Just when I think I'm getting somewhat of a handle on the concept of prayer, something like yesterday's Haiti disaster happens and I'm at a loss. How do you pray for something like this? If I say, "God, comfort these people in their suffering," it sounds like I think He won't do it unless I tell Him to, which is absurd, unless He's generally as mean as we try to convince people He isn't. On the other hand, I wonder why He let it happen in the first place if He's as loving as we try to convince people He is.
Then I think, maybe it happened because God isn't actually omnipotent. Or because He doesn't exist in the first place.
I seem to lose my faith every couple months or so. The duration of my atheism, or at the very least agnosticism, varies, and I can't say for sure what brings me out of it. Each time is a bit different. At this moment, I happen to believe. I have my reasons and for now they are sufficient. But then there's Haiti.
The question of why evil and suffering exist in the world has been around for, well, pretty much as long as the world, I'd guess. I don't have any answer for it. What I do have is a weird little story in Luke's Gospel where a bunch of people come to Jesus to tell him about some Galileans who had been rounded up and murdered by Pontius Pilate for some unexplained reason. Here's Jesus' response:Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Uh, gee, Jesus, thanks for clearing up the problem of suffering and all. Oh wait, you didn't. Boo.
OK, so obviously this is not one of the warm-fuzzy Jesus sayings that gets inscribed on plaques and keychains and God knows what else, like, "Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I'll give you rest." But to be quite honest, most of what Jesus said was strange or scary or very uncomfortable, or a combination of all three. This statement here falls decidedly in the uncomfortable category, if you ask me. He's saying, look, death comes to all of us. Maybe it'll be cancer, maybe it'll be a car crash, maybe it'll be a devastating earthquake. But frankly, when it does come, the reason why really won't matter.
From where I'm sitting right now — coming up on the 1-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, looking through images of what's left of Port-au-Prince, pondering the unpredictableness of life on this crazy planet, and feeling kind of sad and freaked out — the only thing that could possibly matter is summed up in another question:
This whole Christian thing, is it for real? Is Jesus
And all I can say right now is: I sure hope so.