Commenting on my last post, Nnox sees no grounds for a redemptive view of things. I said that redemption is not my observation of the way things (usually) work, but my hope. I wanted to add that this doesn’t make me a helpful optimist and Nnox a harmful pessimist. On the contrary, it has been mentioned by others with good reason that many people who believe in “happily ever after” tend to trivialize life (“so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthly-good”), while some who don’t believe or even hope in a happy ending to the cosmos are deeply-committed humanitarians and joyous lovers of life. In their perspective (as I understand it), birth to death is all we have, so we may as well enjoy it and do our best to help others enjoy their lives too.
But it’s painful to know that many – maybe most? – of the men, women, and children who live and have lived and will live on this planet have not, do not, will not enjoy a life like the one I was born to. I expect to eat whatever I want, go wherever I want, live wherever I want and with whomever I choose, have uncensored access to information, stay warm and dry, receive proper health care should I need it, and above all that, find my calling in life and live it out in a fulfilling way. It’s difficult even to make a list like this because all these “basic needs” are met without my really even thinking about it. It could be a book-length list. (When was the last time I felt grateful for the well-maintained streets in my town?)
So why do I get this, and a woman in Haiti does not? It regularly breaks my heart to gaze at my beautiful children, so safe and healthy, well-fed, well-dressed; and see in my mind’s eye pictures of another woman’s children starving.
Do I hope in redemption because it is a good excuse for me to get on with my beautiful life? Otherwise, how can I justify these discrepancies between my life and most other people’s lives? And yet, suffering seems hardwired into existence. If I live long enough, I will inevitably lose someone I love, become terminally ill or injured, or simply experience the pain of aging and the unknown cliff-edge of death as it looms ever nearer. If I don’t live that long, then I will have died young and tragically missed out on living a long, full life.
In earlier years of my life, awareness of the pain and loss and seeming futility of existence would drive me to tears, moodiness, some winter evenings even to what felt like the brink of sanity.
Then I had children, and after the predictable (for me) post-partum blues with my first child, the dark and heaviness lifted. Why was that? Is it a typical survival instinct, something to ensure I bring up nurtured and well-adjusted children – who will at some point learn enough about history and current world affairs to question me about my beautiful life and insensitivity to the suffering of others?
My ready response is, “I am not God. Even if I devoted all of my energy and resources to lifting others out of suffering, it wouldn’t be enough. So I’ll live with the painful awareness of worldwide suffering, and make lifestyle choices with that in mind. I won’t try to shield my children from the truth. And I’ll hope in redemption, because to be aware of so much senseless violence and global inequity, and not to trust in a final remembrance and making-right of all this wrong, will either desensitize me or drive me to insanity.”
And so, perhaps I am a good illustration for those who hold that God is an invention of the human psyche. Maybe this is just the best coping mechanism we as a species have yet come up with. It is certainly a persistent one.
Some people say that God speaks to them often. What do I know about that? I have no grounds for disagreement. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard God speak, but there are three distinct times when I thought it might have been God – and these are the words I heard:
“They don’t own me. And neither do you.”
“Take your time.”
“Don’t be scared.” (yes, “scared” is what I heard, not “afraid;” let the reader decide whether this could possibly be the language of a proper God!)
No tidy conclusion here. Further thoughts tend to lead to further questions, and this post is a prime example.