Re: Struggling with my faith

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Posted by Doug Showalter on December 24, 1998 at 09:22:10:

In Reply to: Struggeling with my faith posted by Leli on December 21, 1998 at 18:00:51:

Dear Leli,

I am sorry for your difficulties. In case it is helpful to you, I will share with you some of my own beliefs. The problem of why good people suffer, when God is believed to be good and loving has been around for a long time. I cannot claim to be able to resolve it fully. But after a great deal of thought, I have come to some strong personal beliefs about this subject which have been helpful to me personally, and which I have shared with others in the course of my ministry over the past twenty-five years.

In 1973 one of my younger brothers was killed in a hit-and-run accident on Christmas Eve which ultimately made national news, but which has still not been solved to this day. Today is the 25th anniversary of that event. Kevin was 20 years old and kneeling, changing a tire on a car parked by the side of the road when he was struck and killed by an oncoming car. The State of Connecticut offered a reward for information on the accident, but no final judgment as to the guilty party was rendered.

I was devastated by this tragedy. I had just been ordained and married. I had just adopted my wife's two children [she had been a widow] and entered my first parish following ordination. I was living in another state. The dreaded phone call came late at night, not long after I had finished my first Christmas Eve service as an ordained minister.

I didn't sleep much that night. In the wee hours of the morning we packed our very young children and their Christmas presents in our car, and we headed off across two states to get to my hometown, where Kevin had died. The drive was a nightmare, on Christmas Day, in the middle of the winter, and in the middle of the gas shortage of that time. Truly, we didn't know if we would even be able to find enough gas to get where we needed to go. We did get there. But, without going into more detail, the whole experience of the trip and the funeral, etc. was horrible.

I suffered and asked such questions as: Why my brother? Why me, when I had just started the ministry in my desire to serve God? How could God be "good and loving" and allow this to happen to my family?

In the months that followed I grieved, but I also read everything I could get my hands on about the Christian faith and death, about resurrection, about life after death, about the age old "Problem of Evil." I immersed myself in the Bible, but also in theological works pertinent to these subjects. Not only did I need to find some answers to these questions for myself, I also wanted to be of some help to my parishioners when they had to grapple with such great questions.

The eventual result which grew out of this personal experience was that my faith was deepened. The resurrection of Jesus from death [in some form] became very central to my faith, and I developed a very strong belief in the life after death. Also, I came to the following beliefs which I continue to hold:

I believe that God put us in a world, where we often have the freedom to make choices. We are not puppets on a string whose lives are completely controlled by God. In our God-given freedom, we can make good choices. But we also can make bad choices, with the result that we put ourselves in harm's way. Also, there are many situations in life, which we cannot control, which can end up having a bad result for us.

--If we drink too much alcohol, and then choose to drive, we may well be in an accident which brings harm to ourselves and/or others. [Our bad choice.]
--We may follow the rules of the road quite carefully and not drink at all, but then, ironically, we are plowed into and hurt by another driver who has been drinking. [Someone else's bad choice.]
--The brakes or some other pieces of equipment on our car may suddenly stop working, and we have an accident. [A seemingly chance event, though likely there's a mechanical explanation for it.]

I believe that God seeks to guides us and guide other people, so that we do not make foolish choices which bring harm to ourselves and/or to others. But the fact is that we are free to choose, even against God's guidance. God does not force us.

I believe that God put us in a good world. But the reality is that it is also, in some ways, a dangerous world. Bad things do happen, even to good people. Accidents happen. Disease can strike anyone. The natural elements, in the form of tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. can be deadly. Also, our bodies naturally wear out with age.

I don't blame God for causing any of these things to come into our lives, or for failing to protect us from them. Rather, I see them all as part of this world we live in--a wonderful world which is free, but also dangerous sometimes.

Sometimes people say of a person who has died, that his/her "number was up"--in other words, God caused and/or planned for that person's death in some way. Frankly, I don't believe that at all. Sometimes people say of a young person who has died, that "God takes the best first" or that "God took her/him because she/he was too good for this earth." Frankly, I don't believe these things either. Trying to be helpful, some people said these things about my brother, at the time of his death, but I could never accept them.

I believe that Jesus came to bring us abundant life in this world and in the next. I believe that God always wants our well-being. Therefore, I simply cannot believe that our God kills people, or puts them in harm's way--for their own sake, or for anyone else's.

I don't blame God in any way for our earthly difficulties and tragedies. But I do strongly believe that God suffers with us, walks with us, and supports us, as we face and walk through such earthly problems--even though we may not realize it at the time. [Are you familiar with the poem "Footprints"?] I believe that God is constantly at work, trying to bring something good out of the bad or tragic things which happen in this world. The good which God is able to create, never justifies the fact that the bad or tragic thing happened. But this ongoing creation of some good out of evil, is God's redemptive work, which we all can be thankful for.

I believe that when my brother was killed on Christmas Eve, God cried with me and my family, over the senseless loss of such a young and promising life. As horrible as it all was, I believe that God was present with my family in a comforting way in the weeks and months which followed my brother's death. I also believe that God was constantly at work, trying to bring something good out of that tragedy, for me and my family, and for others. One positive result of God bringing good out of evil [which in no way justifies my brother's death] is that I think this personal tragedy helped me to become a more sensitive and better minister to others who face tragedies in their lives.

Nowadays, when I encounter a tragedy I don't struggle with the question: "Why?" Rather, I look to see where God is present with those who are suffering from the tragedy. And I also look to see where God is already at work, trying to redeem the situation, to bring some good out of the evil.

Frankly, I cannot resolve the age old "Problem of Evil." I recognize that there is much in life which I and others cannot understand fully. I respect the right of others to arrive at views different from mine, in their efforts to grapple with and make some sense out of a tragedy in their lives. But I stake my faith on these two things: God's caring presence and God's ongoing redemptive work. In the face of tragedy, these two things bring me solace and a deep sense of gratitude for God.

I hope this is helpful. My sincere best wishes,

Doug Showalter

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