A friend sent me this post from Humans of New York Facebook page last night, wanting to know my opinion. It’s heartbreaking and poignant:
“I’ve been a deep believer my whole life. 18 years as a Southern Baptist. More than 40 years as a mainline Protestant. I’m an ordained pastor. But it’s just stopped making sense to me. You see people doing terrible things in the name of religion, and you think: ‘Those people believe just as strongly as I do. They’re just as convinced as I am.’ And it just doesn’t make sense anymore. It doesn’t make sense to believe in a God that dabbles in people’s lives.
If a plane crashes, and one person survives, everyone thanks God. They say: ‘God had a purpose for that person. God saved her for a reason!’ Do we not realize how cruel that is? Do we not realize how cruel it is to say that if God had a purpose for that person, he also had a purpose in killing everyone else on that plane? And a purpose in starving millions of children? A purpose in slavery and genocide? For every time you say that there’s a purpose behind one person’s success, you invalidate billions of people. You say there is a purpose to their suffering. And that’s just cruel.”
There was a time when I would have passionately refuted everything this person said. There was a time when I was the biggest evangelist of the idea everything happens for a reason: an idea that is shockingly not found anywhere in the Bible.
What changed? I grew up a bit. Life dumped some crap on my plate. I became friends with other hurting people. I turned to a church for encouragement, allowed myself to be vulnerable, and was patted on the head with His ways are not our ways. So I went to another church, and was told “The life of a Christ-follower is never easy.” Yeah, okay…but. Always a “but”: But what about the people in my life who are suffering and aren‘t Christian? And have no desire to be? What about this past that shaped who I am today but also left me with depression and PTSD?
I wanted desperately to scream, “There is no magic Scripture verse or bumper-sticker quote for depression, pain, and suffering!!!”
There is no amount of reading anything that trumps human compassion. We are not meant to live alone. When someone tells me I just need to read more scripture, pray more, repent more, there may be some truth to that. But ultimately what I’m really looking for when I’m vulnerable is someone who will validate my experience simply by saying That really sucks. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.
Really. That’s it. On the off chance that there is a bigger reason for my suffering, or someone else’s, that’s not going to lessen the hurt I feel right now.
A better idea than everything happens for a reason is the idea of redemption, which is scriptural: a concept that says, “This shit happened and it was absolutely horrible, but God will take this awful thing and make something worthwhile come from it.” I think organ donation is the best example of this: a healthy person dies tragically, but a child on dialysis gets their kidney. It’s the idea that no tragedy is wasted, even if we never figure out why it happened. The older I get, the less concerned I am with why.
I used to pity people who left the faith (any faith) because of too many doubts. The key for my survival, I think, is not to run from them but address them with an attitude of humility. The Bible has existed for thousands of years and been read countless more times, yet we still don’t have all the answers. In my lifetime I can only hope to come close to brushing up against one truth out of millions. Many things can be true at the same time, but it’s just a matter of figuring out which truths are paradoxes.