I’ve always kind of prided myself on not having major “theodicy issues.” (Theodicy = the theology of how bad things can happen if God is all-good and all-powerful.) My faith has never been rattled by news of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or life-threatening illnesses. Bad things just happen, I believe, because that’s the way the world works. It doesn’t mean that God made those things happen or that the people affected by such tragedies deserve them in any way. Bad things happen, in some cases, because of sinful actions (terrorism, murder, rape, etc.) and in the case of natural disasters, because of complex weather and geological systems. That reality has never threatened my image of God or my confidence in God’s power or goodness.
Admittedly, I have never been too closely affected by tragedy. I have never lost my home to a tornado or fire, I have never suffered a major illness or injury, and most of the relatives I’ve lost have been elderly. Still, I would like to think that if such a tragedy were to befall me or my immediate family, my faith would be strong enough to sustain it. I would like to think I would sense God mourning with me and see the power of godly love in family and friends who would be there to support us.
I’ve mentioned before the extreme fear I feel of something happening to Kate. That fear (in itself something I am wrestling with, pondering especially the phrase “perfect love casts out fear,” from I John) has caused me to reflect more deeply on my theodicy, particularly as it pertains to prayer. I pray countless times a day for Kate’s health and safety, and at the same time worry that if, God forbid, something were to happen to my precious child, the many prayers I have prayed would themselves challenge my faith.
By voicing the deep desires and fears of my heart, I put God in charge of the outcome. And I wonder, am I prepared for the theological consequences of that risk? I have never prayed for anything so fervently and I have never prayed such a specific prayer. Certainly, I pray for people facing disease and disaster. I pray for starving people in Africa and for people endangered by war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I have never prayed for a specific Tanzanian child not to die and then he did. I have never prayed for the safety of a specific Afghan family only to hear they became “collateral damage.” I never prayed specifically for a hurricane not to destroy my aunt and uncle’s house—therefore, when it did, I could have doubted God’s goodness or power, but I could not accuse God of specifically ignoring my prayer.
Therefore, prayer carries great risk and I have begun to wonder about the purpose of prayer and its implications for God’s goodness or power. If I pray for Kate’s safety and Kate remains safe, I thank God. But if I pray for Kate’s safety and something happens to her, my long-held theodicy says God is not to blame. That paradox implies that good things are from God and bad things are not. Okay, fine, but that idea is complicated by the fact that a bad thing (e.g. car accident) not happening is a good thing, and a good thing (e.g. healing) not happening is a bad thing. Credit and blame are not so easily ascribed.
This issue has troubled me for almost a year now. As a person of faith, I feel like I'm not supposed to admit this, but over the past year, I have dealt with what I describe as an "almost debilitating" fear of something happening to Kate--no, of Kate dying--I shy away from those words like they're a jinx, but that is such an ever-present fear of mine. I feel like it shouldn't be, and I look at women who have lost or almost lost babies and wonder how they claim to trust "whatever God chooses" for their child. I don't know how they do it, living day to day with the reality of a life-threatening condition.
Maybe I do lack faith, but I do worry that my child will die. Literally every time I walk into her nursery in the night, I worry she's not breathing. Every time she has a fever (as she has off and on for six days straight now) I worry she has an illness that will kill her. I know how lucky we are--that she is a healthy child overall, that we live in a part of the world where malaria and contaminated water are not constant health threats--but I still worry. While some people of faith avoid using the word "lucky," and prefer the word "blessed," I have trouble saying that we are "blessed" to have a healthy child or to live where we do. Blessing implies that God chose good things for us while not choosing such good things for others.
I still pray for Kate. I can't not pray for her. I love God and sincerely believe he is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful--and so I naturally speak to him and cry out the deepest desires of my heart. But I love Kate too, and this motherly love has opened a new dimension--a new, deeply-penetrating question in my faith that I do not understand, and hope never to have to face.
What do you think? How does prayer affect your understanding of God?