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.'