Yesterday I had breakfast with a family victim of a tremendous wrong. I won’t go much into details – it’s not my story to tell and it hasn’t been told yet. Maybe someday. What struck me about the discussion was its turn to faith. One of the family members was asked “How did you endure?” And he answered simply, “My faith. People say ‘things happen for a reason’ or ‘God has a plan’ flippantly, a throw away line to some event they don’t understand or can’t control. The 7-11 ran out of milk. The tire goes flat on your car. The thing that kept me, through the terrible years of suffering, was my belief in the unknowable nature of infinity and the certainty that my being in that terrible place was some part of a plan that God had.” That is a singularly unsatisfactory answer for those who want instant gratification, but for those who have dipped their toe in the great unknowing, it was remarkable. Especially from somebody who had earned the right to speak.
Then, another member of the group who had participated intimately in the same event from a different vantage, though I would venture the suffering was equally real, interjected, “I endured mostly through an epiphany I had early on. Thinking about the people who were doing this to me, I realized that they had endured a similar fate themselves. That fate made them wicked and vindictive, I realized that their past suffering had caused them to become evil, and I decided I would not become like them; I would not let them pass the malice on down through me to another generation. I found empathy for them, which led me to forgive them.”
These might be the most remarkable statements I have ever heard, coming as they did from ‘normal’ people only recently victims of an unspeakable evil. I got to thinking about myself, with my miserly degree of courage and my often petty vindictiveness – my response to that question would have been “I would imagine the Seal Team 6 strike team on its way”.
I finished the day reading the Bible to my little boy. We’re in Romans, Romans 6 specifically after the part where Paul tells us all how God really feels about all the sin and darkness. The silver lining in the storm clouds that never cease to billow; “But all that mess,” Romans says, “that I just went into. All the stuff that makes life unlivable, that ruins us in radiating waves of destruction, outwards from ourselves to our family to our community to our country to our world. Jesus wiped all that away in one fell ‘swish’, rebalancing the order.”
I’ve heard that all my life, and it’s never meant much to me. Not that I don’t believe it or that I’m not grateful, but I think it’s been said so much, I never really got it. But yesterday I understood it, maybe, sort of, in a small way. You see I’ve been reading and studying a lot about balance lately. On a cosmic level (reading a lot of physics stuff), on a natural level (if we don’t re-discover the idea of scarcity we’re gonna ruin the planet), but also on an individual (maybe metaphysical?) level. Balance, equal and opposite, the response to a hate so profound it ruins whole nations which itself emerges from a terrible suffering, a terrible evil committed a generation ago – arrested, stopped dead in its tracks by an equal and opposite force, forgiveness. And suddenly balance is restored, and out of such balance golden ages are built.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:1-4
As always an excellent and thought-provoking essay.
However, I must say that I’ve heard the same folk wisdom: ‘things happen for a reason’.
In my experience, the “reason” is often because we made a stupid choice. Yes, make a stupid decision – get a stupid result. Happens all the time.
Now, I’m not suggesting that your friends (or others) fall into this category….chance does play a major role in our lives but let’s note the times we hear this and then let’s review the events that caused this utterance. Note too, the people most likely to attribute their woes to “a reason”….I think there might be a pattern.
I’m too much a hard-ass today? There’s a reason for that! Actually, in the words of T.E. Lawrance, “It’s just my manner.” 🙂