Is this a power that can be trusted? Is this a power that could be described as loving? What relationship do I take to this mysterious reality when tragedy strikes my life? How do I live, with a sense of trust, in a world where innocent children sometimes get sick and die?
Life is what it is. One thing for sure is that you and I are not in control of it. We often feel like tiny boats in a giant ocean. Life is an incredible gift to be celebrated and it takes place in a world that is at times full of deep loss and tragedy. Sometimes, it is through the loss and tragedy that we come to experience the joy that can happen on the other side of that experience. It is only in the midst of brokenness that we experience wholeness.
The story of Jesus that the advice columnist struggles to tell, centers around this very happening. In a central part of the story, God does not intervene in the rescue of his own beloved child. The amazing thing happens later in a dark cave where those who followed and loved Jesus had given up all hope. After the death of Jesus, his followers experienced an aliveness when they broke bread together and when they walked down a lonely road together. It was an aliveness that could not be defeated by death. It was an aliveness that transformed their tremendous sense of loss and pain. This sense of aliveness seemed to overshadow their feelings of sadness, darkness and grief. That sense of aliveness had the final word regarding what took place.
Like the skeptics, I do not believe in a God who wipes away all tragedy. I also do not presume to have much insight into why things happen the way they do. Any attempt to explain events, especially the tragic kind, seem to come up short. There are events that are not to be fully understood. I do not believe in a God who does my bidding like some cosmic bellhop that comes running whenever I pull the rope. I place my trust in a Mystery that I do not fully understand. This mysterious reality doesn't seem too interested in my judgement about the way things ought to be. Tragedy still occurs. Despair is sometimes the predominant experience. I can also place my trust in a mystery that fills us with aliveness in the midst of that very loss.