I had it all planned out.
I sat down to write this month’s column — it was going to coincide with my Those Who Fear interview and record review. It was going to be about the problem of Spirit-filled hardcore bands turned fundamentalist propaganda machines.
Then my phone rang.
My grandfather died this morning.
And now nothing makes sense.
We were prepared. We knew the cancer had spread badly to the point where chemotherapy wouldn’t be effective anymore. We knew that his organs were shutting down one by one. We knew the doctor sent him home and said he had five days left.
But nothing prepares you for that call.
It’s easy to have a theology about things until they happen. I know what I believe about death and salvation and the afterlife. But when one of the best people I have ever met — who treated me like blood even if I technically wasn’t — gets the worst disease you can get and passes away less than year later, theology tends to mean nothing. Who is this God and where is he in all of this? And why would he allow this?
“He’s at peace now.”
Yeah, I know. But none of the rest of us are because of it.
“It was just his time.”
But what about all of the people who have truly done horrible things with their lives who are still alive?
“This is just one of the consequences of a broken and sinful world.”
So I’m supposed to believe that because two people screwed up in a garden some 6,000 years ago — the historicity of this is a different argument for a different day — my loving, amazing grandpa deserved to get cancer* and leave us early?
Sometimes theologizing is a curse. Where a normal person would just be sad in this situation, I find myself having a much harder time getting in touch with any real emotion. I can’t help but pain over these big questions that so many other Christians can just respond with easy, comforting phrases.
In the end I find myself more at home with the long line of agnostics and atheists who have evaluated death, evil and suffering and found it to be the last straw of their abandoned faith. The difference here is that I’m not ready to give up on the idea of God because of it. I’m just not satisfied.
I’m not satisfied with those old answers. They may be true to an extent, but — at best — they are just part of a much bigger answer that’s still mysterious to us mere humans. Maybe that’s why God answered Job (in chapter 38) in such a frustrating, unsatisfying, almost arrogant way.
So here’s where I just press on. Here’s where I try and quiet my theological questions and really try and process my actual emotions — for a few days, at least. I don’t know why disease and death and suffering and evil and pain exist. None of us do. We can come to our personal conclusions and arrive at answers to tide us over until all is made right and we know the real truth. Until then, we are going to be chasing after a God that’s just ahead of us.
A God that’s always just out of reach.
* For a more eloquent version of this response, listen to “Hard to Be” by David Bazan.
** Ironically enough, David Bazan addresses this one too on “In Stitches.”