An Excerpt from Chapter 9
I sit with people fairly often who are trying to figure God out. It’s funny—no one needs to figure God out on their wedding day or when they get a promotion. When things are going well we can all agree God is doing a splendid job running the universe. But when pain hits hard enough nearly everyone I know begins to ask questions about God.
They are the same questions I asked when my little brother died on the side of a country road. I would guess the questions have not changed much through the centuries.
The questions that arise from a soul on fire are simple ones. Pain tends to distill thinking into simple equations. Pleasure is good and pain is bad. Life is good and death is bad. Health is good and sickness is bad. I was going to say the list could go on but it really doesn’t have to. That pretty much covers it. It is what I call the simple math of life. If you want to know if you are a simple mathematician when it comes to life you just need to listen to the prayers you pray to God. We ask God to give safe travels, to bless the food, to give us a good day, to heal the people we know and care about. When God decides to do something else I wonder if He heard my earnest prayers or worse yet forgot the simple math of life. Did God forget that pleasure is good and pain bad and that is why I had such a horrendous day or year or decade? How hard are those equations to remember? Is God a moron or maybe standing impotently behind the curtain like the Wizard of Oz?
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A little girl was born without a right hand. Her parents went through all the questions. Who wouldn’t? How hard is the equation there? She went through grade school with a prosthetic hook. You can imagine the pain she endured from classmates when Peter Pan became the hit movie of the year. I met her when I was a sophomore in college. She was stunning and there was a depth in her I did not see in other girls. I married her. Karen has a rare combination of compassion and strength that only comes from suffering. She is like steel wrapped in velvet. I have told her many times that I didn’t marry her in spite of her arm, I married her because of her arm. I am not sure she believes me.
It is always easier to see how character is formed in others than it is in yourself. Karen still believes she would be the same person inside if she had been born with two hands and hadn’t gone through the fire that only she knows. She is wrong. She would not be the same.
The Math of God is much more complex than our simple math. In our math things like health and life and pleasure are the end of the equation. They are the sum, the goal. For God those things are simply variables. Health is a variable but then so is sickness. Pleasure is a variable but so is pain.
I am not so naïve to think that pain always has a positive impact on character. Pain is a storm and I have seen people twisted, broken, and made bitter by the sheer force. When I sit in my office with someone who questions God they are always questioning one of two parts of God. They question His heart or His head. “Either God does not love me enough to do good things in my life or God doesn’t really know what I need and it seems pretty damn simple from where I am standing.”
Pain tempts me to question the heart or the head of God. I only need to take a look in either a telescope or a microscope to be reminded of His head. I only need to take a look at the cross to be reminded of His heart. God, forgive me for my simple math.