It’s one thing to debate these sorts of questions when it’s theoretical: “Does God cause cancer?” That is a completely different question than, “Did God give me / my loved one a terminal illness?” Trust me, there are all sorts of theological and not-so-theological answers you could latch on to, and I am not an expert on the divine. And one tiny blog is not enough to address the issue.
But, I got to spend 4 years at seminary studying and then the next 20 years getting paid to ponder the mystery of the intersection of holy and mundane, as I walk with real people through such heart-wrenching experiences. And of course, the doozies that have shown up on my own doorstep.
This is how I know it is no ivory tower issue: The Saturday night before Thanksgiving, I was called to Johns Hopkins Hospital to baptize a baby stillborn at 21 weeks gestation, then after worship the following morning, went back to baptize his twin, who was born to live just one hour. A couple of weeks later, the grandmother of the twins showed me a booklet someone had sent her which explained that death was the result of our sinful nature. This book was meant to comfort her. Trust me, it did not.
So, this is what I absolutely reject: A god who makes bad things happen to us to make us stronger. A god who wants to teach us a lesson. A god who wants to test us. A god who does not care. A god who is not involved.
But …. How can I reject all of those? Don’t you have to pick one? Either God knows all and has power over all, OR God does not exist or care, right? Isn’t it either / or?
Let’s think about this in terms of how our brains are wired / are fashioned by our Creator. It was this conversation between Krista Tippett and Brene Brown http://www.onbeing.org/program/brene-brown-on-vulnerability/4928 that articulated the issue so very clearly for me. So, we are wired for relationship, right? Our brains know, deep at their core, that our survival depends on connecting with others, and so we feel pain when that connection is threatened. I cannot connect with a god who would shame me to teach me a lesson, nor a god whose love was conditional on my behaving and thinking a certain way. Brene Brown reminds us that 1. Shame is that horrible feeling that we are not lovable, that we do not have a place at the table and 2. That when we are shamed, we cannot learn. The pain of shame shuts us down cognitively, making learning impossible.
So, the Divine I give my heart to does not engage power as we understand it. Divine love is not about safety, or security, or keeping bad things from happening to us. It is about connection, because that is how we are made. Connection with one another, honoring the divine spark of life found in each person and creature. It is about compassion, and practicing compassion, and using this brain we’ve been given responsibly. It’s not nearly as simplistic, or linear, or cause-effect, or quid pro quo as we might like. Our brains also are not comfortable with ambiguity, so we long for certainty. But I am not giving in to a belief system that belittles or shames just to quell that anxiety of uncertainty. Instead, I shall practice compassion for my anxious little heart, and compassion for your anxious little heart, trusting that these brains of ours are wired exactly right: To connect.