This morning's reading in our Lenten book was from Psalm 3. It starts out listing all the reasons David has for feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, discouraged, terrified, hopeless and despairing. Fortunately, most of us don't have to worry about about all the death threats he had. Still, the enemy of our souls loves to taunt us with the same message the people around David had: God will not help us.
Whether in doubting whispers deep inside us, or openly asserted, I think we all hear that fairly often. Regardless of our religious background, we are all confronted with the issue of theodicy. Is God helpless or uncaring, that such horrible things are allowed to happen? I have heard most of the arguments and counterarguments, though I am certainly no scholar or theologian (unlike several of my blog readers, I've never even taken any theology classes, let alone earned a degree in it!).
My personal little theory is that we humans are often oblivious to subtlety. If our perception of evil were reduced to something like that '50s-sitcom nadir of depravity, where a careless child broke a window with an errant baseball, we would scoff at the need for Atonement. Sin would merit nothing more than a "tsk, tsk" and a reproachful shake of the head. We would consider it nothing more than a baby dragon, inconvenient when it scorched us, but kind of cute, if exasperating. Seeing evil for what it truly is enables us to grasp the need for Jesus. But as I said, I'm no scholar, so I am sure others have both proposed and dismantled my little theory.
Anyway, I can see elements of truth in all of the arguments, but when it becomes personal, like it has for the people on my List, I really don't care too much about free will, or the transformation of suffering, the role that we should play in social justice, or any of the other reasons that are given. I just want a shield around me and those I love.
When I was little, I envisioned that shield like a bubble that would protect me from evil. Once, a friend was spending the night and couldn't sleep because she kept imagining a werewolf bursting through our window and attacking us. Our scepticism did nothing to reassure her. Finally, my sister and I told her of scriptures of God shielding us. She got a mental image of a werewolf bouncing off a bubble-like shield, and it gave her the giggles. I used to think of being shielded like that, too.
The problem is, too many of us have had that shield seemingly pierced. So many have been through devastating pain that has seared their hearts. I haven't been physically seared, but I've heard from burn victims how in the initial shock you can be unfeeling, only to go through unimaginable agony during debriding and regrowth. The Bible is full of verses on suffering, and it shouldn't come as a surprise to us, but it still does.
I wonder how the early church saw the juxtaposition of miracles and martyrdom? They were surrounded by both on a daily basis: people being healed of every disease, even raised from the dead, yet the were also dying for their faith. I believe that miracles still occur. From babyhood, I've been taught that we lay hands on the sick and that they will recover. I know it is real. I've also seen people die when I would have chosen a different outcome. I don't even pretend to understand it. I still choose to believe that God has surrounded us with a shield, even if it seems selectively permeable for unfathomable reasons.
Even more, I am comforted by all that Jesus endured. He knows what we are going through. He isn't aloof from our cries. Sometimes when I am holding Elena in her wrap and she gets worn out, I can see her struggle to raise her eyebrows in an effort to keep her eyes open, until finally she gives up and her head thuds against my chest. In the moments when we are too worn out to even hold our head up, when we want to bury our face in His chest and cry out all the confusion, despair and hurt, I believe He is there to cradle us in His arms. I know sometimes there is a gap, and it doesn't happen immediately, but I am also convinced that He will still bring us into His glory, and that He will lift our heads up, dry the tears from our eyes, and let us see true victory.