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When Bad Things Happen

We’re house sitting for friends in North Vancouver so the mornings have been long and lazy, full of novels and coffee and games with the kids and sunshine on the patio overlooking Indian Arm, and more coffee… It’s been wonderful.

Yesterday, my morning reverie was interrupted by a few soft knocks on the door. At first I didn’t even hear them, so faint was the sound they made, but they were persistent. Eventually I clued in that those faint sounds at the door meant that, you know, someone was there and that this someone who was there probably wanted me to come to the door to see what they wanted.

I opened the door and saw two faces beaming back at me, a thirty something year old woman and a young girl, perhaps eight or nine. I quickly glanced at the bibles and other resources in their hands and inwardly sighed, bracing myself for the sales pitch.

“Good morning sir, I don’t want to disturb you for long, but I just have one question for you: “When bad things happen, do you have a hope that can sustain you?” I looked blankly at her for a minute. Doesn’t she know I’m on holidays?! Doesn’t she know that I don’t want to think about bad things here? Doesn’t she know about the sun-drenched patios and second pots of coffee and juicy mindless novels and afternoons frolicking in the ocean? Doesn’t she know that I’m in no mood to think about hope for when bad things happen?! Sheesh.

Instead of rehearsing this inner monologue, I simply smile and say, “Yes, I do have such a hope. We are all committed Christians in this house.” I’m hoping that she will interpret these words as I intend them, which is to say, “I’m not really interested in further conversation here, and you’re free to move on now.” But she’s still smiling, still talking, unsheathing a bunch of resources that she will no doubt soon cheerfully be dispensing to me.  And the little girl still stands, silently, behind her.

She’s reading to me from the Bible now, somewhere in the book of Romans. Her face is very kind and sincere, and I really want to pay attention to the words she’s speaking. But I can’t stop looking at the little girl standing shyly behind her. She looks sad, somehow, or bored or something. I wonder what she is thinking. I wonder about why people would drag small children around strange neighbourhoods to talk to strange people about hope for when bad things happen. I wonder about what that does to a kid. I wonder if perhaps I’m the crazy one for thinking this is as crazy as it is.

The woman closes her bible and looks at me expectantly. “Isn’t that a great verse?” she asks, wide eyes imploring me to agree with her. “Yes, it is.” I say, barely having heard a word. “Thank you.” She smiles, broadly. “Would it be ok if I left some reading material for you?” “Yes, that would be fine,” I say. Her smile widens as a few copies of The Watchtower and Awake! make their way into my hands. “Have a wonderful day,” she beams, as she turns to leave. I thank her again, looking past her to the little girl. She’s not smiling. She doesn’t look eager or expectant or anything really. I try to catch her gaze, but she just looks past me, then turns to follow the woman out into the street.

I take a quick glance at the headlines before throwing the magazines in the recycling. “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” “When Tragedy Strikes, How Can You Cope?” I look out at the sun-drenched morning and think of the news from the morning paper. I think of the killing and chaos in Gaza, of murdered fathers of Nigerian schoolgirls, of passenger airlines being blown out of the sky over Ukraine, of the countless other ways that the world daily convulses under the weight and pressure of so many bad things.

The absurdity of it all strikes me again.  For everything there is a season, the Teacher famously said. Yes, but the seasons seem so unevenly distributed.  A season for children dying because of grinding, intractable centuries-long conflict and a season for leisurely vacations.  A season for the abduction and abuse of schoolgirls and a season for sun and sand.  A season for blood and bombs and guns and a season for sitting on patios in North Vancouver and write about holiday interruptions by people who want to talk about hope.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Rich #

    It is hard to deal with the blend of death and life, sorrow and joy, peace and war etc. in each day. Is it o.k. that I really like life? As I gathered for a bbq with my kids and their loved ones this past weekend I prayed, “Lord thank-you for really smiling on us excessively this specific season.” Do I understand what God’s smile on me means if I at times define it to mean ease and plenty? I sure am thankful for a good cup of coffee and a book on the deck as the morning sun warms the day.

