How does one deal with a crushing loss, such a losing a child? The kind both Kate and Jaq (In “Sun Valley, Moon Mountains“), and Linda and I did in real life.
A lot depends on personal history and the predilections of one’s personality.
Of course the first question asked is, ‘Why?’ First you may point the finger at yourself. ‘What did I do cause this horrible thing to happen?’ or ‘What could I have done to avert this catastrophe?’
Usually, the answer doesn’t lie in taking blame. If the loss is directly your fault, it will probably be a long road to recovery. And I’m not a professional so we’re not going there.
In most cases the tragedy just ‘happened’. But how can that be? Is the universe that indifferent? Maybe, maybe not. But you grind through the question in search of meaning. Of course, God usually gets brought into play. If one is devout, both an answer and solace may be found by invoking ‘God’s will’ and reconciling to the fact that the mind and intentions of an omniscient being are beyond human understanding.
But this doesn’t work for everyone. You can be a believer in God’s omnipotence and then get pretty pissed at Him/Her as a result. The event can drive a believer away from the comfort of trusting in a benevolent and loving creator.
For Linda and me, we came from different histories. Linda is/was a Presbyterian and attended church regularly with her family until college. She even had a pin for participating in choir for 12 years! But she began to have doubts when, as a banker whose territory was Latin America, she saw poverty on a scale unimaginable in the US. ‘Why’, she asked, ‘would a benevolent God let this happen?’
I had a different history. Most of my family were socialist atheists who immigrated to the US early in the last century from Iraq, Poland and Wales (some mutt huh?). They had seen the seamy side of religion and rejected it. Curiously, my maternal grandma (Grannnie Jen in SVMM) was an old Connecticut Yankee and staunch Congregationalist. Oddly, I was closer to her than all of my other grandparents but, even though I attended church on and off from childhood through the time when our Katie was born, I never heard the ‘calling’.
But you know what? When this kind of mess happens, everyone questions God’s involvement. as the saying goes, ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’, and God is put on the spot when unthinkable tragedy occurs. WHY?
No matter our personal history or intricately constructed belief systems, we still question God’s role. Both Linda and I did. And we became comfortable with the idea that, as Lao Tse said: Nature does not play favorites. She regards her creations with out sentimentality.
And so we came to believe that the universe was not cold or impersonal by choice but rather fundamentally in its design. Like Kate and Jaq, we adopted a Stoic worldview. It fit with personalities that were fundamentally rational. This is not to say that is superior to those that are more emotional in nature. It’s just a fact, not a judgement.
When Bad Things Happen to Good People
But as to God and those who cannot let go of the notion of involvement by a supreme being, I would recommend a wonderful book: When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner.
I will summarize.
God is often thought of as omniscient, omnipotent and loving. Kushner’s conclusion was that he can be two of three but not all three at once. There is comfort, I think, in that idea.
What do you think?