Tuesday, February 15, 2005

"God, I've got something I want to ask you."

I’m in the middle of a book called What’s So Amazing about Grace? The author of the book makes one crucially important point in the book that echoes through every chapter and every cavern in my mind: Grace is illogical and inexplicable and unimaginable; so is forgiveness. This morning’s reading was in the chapter entitled, “The Arsenal of Grace,” and it moved me so deeply that I pulled out my journal and began to write about forgiveness and grace and pain and doubt.

“Every time I pick up this book, I’m challenged in my thinking, in how I live out my faith. Do we really forgive if we hold out and wait to be asked for forgiveness? Can we forgive the one who drops the bombs, who hits the World Trade Center in an airplane, or dies as a suicide bomber? Can I forgive the racist who whispered epithets in my ear at college parties? Or the careless woman who insulted me without even realizing it? Can I forgive the father who abandoned his children without explanation or the wife and mother who refuses to be reconciled? Is there forgiveness for the national leader who provokes war and refuses to admit wrongdoing? Refuses to apologize for the scores of innocents lost? Can I forgive the rapist, the incestuous sibling, the brutal and cruel parent whose verbal, physical, sexual, and emotional wounds disfigure the children? What about the teenage driver whose careless behavior orphans young children or cripples a young mother of six?”

By way of explanation of this last comment: This past Sunday night, a woman I know from church, a homeschooling mother of six children, got into her car with her oldest son and her son’s friend and was just two short blocks away from the church when she was rear-ended by a young woman who’d lost control of her car. My friend Aimee’s back was broken in the accident. For now her six children are split up in three different households so that her husband and her sister can care for her during the next week during which time she must remain flat on her back. (I wonder how she will breast feed their two month old.) Then she will spend the next three months wearing a back brace. I suspect that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people are praying that she will heal quickly. After all, her oldest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia about a month before their sixth child was born. That oldest daughter has bi-weekly visits to the hospital for chemotherapy and blood work. And all the children need their mother’s attention and love.

My journaling continued: “The real dilemma is about what I say to God, what I ask Him. Dare I confront God and ask for an explanation? Who am I to challenge Him? I am nobody, but I do have a few questions. A wise friend of mine said something in a devotional a few weeks ago that I cling to now: ‘You can ask God any question you have. He can take it.’

“Here are a few of my questions, Lord. Why do babies get cancer? Why do children get AIDS from their parents? Why does this family of six children not only have to take care of one child with leukemia but now also have to deal with Aimee's broken back? Why was there a tsunami that killed over 200,000 people? Why all the flooding in Pakistan when drought is ravaging so many nations? Why so much excess and greed and bounty here in the US when so many are hungry and needy around the world? At the other end of the spectrum, why am I so blessed when so many others have so little? When will I learn to share more, to give more away and to stop accumulating so much? When will I become truly grateful?

“What’s so amazing about grace? Grace allows for the questions, the doubts, the anger, and the demands for justice. Still grace persists. It demands nothing. It expects nothing. It flows over and around and through my greatest defenses. It forgives anyway. It defies logic. It is unmerited favor for those who don’t deserve it, including me. Grace makes absolutely no sense. It’s illogical. It cannot be easily understood or put into practice.

“But God, how can grace and forgiveness work on the large scale issues like the holocaust, like the genocides in Africa and Kosovo, like the senseless violence and mayhem that mar so many cities and homes right here in my country, like the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the probable conflicts to come in Iran and Syria? Does it make sense for Americans to forgive the terrorists who slaughtered thousands of innocent people three and a half years ago in this country? Does it make sense for grief-stricken families to forgive Palestinian, Iraqi, and Lebanese suicide bombers? Does it make sense for Afghan and Iraqi widows and orphans to forgive the United States for its military actions in their homelands? Does it make sense for the victims of military actions to forgive Israeli, Colombian, Russian, or Sudanese soldiers and their military leaders? Can they, should they be forgiven? Who decides? Based on whose standards? Does it even make sense to hope for grace and forgiveness in those situations? Is grace possible? Is grace relevant? Is forgiveness possible? Is the risk of extending grace and granting forgiveness worthwhile in our dangerous, ungraceful, and unforgiving world? What is really at stake?”

Tonight and tomorrow and the day after that, I will ponder the wise words that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to his young poet friend decades ago. I will read his famous and often-quoted letter as though he addressed it directly to me: “Gail, be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day to the answer.”

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