Monday, March 5, 2018

theodicy's a joke and you’re the punchline

"Well, whatever God wants will happen," she simpered, smiling a saccharine-sweet syrupy smile I wanted to wipe off her face like a pancake.
Do you realize how many things happen each day which are not what God wants?
How can you trust that "things will go according to God's will," when, empirically, factually, and historically, they don't? 
Don't you know that there are women raped by strangers with machetes and by clueless frat boys crossfading at the bar? 
Don't you know there are children murdered in their schools? 
Car wrecks leave faces broken and bodies scarred and crippled for life? Children contract leukemia and women go blind at forty. Don't you know journalists, mothers, and small children who never harmed anyone are murdered in cold blood? I wondered, as I left the bar into the freezing rain of February which I was positive God had not willed the homeless crack addict to lie exposed to that night.

Adults learn to trust relationships which deserve that trust, those who do not let them down. We can only learn who we can trust through others proving themselves trustworthy through time. Brené Brown calls these trustworthy friends "marble jar friends"—friends who prove themselves through very small actions, by saving seats for us, bringing us our favorite candy, greeting our parents by name,  offering us comfort, by reminding us of who we are—and I wondered: is God a marble jar friend?

In the face of all the evils of the world, and even the power of my own stubborn selfishness to make mistakes, to wound others, to enact a will which is not divine, it is very tempting to pin the blame on God. To say: I'll love you, but I for sure won't trust you. I'll love you, but I won't depend on you. Goodness, that would be silly. And foolish. Because I'll be disappointed. I'll forge my life into some desperately sculpted image of beauty without your help. Your help which you seem to withhold whenever you so desire.

"Not my will but yours be done" is the rock I dash my own prayers upon, hoping to break my will, making space for his to river through. But God doesn't keep up his end of the bargain. Your will, O Lord, seems to be thwarted by the sins of the many—others and my own. I try to turn my own will over to yours, and yet yours remains undone.

These self-pitying histrionics lead reductio ad absurdum to the question: Is God worthy of my trust?
Asking that question feels somewhat blasphemous, biting the hand which feeds me, maybe? Or cutting my legs out from underneath me. In the asking, it seems to answer itself. Who am I to imagine that Being is not worthy of Becoming's trust? I am a creature who demands so many necessities to survive: oxygen, water, sun, food. Can contingent beggars be choosers when it comes to their originating absolute? If I cannot trust the God who called me forth from dust, who has loved me into breathing, than what meaning does the word "trust" have left?

I was nowhere to be found when the foundations of the earth were laid. Surely you know it! the voice of God assures me, but I am utterly ignorant of the universe's dimensions (not my fault. It's constantly expanding). I did not lay the cornerstone of the cosmos in its place, and I have never heard the morning stars and angels sing together. I did not shut up the sea behind its doors, and set its boundary-line on the coast's shore. Dawn does not take my orders, nor even the eagle. And morning's origins, the springs of the sea, and the storehouses of snow and hail are closed to me. The horse got her strength from somewhere, but not from me; and if the hawk flew by my wisdom, she'd be led astray.

As I toy with the idea of posing the question: "can I trust God?" I am instantly filled with the shame which accompanies weakness as I think of the many humans who have endured objectively much worse hardships than I, and who are still able to smile sweet smiles and say, with Paul: "and we know that all things work together for good to them that love God." I wonder if the hearers of Paul's word knew that, and even more if they believed it. I wonder if the smile of absolute trust can only break open on your face once it has grown to hold all the pains and sorrows of the world. After listing all the reasons we have to abstain from laughter, only then is joy meaningful.

Perhaps trust has a transformative and salvific power all its own, logically inexplicable, yet nonetheless efficacious. Discouragement in the face of evil—the evil in our own hearts and in the world—is supremely natural. But trusting is woven in the fibers of our being, even in the face of evil. To say, in the midst of our own sin, depression, or hopelessness, surrounded by the violence which consumes schoolchildren, journalists, mothers of young children, and our own dignity:
“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted"

is trust, noun, 1. the only viable form of human existence yet discovered.

1 comment:

  1. Have you (re)read Job recently? This is like a modern retelling/distillation, and beautifuly done. Thank you!

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