This post and the next one are longer than the 500 words I promised. I’m sorry. But it’s a story. I didn’t know how to break it up into more than these two posts. How about this… you read 500 words… and then take a break <grin>.
One of the single moms in our community brought her 12 year old daughter to talk to me. She had been diagnosed with Crones disease, and was asking her mother why God would do this to her. Wasn’t God good? Didn’t God love her? Not knowing how to answer her daughter’s questions, she brought her by my office, hoping I could do better.
After she asked me the question, we had a conversation.
“Well sweetie, let’s think about this together. Why did God give you Crone’s disease?”
“Let’s start in kind of a funny place. Let me ask you a question. Are you a precious flower?”
“Well yes… I am,” she said.
“I’m so glad you feel that way,” I replied. “You really are a precious flower,” I smiled. “You’re beautiful. You’re radiant, and I bet you even smell good!”
She laughed. I continued.
“Now if your mom and I were to take you to the doctor, and we told her; ‘Doctor, our precious flower has Crones disease. Could you please help her?’ And then if the doctor turns to the nurse and says, ‘Nurse, bring in the plant food, the bug spray, the fertilizer! We’ve got a precious flower here, and we need to help her…’ Then, would it be true that you’re a precious flower?” I asked.
“Well no, of course not,” she grinned.
“So,” I continued. “In one sense you are a precious flower, and in another sense you’re not. True?”
“Yes,” she conceded (not too sure what this had to do with her burning question).
“Ok,” I said. Now, let’s think about whether or not God gave you Crones Disease.”
“Let me tell you up front, I don’t have an answer for the question you came with. I’ve thought about it for decades. I’ve wept about it. I’ve been angry about it. I’ve studied it. I’ve read all the best books on the topic. I’ve asked people from other religions, and no religion at all. For all my seeking, I still don’t have a satisfactory answer to the question. After years and years of fussing about it, I finally realized the problem. The question is the problem, not that we can’t find an answer.”
She wasn’t looking happy.
“When you ask me why God would give you this disease, there are a couple of assumptions built into your question. First, your question assumes that God is Somebody who does stuff. If you’re like a lot of people, I bet in your mind, God is a super-duper, up-in-heaven, bigger-than-we-can-imagine somebody. He’s a he, and he’s a Somebody. The kind of Somebody who thinks thoughts, has plans, and does stuff. True?”
“And when we assume that God is the kind of being who has ideas and does stuff, we imagine that sometimes he does good stuff, like give people health, and other times he does bad stuff, like zapping us with diseases, like Crones. True?”
“Well sweetie,” I said, “There’s pretty good reason why you think that way. That’s the way the Bible talks about God a lot of the time. In the stories, he is always a “he,” and he always seems to be blessing somebody or smiting somebody else. True?”
“But there are other places in the Bible that tell us a completely different way to think about God. These places tell us it’s impossible for us to imagine God, even with the hardest work. That means that any mental image we have of God is incomplete, is in some sense, wrong.”
“If you’re like me, you’ve probably thought of God as your Father. We all have. When you do, the Bible tells you that yes, it’s true. God is our Father. Fathers love their daughters, and God loves people. Fathers make us safe, and in God, we are safe. So yes, God is our Father.”
“But the Bible also tells us that no, it’s not true. God is not our Father. It’s kind of like you being a precious flower. In one sense you are… in another sense you’re not at all.”
“When it comes to the question you’re asking today; ‘why do bad things happen to us,’ if our image of God is that he is a Father… well, that really doesn’t work. If God is our Father, he’s a really bad one; not a loving one at all. If you were my daughter, and if I had the power to cure your Crones, and if I didn’t do it, I’d be a really bad father! So when we think of God as our Father, we have to think of him as unloving, maybe even criminally negligent.”
“But that’s just not what the God of our religion is like. The God of our religion is love.”
“When it comes to God, all we have are imperfect ways to talk about something we can’t really talk about, and all the ways we have break down eventually. That’s the way it is with analogies; they work in one context but not in another.”
“When you ask why God gave you Crones, it’s an indicator that the analogy for God you’re using has broken down. Giving precious girls Crones disease is just not something Love does. It must mean that the way we’re thinking about God is too limited for this particular conversation. Make sense?”
(I had to give her credit. I couldn’t get this stuff into my head until my 30’s.)
“But just because God isn’t a Father, and the question you’re asking doesn’t have an answer doesn’t mean we can’t talk about God in a helpful way. We can. There are some very helpful ways to talk about how you can find God in this really tough time. We will just have to use a different metaphor for God.”
In the next post, I’ll tell you about a God-analogy I suggested that might work for her in her tough situation.