Rebecca and I had a talk about suffering last night after dinner. We had watched the new Padre Pio film - part one two nights ago, part two last night - and it stirred up some deep thoughts (to learn about this absolutely amazing man from southern Italy who died in 1968, visit this link).
We had breakfast for dinner, which I love to do. As we picked away at the remaining strips of bacon, and slid our chairs back from the table just a bit, thoughts began to form and the deep questions sizzle; "Does God want us to suffer? Why doesn't He stop us from being attacked, raped, abused? Why do innocent people get cancer, die in car crashes, and burn in buildings. And in a world where some see fertility and pregnancy as a hindrance or an imposition on their freedom, why do we carry the cross of infertility? We WANT children!"
We had strayed into Job territory. That burning furnace of Questions, the Problem of Evil that humanity has always struggled with throughout our history.
At the end of the day, can our 3.5 pound brains figure it all out? I think the answer lies, not in the middle of this human drama, but in the end. Here's my little rambling on this great mystery.
We all love stories. We love the beginning when there's peace. We weep in the middle when things get messy; when characters are betrayed, abandoned, or lose their sense of innocence, purity, and peace. And we love the ending when all things are made well again, in fact, so often in stories, things are made even better than before. Throughout the story, characters either fail or evil befalls them, or a mixture of both events occur. Why is this so? Well, that's the price of freedom. It wouldn't quite be a story if the characters had no freedom.
Why do we love stories, movies, books, romance? Because the story is a reflection of what's happened and is happening right inside US.
Each of us longs for that golden age, the shimmering place that was "in the beginning" (even if we've never been there, we still have a sense that that place exists). And each of us holds in the heart a tangled knot of sorrows that our fumbling fingers just can't seem to undo, or open up, or lay out in the open again and spread clean so that we can see it rightly. And we all, ALL OF US, want a resolution. A final fixing, a making right of what once went wrong. The wrong that's happening because of our selfish choices, or the wrong that simply fell on our heads for reasons we cannot possibly fathom.
Si comprehendis, non est Deus.
- St. Augustine
"If you can comprehend, it is not God."
Clearly this ancient thought of Augustine's wasn't spoken to pacify or placate our itch to know why stuff happens.... but it can help us see a little better. If this crazy and confusing and sometimes tragic life, this whole existence is a drama, a salvation story that's written and being written every day by the free choices of people and the great swirl of the cosmos and a loving Hand, then I want to stick around and see how it's going to end. The movie isn't over yet. What if I walked out after Han Solo was frozen in carbonite? What if I closed the book when Frodo was trapped in Shelob's dark and dangerous lair, with seemingly no way of escape?
"Tolkien! Why did you lead your characters here! Why didn't you take them through the Black Gate under cloak of darkness, with Gandalf to lead the way? Why didn't an eagle just drop the Ring into the Cracks of Doom and be done with it? Why this tedious and meaningless walk into certain death and despair, so far from journey's end? It doesn't make sense!"
In the movie Padre Pio: Miracle Man, there is a powerful scene where he's preaching on the topic of evil and of suffering. A mother is sowing a tapestry, and her little boy is seated below on a low stool, looking up at her work. He sees the jumbled mess of threads dangling under the screen and says "Mama, what is this mess you're making? You've got it all wrong. It's terrible and no one will want it!"
Then she smiles and stoops towards him, turning the work of her hands over for him to see. His eyes open wide with wonder and delight.
I'm not gonna lie to you... I think it's a mess down here. I think we're living in very dark and confusing times. I can't believe the horrors I hear about in the news, the sadness that some of my friends have had to bear. I don't know why we can't have children; why this cross has to be so heavy.
It all comes down to trust. We have to reach out in this storm and grasp His hand. We can't put God in a box. Can't try and figure life out like it's a puzzle to be solved and then cast it aside. Life's not a puzzle but a journey towards a Person. And I believe the greatest good is yet to come. Ultimate joy, the bliss we long for is only here in half notes and little fragments. Sometimes sour and sometimes splintered and that should remind us that this life is not the end. The tiny colored threads of our lives, as beautiful and as tragic as they each can be, are only the first sketches of a pattern of infinite beauty. Let's hold on until the day when He tilts the canvas just a bit and shows us the work He's done with the feeble strings we've given Him.
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