It can be very painful to believe in an all-powerful and all-knowing God. It would be so much easier to believe in a Wizard of Oz god who was really doing his or her pathetic best but was really mostly just pulling levers and pushing buttons which keep people impressed – a volcano here, a typhoon there, a rainbow here, a cancer cure there, the glint of silver goblets or the silver-tongued preacher or the way the light comes through the windows or the way I needed a parking space and then suddenly one appeared by the door to my destination. God as Santa or God as Mr. Rogers or God as Daddy or Bishop or Father.
But an all-powerful God who allows what horrors I see on the news and in my life and in the lives of people I love – that God is what I believe in and that God can be infuriating. God is only ever either all-knowing or an idiot. And if all-knowing then responsible.
When I see that God allows the cancer, allows the rapist parole, allows the creepy priest to be elected Bishop, allows the incompetent to become Rector of the richest parish in the mid-west city or allows a sickly-sweet Canon in a fragile New England diocese which cannot defend itself from mobile-manipulation, allows a gifted pianist to drift into Alzheimers, allows the crystal meth-maker to blow up an apartment of innocents or a racist to lead a church in Georgia – the one attended by a kind, faithful black woman who now must leave, the drunk father to hit his loving wife – that’s when I get confused. I have made most of these atrocities up, but you get the point, since you too are confused by what God allows to happen as you watch life-unfold.
And I love this God. That’s the problem. If I hated the God-in-question and could just walk away, deliver mail or raise money for a museum or become a recluse farmer well, no harm, no foul. But I love this God who allows so much beauty and so much horror to co-mingle like a lovely chicken casserole with the occasional rat-tail among the noodles.
When I was a missionary in Haiti, a friend sent me a care package – some of my favorite things – needful during a revolution. There were Pop Tarts (blueberry), Oreos (double stuff), lavender soap, life savers (tropical flavor – irony!), a tin of smoked oysters and a roll of Ritz crackers. I love smoked oysters and as I peeled back the tin lid there were all these wonderful oysters all lined up in oil like little brown soldiers waiting to go onto crackers. Except that where one of the oysters should be there was a cockroach – upside-down with his legs all tucked across his body in geometric wonder.
It is easy to let something like that get you down. I remember even thinking I might eat the oysters farthest away from the cockroach. But I set them aside, went to my school for rice and beans and reset by chowing down on Oreos later that day.
We cannot entirely control what happens to us, nor what we must watch others undergo. And life can make us sad. But the opposite of sad is not happy. The opposite of sad is vibrant, vital, hopeful. So far, the only way I have found to manage the pain of life with a God who loves us but does not fix everything, is to feel the pain and then choose hope. If one does not feel the pain, it come up somewhere else like a burst steam pipe. And if one does not choose hope, then the vitality implanted within us is as useless as an electrical socket in a blackout. So we suffer, but we choose hope, because that is what we were made for.