I guess it’s the kind of the age-old unanswered question. I’ve seen lots of bad things happen over the past 25 years I’ve been a nurse. A toddler drowned trying to retrieve a toy from a 5 gallon bucket of water, a 16 year old felt he was indestructible and became an organ donor after losing a game of Russian Roulette, a family lost both of their children to two different types of cancer in two years, a colleague died of melanoma after decorating for what she knew would be her last Christmas with her children. A teen became a forever quadraplegic after being struck by a stray bullet in a bad neighborhood, a young mother died of an asthma attack just after giving birth to her first and much waited for daughter, my four year old disabled nephew died, a woman was diagnosed with advanced appendix cancer 4 hours after giving birth to a child she waited nine years to conceive. On and on.
Bad things happen to good people all of the time. I’ve been a witness to that for decades. Faith in an all-loving and all-powerful God doesn’t seem to offer much protection from life’s difficulties. God lets bad things happen all the time. God often answers no to prayers.
What I’d seen before as a nurse is only compounded by what I’ve seen as an almost 7 year member of the cancer community. Life is tough, life is hard, life is very often very unfair. The unfairness is sometimes incomprehensible.
I read several books on my journey back to faith…including many good ones by Philip Yancey. He asks the questions many of us are afraid to ask. I love his fearless honesty. Disappointment with God, Where is God When it Hurts?, Prayer: Does it Make any Difference?, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church, Church: Why Bother?. Those are titles of some of his books. He asks the tough questions out loud, and I tag along reading his books as he searches for answers. I am grateful for the work he does for me. I have asked and often still ask all of those same questions.
In one of his books, Yancey explores a case of children institutionalized in communist Germany who were severely mentally handicapped and totally dependent. Children who never served a “purpose” in the way most of us define purpose. Many people who were involved in the handicapped children’s care were later interviewed, and it turned out they had been profoundly affected. They developed patience and tolerance. They developed a sense of appreciation for wellness. They felt needed and significant. It turned out the handicapped children had a profound effect on many of the people who’d been in contact with them. The children made a difference in a way many of us who are able-bodied will never. Their lives, their suffering, had purpose and meaning.
I think of Abraham Lincoln….he grew up in poverty, his mother died when he was only 10, he was estranged from his father, both of his siblings died, the step-mother he loved suffered from mental illness, three of his own four children died before reaching adulthood. I wonder if maybe all of those circumstances in the end carved his character and made him the person who was able to liberate thousands of people, who fought for justice, who changed our country forever.
I now see this life as very short in light of eternity. We are really just here for an instant. I think now that the tough things we experience are really just short blips in the grand scheme of things. They are dark threads in a tapestry we only see from the underside now but will one day appreciate when can we see the whole work of art. Though overwhelming now, pain is actually a very temporary thing.
I now truly trust there is an artwork in progess, and I dream of seeing the finished product, of having the answers, of being able to understand what is so illusive now from our perspective here.
I trust and believe that one day we will have those answers, that it will all make sense. And I very much look forward to that day. When we will see the beauty from the ashes. It’s what Easter is all about.