OK, I’ve decided to make the topic of suffering and God’s will my thought project for the next couple of weeks. I actually have the book that Jennifer recommended, C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, sitting on my bookshelf but just haven’t gotten to it. I think I’ll put down my current reading (On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard) and go back to Lewis for a while.
Part of my motivation is that the comments to my post and Jennifer’s and Ersza’s thoughts on the subject have been wonderful and have kept me thinking about the issue all week. But there’s another reason that I really need to get some sort of resolution on this issue.
My family and I live with my mother (the story behind that is the subject of another post…or entire blog) and on the mantle of her fireplace sits a beautiful black-and-white portrait from the 1940s of her parents and her brother, their firstborn son and at the time their only child. The photo shows my young and beaming grandparents, my grandfather in his military uniform, probably just home for a while during his service in WWII. Their cute little son, Timmy, who looks quite like my own son, is wearing little khaki overalls and a striped shirt and he grins from ear to ear. He looks like he’s probably about two and a half. And every time I walk past that picture I tear up a little bit and am reminded how much I need some resolution on God’s role in human suffering.
A few weeks after that picture was taken, in April 1945, my grandmother, Timmy and her mother were out running errands near their home in Pennsylvania. A trucker ran a stop sign and hit their car. My great-grandmother was killed instantly. My grandmother, then five months pregnant with my mother, was thrown from the car. Timmy was injured but probaly not badly. But then the car caught on fire and Timmy was trapped inside. It took a while for them to get him out. I won’t go into graphic details of his physical state, but he was in gruesomely bad shape by the time they got him out. My grandmother held him on her lap as he screamed in agony on the way to the hospital. Unfortunately for him, he lived another two days before he died from his burns. My grandfather was back at the war so my grandmother was left alone.
For a while I’ve been thinking about asking my mother to take this photo off the mantle so I don’t need to think about that horrible incident every time I walk through the living room. But perhaps it’s good that it’s there. It’s certainly a catalyst for my desire to have a deeper understanding of the problem of suffering.
I realized after writing my last post about this issue that what probably bothers me most about the photo is that it’s a physical reminder that I cannot reconcile such an occurrence with my (currently very immature) spiritual beliefs. And little Timmy’s physical resemblance to my own son makes it really hit home how woefully unprepared I would be to handle such a situation. I don’t know what would happen with my spiritual quest if something like that were to happen to my family right now…but…it probably wouldn’t be good. My grandmother, a Catholic convert when she married, remained a devout Catholic through the rest of her life, so she must have had some sort of insight into the issue. I wish she were still around so I could ask her.
I don’t mean to burden you readers with such a sad story. I share it only because it’s my litmus test for the problem of pain, the example I turn to to test every school of thought on the subject, so any further discussion of my views on the subject would be incomplete without sharing it. Whenever I hear possible explanations for what is and isn’t God’s will, how our suffering fits into his plan, etc. I always turn to this situation and ask if this-or-that theory makes it make sense.
So tonight I plan to print out and re-read Jennifer’s posts, Ersza’s posts and Steve’s comments on the subject and then move on to hear what Lewis has to say. I know that this is probably one of those things that humans can never completely grasp, but I would like to feel like I have a little bit more spiritual depth on the subject, perhaps to one day even be able to walk through the living room and see those smiling faces in the little gold frame and feel like it all ended up OK.
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