I’m not meant to be writing this. I’m meant to be compiling a sermon for this Sunday addressing the fifth question in our church’s ten-week series: You Asked For It.
The question is a predictable one: How Can a Good God Allow Suffering?
I sit down to create.
I picture myself before the congregation and my mind fills with theodicies.
God is sovereign over our suffering, I say.
He is wise and good and does all things according to the counsel of his will!
I quote promises:
He works all things for the good of those who love him!
What they intended for evil, God intended for good!
(I put emphasis on the ‘intended’ to prove that God isn’t passive in all this.)
I apportion blame:
God created a perfect world. Our suffering is the product of our sin! We are the authors of our downfall! The engineers of our pain! The masterminds of our misery!
I’m cruising now.
Equal parts Bill Lane Craig and Clive Staples Lewis. The noisy, clamouring counter-arguments of the World fall dumb beneath the sweep of my theodicean scythe.
I AM GOD’S AVENGING ANGEL OF APOLOGETICS.
And then it all falls apart.
The arguments go to dust in my mouth and I choke on them.
I make a fatal error: I remember my oratorical training and search for an illustration to ground my abstract arguments in experience.
And I see Her.
A picture of my Mother flanked by her family.
It’s her alright, but, it’s not her, too. Not really.
The portrait has been arranged to capture the family-in-full before it’s too late. Something to call to mind the beauty of what was. An image to outlive the fragility of memory.
Cancer is advancing through her body like a militant host. Taking no prisoners. Defiling the corporeal like so many mercenaries pillaging a once pacific realm.
She’s sick and she's tired.
Her deep brown eyes, once vibrant, are now fixed in a faraway gaze.
Her face, once exuberant (and often arranged to form her characteristic grin) is now drawn, weary.
Her hair, once impossibly thick, has been robbed by a final attempt at drug-induced redemption. The wig in its place only mocks the memory of what was.
She smiles, but it is the smile of a woman in deep, inequitable pain.
The picture undoes me.
And it helps me see clearly.
All this rhetorical supposition. This theological explanation. This philosophical abstraction.
It serves a purpose, you know. But, for me, its purpose is not to convince or elucidate or justify or compel… Its purpose is to protect.
To protect me.
To protect the boy, just turned eight, from going back into that room. That room of vacancy. That room of grief. That room that held the body, but released the soul of my dead Mother.
I fight through the protective cognitive mesh and re-enter that room.
And I remember.
I remember seeing her there, but knowing she was gone.
I remember kissing her cheek and receiving nothing in return.
For the first time in my life an expression of affection went utterly unanswered.
- - -
God’s Book speaks:
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Where? Seriously, where?
It’s here, damn it! It’s here! It’s in this room. It’s in this woman's body. It’s in this boy’s heart.
It takes up the space vacated by love and warmth and affection and comfort.
It's here. It’s now.
So, for now.
To hell with your theodicies. They are inept.
They only enhance the sting.
So, for now.
I’m with Jack.
Soon after his wife’s death, and still reeling, he wrote:
I’m sure, come Sunday, I’ll extoll God’s goodness. I’ll tell those gathered that He is kind and trustworthy and benevolent. That He is present in our sufferings. That He is sovereign over our miseries.
And I'm sure all that is true.
But, for now.
As I stand alone in my Mother's room. All is silent.