Thursday, March 12, 2009

Never my love

I read this poem today and it recalled to me, somehow, the problems I used to have with faith, problems that still haunt me now although not with such immediacy. My fundamental problem with faith of any kind used to be the nature of evil. I know, easy, right? Only the biggest problem anyone’s ever dealt with in the entire history of humanity.

It struck me for the first time my senior year of college. I was taking Systematic Theology, like every good Christian girl with an unfailing instinct for self-torture, and we were discussing this exact problem at the same time that my teenage brother fell unexpectedly ill, into a violent and terrifying coma. We later learned that it was a rare form of mosquito-borne encephalitis, but at the time, no one even knew what was wrong with him. I may have been reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved for my African-American literature class, a book that does not do much for one’s perceptions of the goodness of humankind. Or God for that matter.

So we prayed. We prayed like crazy. I had the president pray in chapel. I was stranded outside Chicago, desperate to hop on a plane to Chattanooga, but it all happened so fast, and they didn’t even tell me how serious it was until it was really, really serious, and no one still knew what it was.

I remember one cloudless, exquisite day, walking down from the chapel where everyone prayed for my sick brother, looking at the flawless blue sky and the sun that seemed to have been storing up all its light for exactly this moment in spring, across Blanchard Lawn to the Billy Graham Center for my theology class. And I thought: all this beauty for what? All this beauty, and my brilliant, funny, breath-taking brother could be dying? What does it matter? What does it mean?

It may have been that very day, or these events may just have coalesced in my memory, when my professor passed around a current copy of Time magazine. It was opened to a picture of a young boy, barely over ten, with his throat slit, being pulled up from the bottom of a well. He had been killed in some nameless African war, the result of ethnic conflict, natch--a boy, younger than my brother, his life worth no more than a rat curled up in a hole somewhere.

My brother got better, miraculously. No one knew why, or how. It was luck, or grace, or fate. Everyone praised God. But instead of proof of God’s goodness to me it seemed merely evidence of the randomness that controlled our lives. For every one like my brother, how many young boys died in hospitals or on battlefields or with guns to their own temples? Did it mean any more that he lived rather than that he died?

I’ve come round since then, after the senseless nihilism and agnosticism that invaded my life after that year. I don’t know what made me turn the corner. Some people probably believe that I still haven’t turned the corner, that my faith isn’t real enough, or Christian enough, or biblical enough. But unlike that day, I now believe that there is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how they will. I believe in Jesus Christ, who died to take away that evil. I can’t say any more than that.

No comments: