I’ve been thinking lately about the hard things, the tragic things. Children dying, fatal diseases, natural disasters, child abuse… Because even though it’s not usually a part of my daily life, it’s out there. It’s brushing-up against the edges of my world and only a conversation or a flip of the tv channel away.
(The recent tornado in Oklahoma and the resulting death and injury of so many children happened in the middle of me writing this post, so I know these things are heavy on many hearts.)
I was telling Harris goodnight a couple of days ago, and I was tickling and kissing him and he was laughing, and there was this moment that I looked at him, and his laughing face just took my breath away. In that moment I couldn’t imagine ever living without that face, and I prayed that I wouldn’t have to, knowing that it could happen tomorrow.
I thought about that moment again yesterday while driving. I didn’t let myself tailspin into imagining all the tragic details of what it would be like to lose him (because that’s the quickest way to get me crying), but in considering what could happen, it led me to an admission to God.
“I don’t trust You.”
When it comes down to it, I don’t, really. Because at any moment something could happen, and everything that is precious to me could be lost.
No matter how much I pray for it to never happen, it always could.
I’ve been hearing a lot about how God is control. In the past couple of months since my miscarriage, countless people told it to me, I’ve heard it preached, talked about it in Bible studies.
But I’m just not comforted by that thought anymore.
And I’m not sure if I really believe what it seems like some people mean when they say “God is in control,” or “this is a part of His plan.” Because I have a hard time believing that it’s a part of His plan for children to suffer as sex slaves, for families to drown in tsunamis, or for loved ones to be driven to suicide by mental illness. I don’t believe that God killed my baby.
This falling back onto the idea of a God who exerts His power by orchestrating every tiny detail of the universe and of our lives seems to be the go-to theology of tragedy in some circles. Whether or not that’s an accurate view of how He interacts with the world is a topic for another day, but either way, it’s lost its wow factor with me.
When I get scared of losing one of my kids, when I miscarried, when I think about all of the suffering people in the world who don’t know when they’ll receive their next meal or their next beating… When I read the book Half the Sky
and sob into my pillow at the realization that there are untold numbers of children who live their entire lives as sex slaves and know nothing of a parents’ love… When I think of the kindergarteners at Sandy Hook Elementary that could have been friends with my 6 year-old… I’m not comforted by the idea that it’s somehow a part of God’s plan and He’s in control of it all.
I’m comforted by His smallness. By His suffering and pain, and His identification with us in ours.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison:
God lets himself be pushed out of the world onto the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering.
I had been wrestling with the idea of God’s involvement with evil and suffering for awhile, and this post from Richard Beck really acted as one of the final pieces in the puzzle for me. It doesn’t answer the question of whether or not God causes bad things to happen or lets them happen or has nothing to do with them, but it pointed me to something that I thought was more important for me to see in my questioning.
Reflecting on a scene in Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night, about the Holocaust, Beck writes:
God is small.
God is that little boy hanging from the gallows.
God isn’t powerful and mighty.
God is weakness and powerlessness.
So this, again, is what I’m wondering. Might a spirituality of God’s bigness and awesomeness be hindering our ability to see the smallness and weakness of God? Is not the triumphalism associated with worshiping God’s bigness hindering our ability to see God as the child hanging on the gallows? Hindering our ability to see God in the body of the demented mental patient. In the craving addict. In the senile old person in diapers. In the starving child. In the drooling retarded. In the street walking prostitute. In the homeless man on the park bench. In the queer kid being bullied on the playground.
Might our God be too big? Too big for us to see the smallness of God?
Where is God?
God is here–weak and hanging on the gallows.
What I had been missing in my round-and-round circles of questioning how God in His omnipotence could cause/allow suffering and tragedy was His own suffering. Not only how He suffered 2,000 years ago on the cross in the ultimate cosmic identification with humanity’s brokenness, but how He suffers now. With us.
How He makes Himself present in our pain because He is also in pain.
He’s not distant and unaffected, seeing us as dots on a world map that he manipulates to suit his pleasure. I don’t believe He’s a loving but reserved father who pats us on the head when we’re suffering saying, “You’ll be thankful for this one day, trust me, I know better.”
Rather, He makes himself small, as small as it takes to be God With Us.
So as I was driving and realizing that I don’t trust the God who is powerful enough to take away my son if He chooses, I was reminded of His smallness. That if something ever happened to Harris, I shouldn’t be concerned about His bigness and His control or lack thereof, I should remember how He makes himself weak and vulnerable enough to be in the suffering with me.
He’s not an indifferent author, He enters our story and lets Himself be affected by it. I believe He feels the brokenness of our world and our souls just as much as we do, and He is pained by it beyond what we can understand. He also knows the redemption that has come and the restoration that we are longing for.
He knows the end of the story, yes, but He also dwells in the middle of it with us.
This is what comforts me.
How He chooses to use His power to affect good things and tragedy in our world, I don’t know… Smarter people than me argue about these things, and I’ve realized that in this season of life, wondering to what degree His power causes suffering is simply not helpful for me.
So I’m letting go of that kind of theological wrestling for now. What I need, what comforts me, what draws me closer to Him is to know that somehow in the last moments of my 7 week-old embryo’s life, He was there.
In the terrible tornado, He isn’t in the sky directing the winds, He’s huddled with the scared teachers and children in the school, feeling the effects of our broken world. He’s with the buried survivors, waiting to be rescued.
He is with the raped little girl, experiencing her beatings with her, whispering peace and the redemption of a new kingdom in her ear. He is with the mother who doesn’t have enough food to give her dying child because He knows what it’s like to lose a son.
Today my comfort comes from a God who empties Himself of power to walk alongside of us, to enter and give life to our frail bodies. A God who lets Himself be in pain when we suffer, who stoops down to become a man who suffers.
My fears are stilled not when I think about a big God who causes things to happen, but a God who has made himself With Us, and who will walk side-by-side with me no matter what lies ahead.