Not so much wrestling with God as wrestling with my image and idea of who God is and how He operates.
Over the last two years, Marc and I have had numerous well meaning people share with us either quotes or sayings or ideas they thought might bring us comfort. For example Cardinal Fulton Sheen once said:
When our loving Lord takes a young one home it’s always for
a good reason. Every now and then our Lord takes a lamb from the
parched fields of a family up to those Heavenly Green Pastures, that the
rest of the family may keep their eyes on their true home and follow them.
Unfortunately Marc and I struggled under the weight of the comments/ideas/thoughts only because as we pondered and discussed them we couldn’t shake the gut feeling that the gist of the comments boiled down to: God took Bernadette home to teach you a lesson. Marc even went so far as to say that he believes that too many people think we’re being punished because Bernadette died. I was a little surprised he’d feel that way and I asked him why. He said because people read the Old Testament and in the Old Testament God says He will punish His people for their wrongdoings and bless them when they do everything right. Obviously Bernadette’s death wasn’t exactly an Old Testament idea of a blessing so we must be being punished.
One day Marc ran our struggle past a friend of his who worked as a Chaplin at a hospital because we wondered if we were imagining what we were hearing. His friend confirmed that that’s what most people actually believe – that God made this terrible thing happen to teach them a lesson.
It was reassuring to know that we were not out of the ball park in how we were interpreting what people were sharing with us. And I don’t believe they meant it in the way we were ‘hearing’ it, they were honestly sharing what they thought would be encouraging and comforting. Maybe they too were trying to make sense out of what happened and reconcile it with what they believed.
The problem was it wasn’t encouraging or comforting. If anything, it was terrifying because it meant that if we weren’t learning whatever lesson we were meant to learn or change our wrong behaviour, God might not stop with Bernadette!
But the more I wrestled with this idea, and trust me I wrestled, the more I didn’t think it could be true. Not even what Cardinal Sheen said. I mean seriously, what loving parent would think up devastating things to do to their children just to ‘teach them a lesson’?
But that wasn’t enough, it didn’t quite squelch those fears that it just might be true. Then one day after Mass, I had the overwhelming sensation that I can’t explain except to say that I understood that God doesn’t cause bad things to happen so He can bring about a greater good, in His love He brings about a greater good from the bad things that happen in our lives. There is a subtle difference. The difference between the cart before the horse or the horse before the cart. Thinking that God causes bad things to happen is putting the cart before the horse.
So I mulled that thought around in my head a lot, especially in relation to Bernadette’s death but I still wasn’t convinced I was on the right track. Then the other day another thought struck me. If the Catechism teaches, and we believe, that “the end doesn’t justify the means” then wouldn’t God also follow that? Isn’t it possible then that God doesn’t cause bad things to happen so He can bring about a great good because that is saying that for God the end does justifies the means? If that was the case, why didn’t He just give Hitler and Stalin cancer and kill them off before they committed their atrocities that killed millions? Why give cancer to a little girl who hadn’t harmed anyone, except maybe her sister when they weren’t getting along, and not to such terrible men whose actions cost countless people their lives and did untold harm to the world?
Then today I was listening to a really neat talk by Peter Kreeft on YouTube about Angels and Demons. Two talks in fact though they said the same thing. He said something that jumped out at me and sent goose bumps up and down my spine. He was talking about when Satan tempted Jesus after His 40 days in the desert. Satan had Him on the top of a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness and he tempted Jesus with, “All this I will give you if you kneel down and worship me.” Kreeft was musing as to what it was that Satan could possibly tempt Jesus with that He didn’t already have? Certainly not gold and power! Then Kreeft suggested that the only thing that could seriously tempt Jesus was all the souls in hell!!! After all, didn’t Jesus come to save everyone? And yet there would still be too many who would reject Him and end up in hell. So Kreeft suggested that Satan offered those souls to Jesus – the one thing Jesus didn’t have. It must have been a terrible temptation. If there was any act where the end justified the means that would be it! And yet Jesus resisted the temptation!!!! The ‘end’ – to have every soul in heaven didn’t justify the ‘means’ – Jesus worshipping Satan, for Jesus replied, “Go away, Satan! The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him!'”
If Peter Kreeft is right that Jesus would not worship Satan even if it meant that no soul would ever go to hell, then there is no way that God would do anything else that violates “the end doesn’t justify the means”! And if that is true, then there is no way we can possibly accept or believe that God took Bernadette home to teach us a lesson – or even to bring about a greater good – because life is sacred and precious and He gave Bernadette life for her own sake and He wouldn’t use her as a means to an end like to punish her parents! The end doesn’t justify the means!!! It’s far more likely that Bernadette’s death was strictly between her and God. For some unknown (and probably unknowable in this life) reason, Bernadette was only given 2519 days on this earth (not counting in vitro which would have been roughly another 264 days).
One night at our women’s movie night, Michelle Hiscock, suggested the possibility that God knew Bernadette would only have a short time and He carefully and lovingly chose us for her family because He knew we would love and care for her and prepare her to return home to Him. To suggest that we were specially chosen for this task is the polar opposite to the idea of us being punished or needing to learn some mysterious lesson that we can only guess at.
I guess for me the exciting thing is that when we wrestle with God, and we don’t give up, the answers do come. “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” I’m obviously no theologian and I don’t profess to be. I’ve just been doing a lot of asking, seeking, and pounding on the door so hard it might not open but come off its hinges. These are just questions, ideas, thoughts, and struggles that I’ve been wrestling with God over ever since we discovered Bernadette was sick. And in this one instance, I’m now convicted that God is not punishing us, He is not trying to teach us a lesson that we have to some how figure out and He is keeping His promise to bring about a greater good from this tragedy and suffering in our lives. He is also inviting us to let go of our primitive ideas of who He is and let His truth change our lives: “My thoughts are not like yours, and My ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are My ways and thoughts above yours.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)