They saved the best news for last.
As I was about to leave the emergency room cubicle where Frank lay with two broken legs, a serious hemmorhage and a cancer diagnosis, his wife Holly described the doctor who had been in to see them before I showed up at the local hospital.
"He didn't look at all like I imagined him," said Holly, describing a small, elderly gentleman -- who just happened to be Frank's oncologist. "Frank, we're going to cure you," Dr. Greenberg told the couple, according to Holly.
This was good news. No, this was fabulous news.
In the small country parish where I am the priest-in-charge, Frank is universally loved, a genuinely kind man with a matter-of-fact manner and a quick wit.
Quickly I worked out the implications in my mind.
"Breaking both of your legs was a bit of a blessing, wasn't it?" I asked him. If Frank hadn't fractured both femurs in a freak fall in a local tree-farm field, they might not have found the cancer until it had spread from one bone to many.
Both Frank and Holly heartily agreed.
I left feeling greatly pleased -- and that the hospital room had been touched by the Holy Spirit.
But in the days that have followed, I have had time to reflect on that vignette, and to wonder.
Yes, it was a "blessing" that this wonderful man broke his femur -- but, as much as I'd like it to be, was it a heaven-sent blessing?
I've never made absolute peace with the idea of a Providential God. That's not to say that I reject the theological foundations of such an idea -- a good God who watches over creation.
I'm not very good with parishioners who say "that must be the will of God."
You see, it doesn't make any sense to me that such a God would take special care of Frank, and not of Africans facing an AIDS epidemic or...Japanese swept away in a tsunami.
How can one American be particularly touched by God's grace -- and an equally devout (or secular) Japanese family be taken up by a huge wave and tossed like rubbish in the wreck of their home?
Personally, it seems to defy logic, common-sense, and my understanding of who God is -- the God who met me, and meets me, in the person of Christ.
Already I can envision responses from non-believing readers, amazed at my naievete at engaging the question at all.
Kudos to them for having the courage to live in a world without direction, enlightened solely by human aims.
But for those of us who choose to believe in the higher purposes of a God who incarnates love because we have experienced that power in our lives, the theodicy dilemma (why bad things happen to good people) can pose an uncomfortable challenge to those who want to affirm that God acts in the lives of individuals.
While God gave us intelligence so that we might use it for good, there are some elements of human life that do remain a mystery. Many tragedies can be explained, though not excused, by human hardness of heart ( for example, the tsunami may have been worsened by our inability to deal with climate change) -- but not all, by any means.
I can't say that I am reconciled to the mystery -- it is part of my ongoing, and often vigorous, argument with God. It was part of Job's, too.
God didn't have an answer for Job. And God hasn't let me in on the answer, either -- surprise, surprise.
So I am haunted -- both by the healing promised to Frank, and by the cruelty of a tragedy I can only think of as unintentional.
I am God-haunted.
I cannot walk away.
But neither can I stop asking,
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