By Sam Alexander, Patheos Spirituality contributor at Christianity for the Spiritual but not Religious
Timmy and I were swimming in Lake Luzerne when the lightening struck. I’m sure that if you’d been on the shore you’d have seen the second recorded instance of men walking on water. We were out of there in a flash. Timmy and I were close friends. We grew up together at the Peniel Bible Conference. Late in my Senior year of high school I got the news that Timmy had been in an accident. He was in the passenger seat, a friend was driving and didn’t see the other car turning. Timmy I heard, was in a coma. The word went out through Peniel to all the friends and missionaries we knew. For five days hundreds, maybe thousands of people all over the world prayed for Timmy’s recovery.
Then I got word that Timmy was dead. My faith was pretty shaky to begin with. The typical modernist questions of an active educated adolescent mind had exposed the inadequacy of my evangelical faith. But when Timmy died, after all that praying, I was done.
I was done with that uncritical evangelical faith, but I could not be done with the questions burning within me. What are we doing here? What makes my life worth something? Are we all alone, buffeted about by the vagaries of a world that is sometimes cruel and sometimes kind?
In time I grew up, and right on cue I felt compelled to make peace with the faith of my youth. The theological ideas of Karl Barth and the like ran the gauntlet between that magical god of the past and a formulation of Christianity that made peace – at least to a point – with a modern world view. So I came back to faith, did what I was apparently born to do, (became a preacher), and began ministry sure in the knowledge that God was indeed engaged in creation and that even though we’ve considered the facts, this God can be trusted to love us. My favorite word was “nevertheless.”
I married, but as luck would have it my wife spent ten years fighting back a Cancer that could not be stopped. For ten years she wondered why this was happening and sought to do everything she could to effect a cure. The things she made herself eat – things that were “good for her” – would break your heart. Each time the Cancer came back, she turned in on herself, blamed herself, assuming she had fallen short in some way, that she had failed God and so God was failing here.
She died leaving the best little six year old boy anyone could imagine. I knew it was nothing she did or did not do. I knew that God did not “do this” to her but my goodness, how was I to make sense of a world permeated by such sorrow while proclaiming the good news of God’s love? I lost my faith a second time. Which is to say that I gave myself permission to consider ideas about God that had heretofore been labeled “heresy” in my rather narrow book.
All these years I had been envisioning a God who was separate from me, one that judged, or healed, or even directed me through “growth experiences” as “He” miraculously worked within the constraints of “His” natural laws. (Such a constraint offered God cover when things didn’t turn out as they should.) Now though, a new picture emerged, a picture of God not separate from us, but unfolding creation in and through us. There is no answer to the question of why this or that thing is allowed to happen simply because there is no God acting upon creation the way a child builds with an erector set – either within the laws of nature or outside them.
It is simply in the nature of things that creation unfolds or evolves through death into new life. And if you want to see God’s love at work, then in the midst of the horror and the sorrow, you look for the impending light of new life to emerge.