And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained ...
Lyrics from "Hard to Get" by Rich Mullins
|If this doesn't scream "It shouldn't be this way", then I don't know what does.|
It's difficult sometimes not to ask why. But once upon a time, I learned not to.
It was the beginning of my junior year of college. I was in my first year as an RA and it was Labor Day weekend. The school year had just started and I had gone on a hike with some friends. When I returned that afternoon, I learned that my cousins Bryan and Mike, just 19 and 16 at the time, had been killed in a car wreck. They were passengers in a car that flipped off of a freeway overpass.
You know how you will sometimes see stories on the news about these tragic car wrecks and how you will see the flashing aid car and police car lights by the twisted wreckage and shards of glass in the middle of the night and you wonder how in the world the friends and family of those people are coping with the news? You know how people will leave crosses and flowers and pictures and balloons at the scene?
That was us. That was my family.
I asked why a lot. I cried a lot. I would wake up in the middle of the night sobbing and go into the hall so no one could hear me. God, why?
I never did get an answer. But I kept asking anyway. If I could just get an answer, if I could just understand, then maybe we could all get a handle on our grief. Maybe then it would hurt less.
When I heard the Rich Mullins song quoted above, it struck a chord, that whole part about it not hurting any less even if it could be explained. I rejected the thought at first -- of course it would hurt less if we knew why. If we could just understand why this happened, it would make sense. It wouldn't hurt so much if we could just understand -- if we could just see and know what good might come of it.
Somewhere along the line it clicked: Bryan and Mike were gone, and even if there were earthly language that could be used to explain to me all the reasons why this happened or even what good might come of it, and even if I could understand and embrace all those explanations, it would not make it hurt any less. It would not mitigate the loss we felt. It would not make it any easier to accept, and it could not take away the pain that comes from living in a world that, for all its Louis Armstrong "What a Wonderful World" moments, is entirely too screwed up and senseless at times.
I also realized that there were some subtle but important implications under girding my simple (and understandable) question of why. Implicit in my question was the assertion that I should somehow be exempt or saved from such suffering. Asking why demanded of God a justification for why He had permitted such a terrible thing to happen to us. If I claim to believe that God is who He says He is: that He is all good, that He is all loving, that He is all merciful, and that He can work all things together for good, then I really shouldn't have a problem with my own personal suffering. I should also understand that as good and loving as He is, He does not answer to me. The fact that I was asking why revealed my weakness, my doubt, and my lack of belief. When I took the time to consider it, I could not find a single good reason as to why I should get a pass on suffering when so many others bear up with it day after day after painful, torturous day.
Humbling, but true.
I was also forgetting about the redemptive and purifying nature of suffering. So often the prayers I would pray in the midst of my own personal pain would be for a miraculous way out of whatever it was that was wrong or uncomfortable about the world -- a way to be relieved of my discomfort instantaneously. We see this all the time in prayers to be healed of sickness and disease, prayers for the weak to be strengthened, requests for the maimed to be made whole. And while I know there is nothing wrong in praying for healing (I prayed many times daily that Ewan might be healed, after all), we can miss something bigger if we are too attached to that as the outcome of our pleas. The prayer Jesus taught His disciples asks "Thy will be done," and sometimes that means enduring the very things we would rather avoid, for ourselves or for those we love.
I thought about Paul's thorn in the flesh and how he begged for it to be taken away, but God's answer to him was that that His grace would be sufficient, that His power would be perfected in Paul's weakness. For all the nodding and assenting I did at the truth indicated in Paul's reality, the truth is I infinitely preferred the option in which I would not have to experience personally anything like Paul's thorn -- that I could skate by through life without the types of circumstances that had me on the floor in tears, begging for mercy.
In asking why, I was saying "no" to seeing God's power on display in any other way. I was only open to experiencing it in the way I wanted it: in restoring the wrongs in the universe, and giving a mother back her sons. I was not willing to embrace the idea that it could be at least as miraculous to witness God working unthinkable amounts of good out of such exceeding brokenness and excruciating pain as my aunt and uncle experienced in losing their sons.
It was tempting to ask why with Ewan a million different times and in a thousand different ways. But if I'm honest, there is not an answer out there that would satisfy me or anyone else who has suffered a similar loss. No string of words, no matter how carefully crafted and perfectly chosen, would make me any more accepting of Ewan's death. As painful as living without him is right now, belaboring the question of why only exacerbates the wound.
A number of words and phrases come through my tears when they come these days: I miss him. I want him back. Over and over and over. But the one-word question stopped rising to the surface awhile ago. And the reason is simple enough: God is good, and I am continuing to learn to trust Him -- even with this.
Lord, have mercy.