Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Big 'Why?'

Linking up with Diana again today, discussing why bad things happen to good people.

For years, I have tried not to allow myself to catastrophise, after times when I was newly married, and brought myself to desolation by imagining how I would cope if my husband died.  I think because I had so recently lost everyone in my life (leaving a cult will do that to you), the thought of losing anyone else I loved was enough to bring me to panic.

Partly as a result of this, for our entire married life, every time my husband leaves the house for the day, I pray for protection over him.  Now that I have 4 children, I pray for them every morning as we drive to school.  I will not allow myself to imagine what life would be like without any of them, because I came to the conclusion years ago that if, God forbid, one of them were to die, I would want all of my time with them to have been spent enjoying them rather than dreading what was to come.
Which is all good... but let me tell you a story.

A few years ago, a Christian high school here in New Zealand took some of its students on a trip to an outdoor adventure site, and part of the trip involved walking through a canyon with a small river in it.  It happened to have been raining in the hills the night before, and despite all the safety procedures that were supposed to be in place, the company that was guiding them hadn't checked the weather warnings for the area, and as they walked through the canyon the river grew much higher, very very fast.  They found shelter in a cave and waited for a few hours, hoping the water would go down as fast as it had come up.  It didn't - it got even higher.  There was no way out of the canyon except through the river.  Eventually, the guide, the teacher who was with the group, and the students, all decided they'd have to take the risk and jump into the river, hoping to somehow make it out safely.  The guide went first, and she landed safely, the next few students made it out... but the teacher (who was a strong swimmer and had a student who couldn't swim tied to him) and 6 of the students drowned.

The school principle, and the dead students' parents were incredible.  I watched interview after interview with them on tv, and they made me proud to be a Christian.  They were honest about their grief and pain, but didn't dodge the hard questions.  The principle was voted New Zealander of the year that year, and rightly so.

But... all of those who died were Christians.  All of those teenagers came from Christian homes, and had parents who had prayed over them for their safety before they left.  The ones who survived said they had all prayed together before they jumped into the river.  I can't think of any way that drowning in a raging river is being kept safe!  Yes, they are now 'safe' in heaven, but that line of 'yes we prayed for healing and the person still died... but God has answered our prayer and healed them in heaven!' has always seemed like a cop-out to me.  When I pray for protection for my family, I am not meaning that anything that happens to them on earth is fine as long as God protects their eternity - I am asking for Him to protect them here on earth, today.  Anything else is word-play.

So... God didn't protect them.  He no doubt had very good reasons for not protecting them, and was working out His purposes in some way through their deaths, but the fact remains that their parents' prayers for their protection were not answered.  Despite praying for their children's protection, their parents, families and friends were left grieving and devastated.  And the question nags at me - why do I pray for my family's protection when God may chose not to answer it?  What is the point of praying this way?

The best answer I've got is that I can't not.  I ask God to protect the ones I love, because I trust Him, and because that is my part.  My part is to ask, His is to answer.  I have no control over the answer, but if I have at least asked, then I have done my part.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  In the words of The Eagles, "I can't tell you why...", but here's another story.

Yesterday was Sunday, and as is our custom (mostly!) we went to church.  That sounds simple, but with 4 children, it was anything but.  There were arguments over other things that people wanted to do that morning that would be much more fun, complaints about how other people were doing the fun things that we weren't, tv programs that couldn't be watched because we would be at church, dramas over lost shirts and hairbrushes, and then one got invited to go on a fun trip with a friend, and the other 3 who weren't invited wailed and cried about how mean we were and how we were ruining their social lives by taking them to church.  And by this point, we hadn't even made it into the car!  Someone sat where someone else wanted to, someone looked the wrong way at someone, the crackers we had brought for them to eat were the wrong flavour, and life was generally more unfair than could possibly be described.  We finally got to church, took the kids to their various children's programs (yay for a church with children's programs that I don't have to run!), and sat down for a rest.

We got to the part of the service where we have communion, and as we were singing the song following communion, I was hit by a revelation.  I had just had communion, which somehow joins me both to Christ, and to the rest of His body.  I knew that my family (still in the cult I left) would have had communion earlier that morning, and I thought about Diana and all of the rest of the people I am getting to know on the interwebs, who would be having communion while I was asleep.  I thought about my sister-in-law who died a month ago, and remembered the line in the Anglican liturgy that talks about the whole body of saints, those who have gone before, those who are here now, and those who are to come... and I realised that in some way, despite all our differences of denomination, location and even state of being, we are ALL ONE in Christ.  Taking communion is actually a point of connection with my family, who are believers but major on the minors, my friends, who are believers who happen to live on the other side of the world, and my sister-in-law who was a believer and is now 'in Christ'.

For some reason, I've never really seen it that way before - despite our worst denominational efforts, we are all part of one body, and the griefs, tragedies and heartache that we have to deal with cannot change that.

I don't really know how that ties in to why bad things happen to good people... except that it is all a mystery.  How this whole thing works, good or bad, is a mystery.  We truly are living in the shadowlands, and there is so much we never see or understand.  I cannot trust that God will always answer my prayers the way I want Him too, but I can always trust what I know and have seen of the character of God - He is kind, just, merciful and 'has compassion on us because He knows that we are dust.'


