The question we have all asked. The question many of us still ask. How I wish I had an answer to give. I don’t.
[Note: everything that follows is purely out of my own scattered head, not accepted doctrine. I am neither a theologian nor a spiritually enlightened person, so don’t take this as anything beyond my own thoughts. I just thought that if someone else is bogged down in thinking the same thing at least they wouldn’t feel alone.]
Everything happens for a reason. This much is true. We don’t always see the reason right away and sometimes we won’t ever see the reason in this life. This much is also true. Why do bad things happen? The first answer is because all of creation fell when Adam and Eve sinned. We are not living in Paradise. That’s why the lion and the lamb do NOT lie down next to each other. That’s why we have earthquakes, floods, fires, famines. That’s why we have disease and sin.
But then there are the more specific reasons. X happened so that later Y could happen. That door closed so that the person would be available when this door opened. Again, sometimes we see why, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes God allows tribulations to humble someone and bring them back to faith. Sometimes God allows tribulations as a test of faith. Think of the classic example, Job.
I am not Job. Had I been in Job’s shoes I would have collapsed about four seconds into the trials. This is not something I’m proud of. I always knew that God must know exactly how weak I am because I had never lost a child, to me, one of the worst things (next to losing your spouse) that can happen to you. I figured he must know that I wouldn’t last through it.
And then I lost a son. My world came crashing down. Of course at some point I asked why? I ran through the list of the usual suspects for causes for miscarriage and I couldn’t find any plausible physical cause outside of blood clots. I like to live in a rational world so I decided this must be it. It felt random, but most of the time miscarriages are treated as “flukes”. I did manage to keep breathing, much to my surprise, and at some point started to hope that we could still have another living child, that a “fluke” couldn’t possibly happen again, not to someone with such an impeccable obstetrical history. I vowed that I would never take pregnancy for granted again, never assume that “everything would be ok”. Several months later we conceived another son. I was very cautious, but as the time when my first son died approached I began to be more optimistic. It seemed impossible that two babies in a row could die so far into pregnancy, especially when I was having no problems.
And then he died. At the same age. Again, from no discernible cause. Even my doctor was surprised. Tests were normal. He was physically perfect, just as my first son had been. Why, God, why?
This was not a fluke. Statistically so unlikely as to be impossible. This was not any doctor’s fault. God isn’t randomly malicious so this was for some reason. All I could arrive at was that it was my fault. My fault for not praying enough, my fault for not taking aspirin (which hadn’t been prescribed), my fault for becoming optimistic, my fault for generally being a bad person. There was some lesson I was being taught..but I didn’t know what it was. I felt like if I could only figure out what it was I was supposed to have learned and learn it then God could stop doing this and I might be able to stop burying babies.
All I can say is I haven’t learned it yet. Father has said that this isn’t how God works. I can understand with my mind that there is a reason and it might be beyond human comprehension and so I will never know why in this life. But, I can’t seem to internalize it. I can’t stop searching and blaming myself. I have always had to have a reason for something.
This morning while saying my prayers (feeling very wooden) the movie Groundhog Day came back to me. I remembered Phil coming upon the old man in the alley late one night and taking him to the hospital. The nurse came out and said that he had died and Phil couldn’t accept it. He demanded to see the chart. The nurse said, “Sometimes people just die,” but Phil replied, “Not today.” The next few scenes show Phil on successive days with the old man, feeding him, generally taking care of him in an obvious, but futile, attempt to prevent his death that night. The last scene we see with the old man (and this is a very small part of the overall story), Phil is doing CPR in the alley. He stops and realizes the man has died. We are never told what his frame of mind is, but we see him sit back on his heels and look up into the sky, the implication being that he is looking to Heaven. One of the directors has suggested that the story takes place over thousands of years in order for Phil to have learned what he learned and undergone the dramatic change that he does. I can only assume that Phil eventually accepts the old man’s death as inevitable and continues to treat him carefully every day, delivering him to the ER in the evening so at least he won’t die alone in a cold alley. How many hundreds of times did he have to die before Phil recognized this? What happened internally that he could continue to live, and live patiently and joyfully, while knowing what was going to happen and living through it on a daily basis? This sounds a lot like theosis to me.
I was a nurse for a long time. Many, many of my patients died. Obviously some touch you more than others and some are more expected than others, but eventually, although you may shed tears, you move on and keep going. When some nurses would express disgust at the shrieks and screams of family members on finding that their loved one had died, I reminded them that we saw death frequently, these people may have never seen it once, and we weren’t related to the patient. The first time one of my patients died I wasn’t even in nursing school yet (I was an aide). It was honestly a sudden and unexpected death and the sight of the husband who had thrown himself over his wife’s lifeless body, sobbing, did me in. About five minutes later I passed out cold on the floor from the effort of trying to hold myself together. As the years went by and I gradually increased my deathbed experience, I learned to hold myself together. I learned to not ask why, but to accept it and move on.
This all makes me wonder if the only way for me to accept a child’s death and stop asking why is to experience it dozens of times. When do I stop blaming myself? When do I stop needing a reason? When am I able to live with irrationality?
[Note #2 (7/19/12): The post Two Minutes does provide some answers. I just reread that post and this one this morning. If you’re just now reading this post, please go read Two Minutes.]