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VALERIE SCHULTZ: Is it God or is it random?

Valerie Schultz

Valerie Schultz

One of the more perplexing mysteries of faith is that we thank God when things go right, but we aren’t supposed to blame God when things go wrong. Why not? If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why do tragedies happen? Does God have a mean streak, or a monthly quota for heart attacks and miscarriages, for car crashes and fatal falls? Does God give some people cancer and spare others on a divine whim? Does God deal you a losing hand if you don’t pray hard enough or often enough or well enough?

Then into my mind come bigger questions: Is this the God I believe in? Is this the God I want my children to believe in?

I have no sure answers. We all struggle to understand why it is our human lot to suffer and die. We try to make our peace with sadness and loss. Sometimes, however, well-meaning religious people say the worst things to those who are grieving an untimely death. “God must have needed another angel in heaven,” they’ll say, as though that is a comforting thought. “Everything happens for a reason,” they’ll say, but no parent can find any good reason in the death of a child.

Perhaps these folks picture God as a puppet-master over human lives, a heavenly manipulator who is open to bribes: My own mother once assured me that she had secured the survival of a premature grandchild by promising God she’d go back to church. And go back she did, faithfully, when the beloved baby lived. I’m pretty sure this is bad theology, but I didn’t argue with her. I just took her to Mass.

I wish I had that kind of insight into the nature of God. I fight the idea that any misfortune or death is God’s will. But I also do not subscribe to the concept that God is a distant, hands-off deity. There is also the possibility, of course, that God does not exist, in which case everything that happens in the universe is a random event, the banging together of molecules and chance. I don’t personally entertain that theory, but I have no proof that that is not the reality of our existence.

Faith, as St. Paul observes in the letter to the Hebrews, “is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Which means: We believe, but we don’t know. It’s a mystery.

All our speculation about God, of course, teeters under the weight of what we are taught in religion classes, which is that we cannot know the mind of God. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways ...” God reminds us through the words of the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 55:8)

Perhaps one way we can know anything about God is through Jesus, because he became human like us. In Jesus we see a man who questioned and struggled and suffered more than most of us ever will. Although he was God incarnate, Jesus was endowed with human free will, even as he endeavored to do God’s will. It’s another mystery.

We are taught that the death of Jesus leads to our path to redemption, and that our own crosses in life gain meaning through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus himself invites us to give ourselves over to him: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” he says. (Matthew 11:28)

If we are people of faith, we can find some consolation in knowing that Jesus, our companion, our brother, totally gets whatever hardship we’re going through, and that he will not leave us to suffer alone.

Is that enough? It will have to be. We can be grateful to God for the good, and know that we are accompanied through the bad. Faith accepts that we cannot know the unknowable, even as we believe the unbelievable. To keep the faith, we reach out and hold hands with mystery: the same way we might walk with a good friend. I find that’s enough for me.

Email contributing columnist Valerie Schultz at The views expressed here are her own.

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