Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is God at Fault?

I cannot think of a single person who, when faced with horribly tragic circumstances, would not think to themselves or shout out loud, 'How can God do this to me?' or 'How could God let this happen?'

In the face of unimaginable pain and suffering, we often take one of two paths: We blame God or we blame ourselves.

It is easy to look at the man dying of lung cancer and think if only he had not smoked, this would never have happened. Or to look at the young woman who dies of heart disease and say, well, she was just so overweight. Or perhaps the youth killed in a car accident and think, you know how reckless these young drivers are. He was probably talking on his cell phone or speeding.

To explain away pain and suffering in this world as the fault of the sufferer is to justify our own actions. It could never happen to us because we would never do that. I am safe because I will never ... overeat, smoke, drive recklessly. But this justification is hollow and empty and only possible if you are untouched by tragedy. We are raised in a culture that says bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. If you pray hard enough or are kind enough or go to church on Sundays, God will take care of you. If you are bad, you will be punished.

Then one day tragedy strikes. And regardless of the circumstances, we think, what have I done to deserve this? Those of you who have read my blog regularly know I have struggled with this one myself. If there is some lesson I must learn, why couldn't I have learned it sooner to spare Craig's life? If only I had woken him up better that morning, or stalled him with a phone call, or convinced him we should live somewhere else... where you find survivors, you will find an overwhelming feeling of guilt.

Often that guilt and anger becomes deflected outwards and upwards. Where was God in this? How could he sit by and do nothing? Many well meaning but misguided christians will say, this is part of God's plan as a way of explaining away the unexplainable. They will follow up with, 'God needed him now more than you do' which only says, if you had needed him more, he wouldn't be dead (and back to the guilt). Still others will say this is part of some great tapestry that you cannot simply understand and your suffering is somehow an act of martyrdom - you should feel honored to suffer so. After all, God never gives us more than we can handle, right?

But I reject all these notions, as I suspect most others do who suffer.

Because to believe these things mean that I could no longer believe in God. If He is trying to teach me a lesson, what lesson could possible justify someone's death? And what could God possibly need Craig so desperately for that I didn't? And just look at any marriage that falls apart after the death of a child or the widow who cannot bear the pain and hides from the world and you will see that God either does give us more than we can handle or is just terrible at predicting the amount we can handle. And if this suffering is just a part of some master plan of His, that means He brought Craig into this world and into my life only to intentionally kill him in such a violent and painful way, causing so much suffering and pain to his family and to me. What kind of a God is that? Surely not one I would want to know.

But I have pondered and questioned and agonized over these things and slowly come to a few rather important conclusions.

God is not all powerful.

At least not in the way we traditionally think He is. Up there on His throne with a magic wand, able to cure any disease, arbitrarily deciding who will die and who will not, who will suffer and who will not, who He will punish and who gets a reward.

He was able to create the Heavens and the Earth and bring so much order out of so much chaos. He created Man - a beautifully balanced mixture of animal and Himself. But He endowed Man with a gift no other living creature had - freedom. Unlike animals, we are not preprogrammed. We have the right to choose. And in giving us this choice, God has limited Himself. He cannot interfere - it would break His own rules and violate the very foundation of our life on this planet. God must work within the confines of nature and the rules He Himself created.

This means that he no more 'gives' us diseases or car accidents or suffering than he forces us to love him or be perfect and good and holy. To allow us the freedom to choose goodness, he must also allow us the freedom to choose evil.

Pain and suffering exist because they are a part of this world. Craig did not die because God wanted him dead that day at that moment. God's desire for Craig's life is much the same as His desire for all our lives - for them to be happy, fulfilled, and enjoyed with a close relationship to Him. When we suffer and hurt, it hurts Him. What parent would not be moved to tears by the suffering of their own child?

But to step in and intervene, to force Craig's car magically out of harm's way, would have broken His own rules. Craig did not die as a part of God's plan. He died simply because we humans have the right to choose between what is right and what is wrong and another human simply chose wrong - to drive when he was too tired to do so. The part that lead to Craig dying as a result of that was a frightening mix of chance and bad luck.

And after all, isn't that what scares us the most? That we are all vulnerable, all susceptable? Craig could have just as easily be anyone. If it is all random, and all chance, than any one of you could have been the one who died or the one who lost their spouse or the one who lost their child. There is nothing you can do to earn a life of protection and invincibility. This quote sums up perfectly what I am trying to say:

"God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and mortal, living in a world of inflexible natural laws. The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for misbehaviour, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God's part. Because the tragedy is not God's will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to Him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are." - Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

Strangely, this brings me comfort rather than fear. God does not promise to protect us from pain, rather He promises to be there for us when pain happens in our lives. He will walk with us, hold us, wipe the tears from our eyes. When He physically cannot, He sends other people to do it on his behalf.

That is a God I can love and know.


  1. That is one of the most powerful statements you have made. I agree with your explanation...and believe that God is a loving father. I have listened to and read other people thoughts but your particular words capture best what many people have finally managed to understand. There are many things that we encounter in life that can not be rationalized and are almost impossible to accept. Humans make mistakes and as in your case other people pay the price...and that is what is so unfair. I hope your new understanding helps you through the next few weeks as Christmas turns in to a New Year...and I will remember you in my prayers. Continue to write you truly do have a gift.