    July 23, 2014
    • Yes, the gratitude and the guilt all mingle together, don’t they Rich? I guess the important thing is to not allow one to overwhelm the other—to not become complacent in our “blessings” to the point where we refuse to engage hard realities all around as as well as to not allow the evil and the suffering of the world to paralyze us to the point where we refuse to simply enjoy the good things that God has given.

      July 24, 2014
    • mike #

      “Do I understand what God’s smile on me means if I at times define it to mean ease and plenty?” …a Great meditation, Rich

      July 25, 2014
  2. mike #

    ” Is it o.k. that I really like life?”

    I’ve never succeeded in putting this fundamental question to rest. The notion that It’s OK to enjoy and value this Life goes squarely against the fundamentalist Pentecostal indoctrination that I received and accepted at a most vulnerable time in my life. It still to this day influences my interpretative understanding of God, scripture and life itself.
    Maybe this written acknowledgement, at this precise moment in time, is itself is the beginning of a personal break-through to a better and higher Consciousness for me. ..We shall see.

    July 25, 2014
    • I hope so, Mike. I recognize traces of this in my own life. So many of us carry around the idea that pleasure and delight are to be treated with suspicion—as if God would prefer that we were all grim-faced, dutiful servants rather than people filled with joy and peace.

      July 26, 2014
  3. Amber #

    Rich, thank you for asking the question “Is it o.k. that I really like life?” That put into words something that I’ve felt for a long time. I feel guilty sometimes when I’m really enjoying something because, after all, “this life isn’t what matters, eternity is what’s most important.” How do we balance enjoying the world that God made, and the laughter and love we have, while also focusing on eternity?

    July 27, 2014
  4. Larry S #

    Amber asks “How do we balance enjoying the world that God made, and the laughter and love we have, while also focusing on eternity?”

    I suppose we need to ask Amber and Rich to define what they mean by “eternity.”

    Perhaps “eternity” is enjoying a banquet – fine wine and feasting with the King and his family in the renewed earth/cosmos where evil’s stain has been removed. In the meantime, let’s enjoy those moments of tranquility and joy when we get them on this side of “eternity.” And also do what we can to push back against the very real Evil/evil that exists in our world. Each of us doing our part, in our own way, to push into the New Creation we sometimes struggle to believe in and to live within.

    July 29, 2014
    • Very well said, Larry. Thank you.

      July 30, 2014
  5. To despair over or be indifferent to life’s evils should be an anathema to the Christian follower. If we are physically present to evil we should undertake a Godly response; bring some good to the situation. Any act of goodness contributes to the good, look to maximize your contribution. If we cannot be present we must come together in communal prayer to plead for God’s intercession. We cannot allow our emotional responses to paralyze us into inaction. We have to be strong. If those who would claim to be God’s people do not strive to live and effect the Gospel’s central message of, “Love thy neighbor”, then who will?

    Love God. Love God, in word and action. Appreciate with total commitment His being, His creation and the blessings he has bestowed upon you. Base your responses to God on this understanding.

    Love yourself. Love yourself in word and action. Enjoy to the fullest the blessings that you have been given. Be humble and thankful and yet be proud of your commitment and contribution to the good that surrounds you. You have been part of what it took to make the joyful outcomes that you share in. Know that about yourself and love yourself for it. Base your choices for yourself on this understanding.

    Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor, in word and action. In the mystery that is God’s will, God wants all to be blessed but not simply by the direct effect of His will. Rather he has chosen to bless some, with the intention that those blessed will draw from this resource so as to effect blessing for those who suffer. Your blessing is not just for you. It is crucial that you share it with those in need. Much of what God wills for this world can only be effected when the blessed share their blessing. Base your response to your neighbor on this understanding.

    August 2, 2014
    • Thank you for this, Paul. Very well said.

      August 3, 2014

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  1. “Is it Okay If I Really Like Life?” | Rumblings

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