  1. Donna, Thank you for telling us your stories, the one of unimaginable grief, and the familiar one of family life. We all have expeirences of grief and joy, and finding God in the midst of it all is what we learn to do. I am sorry you are separated from your birth family. That must be hard indeed, and your sharing about how thatg makes you fear for more family loss is poignent. On another note, now I know who reads my blog from New Zealand. Nice to meet you here. Newell

    1. Newell, you can now say your blog is read by people all the way to the ends of the earth. :)

  2. Oh, Donna. This made me cry. In a very, very good way. Your stories are heart-wrenching - such rich stories to place in answer to this hard, hard question. I love what you've done here, my friend. Love it. Thank you so much.

    1. Diana, I am honoured that my words touched you so much! Glad you liked it - and thank you again for being brave, doing something new and starting this whole series.

  3. Donna, this really touched me. Its similar to what I wrestled with this week, fear of losing those we love and the difficulty of really trusting in God. After my sister died I found it much harder to bear the thought of loss. Knowing both that it was possible and so painful made me cling desperately to those who were left. When one of those key relationships floundered for a while I was nearly lost. Recentring on God has helped me live more freely with those I love but real deep trust is still something that comes and goes.

    1. Yes, I get this. When you have lost so much that is precious, what is left becomes even more valuable - and therefore much more difficult to even think about losing. Good to 'meet' you, Juliet, and thank you for reading.

  4. Donna, thank you for sharing your stories. They speak of unimaginable pain interlinked with an indomitable human spirit to rise above tragedy. They also speak of huge loss, suffering and mystery of seemingly unanswered prayer.
    Your closing words offer hope and light as we all work through the grief and pain of 'not knowing':"I cannot trust that God will always answer my prayers the way I want Him to, but I can always trust what I know and have seen of the character of God - He is kind, just, merciful and 'has compassion on us because He knows that we are dust." Indeed. To such we cling.

  5. I've something to say from my own experience, and I don't mean it confrontationally, so hopefully it will come across just as my personal feelings and insights at this point in time. Learning, learning.

    As a post-Christian agnostic (there's that silly phrase again, but it's the quickest way to describe VERY broadly where I might be coming from for those who don't know me), I feel far more heart-connected to you now Donna, than I ever did when taking communion and formally being 'part of the body of Christ' (for some decades both in-cult and after leaving). Going back to that 1Samuel 16 scripture again: if there is a God, He She or It looks upon the heart eh, so heart-connection is important... and ours particularly, is very special to me.

    My personal experience socially/spiritually at this point, is that very many Christians are so hung up on confessing Jesus as their Saviour and being all togethery in that communal wonderfulness, they're completely unaware of how much the religious expression of that actually pushes others away (from themselves AND from their God).

    It's an odd one, because why *shouldn't* Christians (or any other religious group) be able to revel in their togetherness, circled around Christ (or whoever)? But from the outside looking in, comments about "the saints" etc, kind of leave me cold. Yes, that's my opinion and where I am currently... but it's also thousands and thousands of other people, who perhaps have not had a Christian upbringing as I did. It can't be right or Jesus-like, to make them feel excluded. What's the answer? I dunno.

    I hasten to add: am not saying I felt at all pushed away by your comments in this piece above, because the strength of our connection is great. I understand and forgive you for being a believer currently of Anglican denomination; you understand and forgive me for moving on from my previous belief and surety in God. (Do you? Oh dear, now I'm feeling slightly nervous!)

  6. As to prayer - I think actually you're majorly 'doing your bit' also by lovingly teaching your children how to keep themselves as safe as possible (physically, psychologically, socially) in their lives and particularly when they leave the house. You're also doing your bit in making sure Ian knows he's loved and that he needs very much to do HIS best to get back safely.

    Even when I was a practising Christian with a warm God-spot in my heart During my first decades of life, I just never 'got' the concept of praying for stuff. The God I knew, knew my heart and my needs waaaay better than I did myself. Seriously! There was nothing I could tell Him (Her,It) that He didn't already know. It always seemed to me that my job was more to get on with the practicals. E.g. discipline myself to put my car keys away on the hook, rather than foolishly praying to God some hours later when I desperately needed to find where I'd lazily left them. Yes, I know I sound just like my terribly-practical Mother (your Nana), but I'm just expressing my own stuff here! I know it's not the same for everyone, and that's ok. I will just look scathingly upon them all, from a great height! And don't get me wrong - crying out to God (or another Being?) in our distress or torment, is a visceral and oft-times helpful thing to do.

    Oh dear, I've just seen the TV pic of that little dust-covered and bloodied Syrian boy sitting by himself in the ambulance today. Just like Jewish people in the camps... "Where are You, God? Please, why won't You stop this?" Lordy, I had no idea life as an adult in the 'advanced' world would be this depressing!

    I do think certain Christians need to think things through better though, where prayer is concerned. Hubby Mark always comments about people who say God answered their prayer for a parking spot... - what about the struggling pregnant woman with six kids in the queue of cars behind you? Or, you're so thrilled that He answered your prayers for good weather on your camping holiday... - what about the farmer in the next field praying desperately for rain?! WWII - many Germans prayed "God mit uns" just as fervently as any on the Allied side.

    Sorry for the length and ramble of my two comments, but I've yet to find a place where I'm comfortable chatting about stuff like this. So it seems like, 2yrs after you wrote this, here I am! Are you still feeling similarly to your 2014 expressions? With love and much interest, Dx