  2. I absolutely love this post! I agree wholeheartedly with everything you have said. I have had all the same agonizing questions and come to many of the same conclusions. I read a good book called "God's Will" by Leslie Weatherhead which essentially sums up what you've just said. God has a will but it can be altered by man's choices...Kudos to you for great insight!

  3. That was quite the quote from Harold Kushner! I would have to say that I totally agree with his explanation and I am really glad that you believe it as well! I had never really thought that Craig's death (or anyone's for that matter) could make God angry or upset. It has put a really interesting picture in my head. What a relief to know that he shares our pain!
    Love you lots!

  4. I could not have put that any better. In all that has happened, my one constant has been the belief that God did not make this happen. He did not want this for me or my husband or you and your husband. It just happened. Like a good parent, he set us free to make our own decisions.... free will. Like a good parent, he celebrates our victories, and consoles us when we have tragedy. Thank you for putting these words out there.

  5. Wow! That is very well said.


  6. My goodness Emily, that was incredibly beautiful. I've never been able to quite grasp suffering and God's power and human freedom until I read your post. You explained it perfectly. Thank you so very much for what you wrote.

  7. When I read your post. It opened up my eyes. Today was my day that I was so angry god took my husband. However after processing what you said in the post I better understand why things happen.

    Thank you for helping me understand.

  8. Beautiful post. My husband was diagnosed with cancer almost 4 years ago and as we waited for the answer of whether if was or was not cancer, I looked to the sky and yelled at God, "don't you do this to her!!!" just after dropping our 8 year old daughter off at school and heading off to the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital.
    Tim is stable now but we live knowing it will return and it is rarely curable. I ask all those questions you write about in this post too. Most of all, I ask why the heck a sweet, compassionate little girl only got to live to 8 years old when her life was thrown into a nightmare of wondering if and when her Daddy is going to die. I agree with your reckoning here.
    No one promises that life will be easy, just that we won't be alone to bear the crosses.
    I read a book called, "Embraced by the Light" after my husband's cancer diagnosis and found it to be very comforting. I read lots of books then searching for answers and this one is the only one that had a lasting effect on me and brought me a smidgen of peace. Wishing God's healing grace for you in 2011.

  9. Wow..I just checked your link from the YW forums on a whim (as we're from the same province) and to see this note written on the very day that my hubby died and answering the same questions that I've had for God...well, thank you...this has helped me so much..God bless you.

  10. I read this post again and the comments left behind and I still think the same have such an amazing gift of writing. All your words reach off the page and these comments show, literally touch people, and where it the heart (and the mind also). Your thoughts are clear and explain the struggle that so many face. No wonder so many people reject God, when people who don't think through their blanket statements, in turn make God sound horrible. Who would want a relationship with someone so cruel? I am glad the true character of God has been revealed and you can have the relationship with Him that he desires for you...comfort, weeping alongside you and anger. *hug* thinking about you. :)

  11. Well for a man like me looking for a good woman to share my life with, really makes sense to me since it is better than being all alone now. And i certainly blame God for this one when i see so many others that have been blessed with a love life.

  12. "To allow us the freedom to choose goodness, he must also allow us the freedom to choose evil."

    I wonder how 'free' that is though. We're only 'free' to do what our brains want to do. We're not free to decide what it is we want to do in the first place. If I had a gun, you could say I was free to shoot someone or not shoot someone. But I have no desire to shoot someone, and would feel terrible if I did by accident even. I don't choose to have no 'desire to shoot someone', I don't choose to feel like I would feel bad if I shot them. My brain is already programmed, whether by nature/DNA, environment, or experiences or more likely a combination of those. And if you believe in God, then through his 'design' into the mix too.

    "But to step in and intervene, to force Craig's car magically out of harm's way, would have broken His own rules."

    But you also said: " When He physically cannot, He sends other people to do it on his behalf. "

    Which contradicts the above statement, because 'sending other people to do something', when they otherwise would not, is bending the laws of physics as you say. You said 'he cannot interfere', then show an example of him interfering.

    Of course what happened is not your fault, and I'm very sorry for your loss. And also, 'bad things happening' is not 'proof that god does not exist - I don't believe in god, but I could accept that idea that if he exists, and if people go to a nice heaven after a life here, then it hardly matters what happens in this life, and everything will be fine after death.

    The problem with religion though, apart from people using it to control others and cause them misery, is that most religions seem to be of the opinion that if you don't believe in god, you're going to hell, or at least, not going to heaven. How is that the actions of a logical and loving god?

    We get told as unbelievers, that it's our fault if we 'choose' not to believe he exists (to shift the blame on to us), but we don't choose what we believe or don't believe.

    I don't choose to believe the moon exists. I just know it does. I don't choose to not believe that fairies exist, I feel sure they don't. I don't choose to believe that life exists elsewhere in the universe. I can't prove it, and I could be wrong, but my brain thinks it's probable. There's no choice in the matter.

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