But here’s what’s prodding me to address this weird mixture of suffering and rejoicing. Not one, not two, but three of my friends have lately received an adverse diagnosis for their unborn babies. One miscarried early, one is in the hospital with her newborn as he recovers from the bypass operation he endured at twelve days of age, and one is undergoing induced labor today. Her little girl has anencephaly.
And then all those little children were gunned down in Connecticut.
Rejoice? We’re like the exiled children of Israel, by the waters of Babylon,
asking, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
It’s all the more mysterious because at least in the Psalm it’s the captors, the tormentors, urging the exiles to sing in the midst of their captivity. Here it’s God Himself who requires us to rejoice.
I keep thinking there’s been some misunderstanding—that maybe, when Pope Benedict declared a Year of Faith,
God misheard it as a Year to Test Their Faith. But I don't really think this year is so unusual. All over the world, millions of people live with poverty and disease unimaginable to suburbanites like me.
We’re wired to want to understand why these things happen,though. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, philosopher and Holocaust survivor,
addresses this universal need. If we can discern a meaning behind the suffering, we can endure even a death camp. We need meaning, literally, as we need air and food and water.
But our understanding of the mystery of evil has its limits. As I tell my own young children, our minds are just too little for some things to fit in them. That’s pretty much what God told Job.
It’s not that there is no meaning, or no hope of understanding it a little better, even in this life. But, as Msgr. Charles Pope points out in “Where is God At Times like These?”
it’s best not to be glib, pretending we have a pat answer--even to ourselves, and especially not to a challenger, or a seeker, who doesn't share our faith.
We have partial answers. Some of these are ably sketched by Msgr. Pope in the article linked above. For instance:
Evil wasn't part of the original plan.
Free will--without which love is impossible--requires the real possibility of making evil choices.
God didn't set up the laws of nature only to intervene continually to prevent their operation.
He's not indifferent. He's not content to observe us from afar. He comes down and stays with us and suffers with us and in us.
How is that better? What sense does that make? I'm not sure. It doesn't fit in my mind. I know He loves us, and I know He knows what He's doing.
He's not like some human writer who figures out haphazardly what she wanted to say as she goes along.