Cemeteries have an uncanny ability to zip the lips of the optimist. And the younger the deceased, the more mute the optimist becomes.
No matter how engrossed I might be in an episode of Bugs Bunny or Gilligan’s Island, my ears never missed the approaching rumble. It crawled its way down the alley, one man driving, two other men walking alongside. They hefted garbage cans and spilled their contents into the gaping mouth of the truck.
Snowmen hung like overweight acrobats from the light poles lining Main Street as the hearse crunched over the snowy pavement. Jingle bells, sirens yell, tears cascade like rain. All they wanted for Christmas was him back. Before he left his friend’s house. Before the curve of the bridge. Before he fell asleep at the wheel.
When I need to pray the most is usually when my tongue tucks its tail and runs away. I’m left wordless. Rather than a prayer warrior, I feel like a prayer deserter.
When we stand east of Eden with Adam and Eve because we couldn’t keep our hands off forbidden fruit, weeping over lost loves, lost chances, lost lives...
The auger spun its way beneath the city street. Red Oklahoma dirt churned at its end. Danny eyed its progress. He had kissed his wife and their two lovely daughters that morning, and drove off to work. "I'll see you tonight, girls. Love y'all."
Over the last year I’ve worked my way through several books. I’ve listened to the authors, taken down notes, applauded, wept a few times, and had a rather one-sided debate with a few of them as I read along. I love books. I love authors. I love the way putting words down on paper incarnates ideas that might otherwise remain ghosts of the mind, flitting here and there in our gray matter.
We say it to the family who’s standing in a sea of twisted metal and broken dreams that a tornado spit out. We say it to the man who lost his job, can’t find work, and is on the verge of losing his home. We say it to the cancer patient, the pregnant teen, and our sons and daughters as they leave for war.
People say only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. But there are other certainties. Like the daily rising and setting of the sun. And like the fact that life itself has its risings and settings as well.
There are times when it seems our Father, who is in heaven, is a dead-beat dad. Sometimes it seems He’s even worse. He’s not just a father who skips town to leave us to fend for ourselves. No, He’s right there in our living room, sprawled in an easy chair, asleep, while we’re screaming our heads off, begging for mercy, but all in vain as Dad snores on.
I don't remember her name. I can no longer hear her voice. I barely recall what she looked like. But this woman, though limping herself, carried me through six of the hardest miles of my life.
If I were granted three wishes, one of them would not be to know what the future holds. You can keep your crystal balls. I have enough trouble wrestling with today’s demons without knowing what crosses await me tomorrow. As the wise rabbi said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And some days are so sufficiently evil that tomorrow looms like the open jaws of hell.
My Secret Struggle with Atheism: Seeking Answers to the Wrong Questions
Over the years I’ve heard churchgoers say something like, “I don’t know how those atheists make it through tough times without God in their lives.” And I’m always tempted to respond, “Oh yeah? Well, it’s been in the toughest times of my life that I’ve wished God didn’t exist.” If the fool says in his heart, “There is no God,” (Ps 14:1), then the sufferer says in his heart, “My God, my God, who have You forsaken me? Why have You forgotten me? Why have You rejected me?” (Ps 22:1; 42:9; 43:2). Why did You let my baby die? Why did You let my husband get cancer? Why did You take away my ability to walk? Why did You bring her into my life, make me drunk with joy for the first time in years, knowing full well in less than a year she’d come home one night, say she doesn’t love me anymore, and toss me aside like a piece of garbage? My God, my God, what good is Your existence if You do nothing to alleviate my pain, if You sit on Your hands while my life is falling apart? I wish there were no God, because at least then I could simply say, “Shit happens” then try to move on. But now I’m stuck trying to reconcile the existence of a God who supposedly loves me with the fact that I’m lonely and hurting and near the brink of despair and feel like God couldn’t care less.
That’s what I mean when I say that I’ve struggled with atheism. And still do. The suffering me becomes the questioning me who becomes the doubting me who becoming the unbelieving me. My prayer become the twisted version of the well-known biblical prayer for, contrary to reason and sanity itself, I pray, “Lord, I believe; help Thou me not to believe.”
My hindsight is not 20/20, for when I look back on the most trying times of my life, the vision is still a bit fuzzy. But, that being said, I can at least see more clearly now than I did then. I can see that I was a major league player in the blame game, that instead of taking responsibility for my own actions, I laid my guilt on an innocent God. I can see that, during my second divorce, it wasn’t an uncaring Lord who threw me away but an uncaring woman. And I can see that I was demanding answers from heaven that, even if I had them, would never satisfy. Beneath my raw and bleeding verbal attacks on God, there pulsed a desire not for answers but for love, for comfort, for even a sip of hope in my desert of despair. It wasn’t so much that I wished God didn’t exist; I wished that the God who does exist would be the kind of God I thought I wanted Him to be.
There are questions we pose to God, especially when we’re angry or hurt or despairing, that God will never answer. There is a side to Him that is, and will always remain, hidden from us, unknown and unknowable to us. And, as hard as this is to accept, it is actually better this way. For us to try and understand the hidden part of God would be like a blind man setting out to map every inch of the world.
But there is another side to God that He has made known to us; there are questions that He has answered and will continue to answer. When we cry, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Christ answers, “My child, My child, I will never leave you, I will never forsake you,” (Deut 31:6). “You may not feel me there but I am as close to you as the breath you breathe, nearer to you than the blood in your veins. I feel your body shake as you sob; I taste your tears. Lo, I am with you always, even to the brink of despair. Even when you plummet into the pit of unbelief, I am with you. When you are faithless, I will be faithful to you, for I cannot deny myself. When your hold on hope can’t last; when you’re haunted by your past; when you’re shunned as an outcast, I will hold you fast.”
The side of God that He has made known to us is Jesus. He is the one and only revelation of the Father, the one and only revelation that we need. He doesn’t answer all our questions but He joins us in all our sufferings. And He joins us to His own sufferings. He grafts us into the tree of His flesh, that the sap of His grace may flow into us and make us what He is. He recreates us to be bone of His bone so that when His bones rise from the grave after being crucified, we too might rise in His bones to newness of life.
Most importantly, He never gives up on us. We may kick and scream and cuss and fight but, when it’s all over, He hasn’t moved an inch away from us. He is not a fair weather God. He is not a God who leaves the wounded behind. He is the Good Samaritan Savior, who dismounts, bathes and tends to our wounds, and carries us to the inn.
In the toughest times of my life I have wished that God didn’t exist. I’ve wished that I could simply become an atheist, as if that would make things better. But even in those weakest times of faith, I had a Savior whose faith in His Father atoned for my lack of faith. When I would gladly have sunk into the ocean of hopelessness, He grabbed me in His arms and swam me back to shore.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” But God says in His heart, “There is no fool that I don’t still love—yes, Chad, and yes, dear reader, even you.”