Sunday, August 28, 2011

What God Wants (and Does it Matter?)

At my dad's wake, people told me my parents’ deaths were “God’s will,” “God’s plan,” or “what God wanted.”  Even when I was religious, I’d had trouble with that sentiment.  Was it really supposed to be a comfort to believe God wanted my mother to die by being hit by a drunk driver?  And wanted my dad to survive two operations and emerge from a week-long post-surgery coma, struggle to regain some function, and then die as well, uncomfortable, confused and in pain in a hospital bed? 

One friend explained how a tapestry looks like knots and zigzags from the back but is beautiful and perfect from the front.  This has never appealed to me – it can be used to justify humans doing awful things in the name of a mysterious greater purpose that only their version of god understands.  Then my friend asserted all the pain on earth passes quickly compared to an eternity in heaven, so it doesn’t matter what happens to us here.  That may or may not be so, but if I stab someone repeatedly I doubt that person would feel much better if I argued it I only did it for ten seconds.  I’m not sure why a god who does awful things should get more leeway.  Shouldn’t we hold our gods to a higher standard?  And, regardless of the theoretical arguments about why an all-powerful god would cause or allow terrible things to happen, none of the things people said made me feel any better.  Just the opposite, my whole being cried out against them. 

The greatest comfort I found during the months after the crash came in a dream.  My dad and I stood on the steps of the rambling house where my brothers and I grew up – steps my dad built out of scrap lumber when the original stairs wore through.  Though he stood with me and alive in the dream, the crash had still happened, and my dad knew all about it.  He said to me, “Sometimes these things happen.  We don’t know why.”  My dad was a very religious person, yet I believe he would have said exactly that to me.

Before I turned fourteen, I’d attended at least five funerals.  I belong to a large extended family with aunts, uncles and even cousins 40+ years older than me, so death was something I learned about early on.  Perhaps because of that and my Catholic upbringing, I am fascinated with themes of whether there is a god and, if so, what that god wants.  I don’t subscribe to the authors’ view, but I read several of the Left Behind books.  That apocalyptic series begins with people belonging to a certain Christian denomination being raptured away into heaven.  The books then follow those left here on earth during the end times, some of them being tortured by beings sent by God because they’ve refused to accept God’s teachings.  (That’s when I stopped reading the series; I found that world view too disturbing.)  My first novel, The Awakening, focuses on a young woman who is mysteriously pregnant.  Throughout it, protagonist Tara struggles to survive and searches for the purpose of her pregnancy.  She's surrounded by people who hold completely conflicting views about her experience, some of them bent on Tara's destruction, each certain he or she knows what God wants.

What does God want, if there is one?  Perhaps someday I’ll find out, perhaps not.  In the meantime, I’ve tried to stop asking why bad things happen and instead do things that might make the world a better place.  Things like supporting Make-A-Wish, which sponsors wishes for seriously ill children (and sent my 11-year-old niece and her parents on a trip to see the Minnesota Twins spring training the spring before my niece’s death from cancer).  Like volunteering with AAIM, a non-profit in Illinois that every day does its best to prevent further deaths from DUIs.  Like offering a hand to hold, or a listening ear, to others in times of trouble.  I don’t know if there is a god or if that god has a plan, but this is mine.

Author's Note:

In honor of my parents, all royalties in 2012 from my short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY KNOWN AS SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR will be donated to AAIM. 

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