“Grief is the place where love and pain converge.”
The package came from my friend Hayley, who knows pain and has lost a son and hopes in God. In the package was Philip Yancey’s Why: The Question that Never Goes Away. And the green letters spelling out what I so desperately need: HOPE.
I thought I was finished with apologetics and philosophy and the problem of evil, that I’d learned that, covered that, been done with that. I learned about a decade ago that a Christian response to the problem of evil can be classified in three ways: 1) the Augustinian idea that evil does not exist as an entity in itself, but is rather a twisting/perversion/absence of good, 2) the free will argument that evil exists because God allows human beings as free agents to choose it, and 3) the greater good argument that God allows evil to accomplish a greater good.
Studying those three responses is helpful. But outside the classroom, none of those answers is very satisfactory. All three ride by and leave in their wake the aching question, Okay, but why?
Yancey’s book doesn’t try to give clichéd answers. It takes on the worst evil that the world has ever seen, and walks through hope and comfort and very raw questions.
“Committed Calvinists strain to explain catastrophes, along with everything else, as an expression of God’s sovereign will. I follow their arguments with some sympathy, yet wonder why Jesus never used such reasoning with the suffering people he encountered …. Words, no matter how well-intentioned, may heap more pain on an already sad situation.”
“All things work for the best!” the lady said on the phone, when I told her we probably could not adopt our baby. And: “That’s why I could never do foster care, I would get too attached.”
“We are too attached,” I say hollowly. But that doesn’t sound right. Can you love too much? Are you better if you insulate your heart against pain?
“We must choose to stay in the redemptive story.” – Jerry Sittser
How many times have I said, “Okay this is too hard, I can’t do it anymore, I quit now.” I finish saying this, and the clock keeps on going and nothing changes. I’m still crying and I’m still on the way to Costco and I will still have children to put to bed when I get home. I realize, I’m in this. I’m in the pain. There is no way out but through. It is a redemptive story that God is writing, and I must choose to stay in it.
“People said they grew more during seasons of loss, pain, and crisis than they did at any other time.” – John Ortberg
“You’ve grown a lot since this began,” my friend tells me.
“I’m glad something good is coming from this,” I throw back, but her words are meaningful to me. I know I have changed.
“Because of Jesus, we have the assurance that whatever disturbs us, disturbs God more. Whatever grief we feel, God feels more.”
I am disturbed by this. It is unfair and unnatural and wrong that a mother can nurture a baby from a sickly infancy, through four seasons, feel his hands on her face and know exactly how to make him smile, and then be forced to give him up. When that happens, it’s so unnatural and twisted, it’s because something and probably quite a few somethings went very wrong somewhere.
God is disturbed by this, too.
“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation. It remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. God does not fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The baby is gone for a couple hours, and David and Elanor are both anxious for him and asking when he will return. They argue with each other, but they share an adoration for the baby. He’s like the glue that holds them together. He’s ready to play with either of them. And in his eyes and smile I can see he loves them just as much. How can you lose that? I don’t even know how.
“A person who is connected with a caring community heals faster and better.”
I’m realizing how much I need people. I’ve never known how to respond to loss and grief before, and have always either said something awkward or said nothing at all. Sometimes pain is the elephant in the room. I’m realizing now how helpful it is to talk about it, how nice it is even to hear the awkward statement or question that really means “I care,” how much it means to know that other people love our baby, love us, are praying. When a lady I hardly know in my Bible study group came up to me and said, “You have the foster baby, right? I prayed for you and him this week”—it was like being given a lifeline. Yes, thank you for telling me I am not the only one praying.
“On this cursed planet, even God suffered the loss of a Son.”
(All the quotations are from Yancey's book)