Happy endings? People like to say they only happen in the movies. Yet, despite the universal acceptance of the logic, most us spend our years wondering why we’ve had such a stake in human misery.
It seems the answer to prayer is the exception. Sure, there are the miracle stories. But the majority of us are legitimate examples of Murphy’s law who wander from one misfortune to another. You know, if something can go wrong it will.
Why doesn’t God listen more to our cries for help? When human solutions to problems fail, it’s natural to turn to him for relief. That’s what the leper in Mark’s Gospel did. “If you will do so,” he said, “you can cure me.” And happily, he did.
With what is one of the more consoling lines in Scripture, the evangelist states that Jesus was “moved with pity” and agreed to the healing. “I do will it; be cured.”
But the reality remains. The pattern more often is disease is not healed, financial pressure is not relieved, and the broken relationship is not restored. What then do we do when, to put it bluntly, we realize God has disappointed us?
Some people resort to pure emotionalism. Angry at fate, they react with bitterness and focus on the negative. Eventually, belief in God is sacrificed for the unappeased wrath. Typical of the feeling is the conversation of a young man and woman as portrayed by an English novelist at the turn of the century:
“You know there can’t be a God, Vanessa. In your heart, you must know it. You are a wise woman. You read and think. Well then, ask yourself: How can there be a God and life be like it is? If there is one, he ought to be ashamed of himself. That’s all I can say.”
In many respects, the frankness of the dialogue shocks us. Yet there is a vague familiarity that each of us has wondered about. Rapidly dismissed as blasphemous, the concepts clearly register emotions that every faithful individual has felt at one time or another.
What we forget is Jesus’ own anguished cry from the cross on that first Good Friday. Distraught and overcome by his own rejection and utter loneliness, he literally shouted at heaven as he experienced abandonment by his Father. “My God, my God, why ...?”
At that point, Jesus himself was disappointed in God. And if misery does like company, our feelings of discouragement and doubt should be eased considerably with the awareness.
Practically, to blame God for our misfortunes, to rid him from our minds because of life’s unfairness does little to solve the mysteries of evil and suffering. If we believe in God, we are forever confronted with the meaning of these realities. If we do not believe, we are faced with the other mysteries of goodness, truth and beauty.
Every path we travel is mysterious. To think that the Christian faith was intended to explain away the unintelligible is naive. The faith is simply a means to live our days more realistically and purposefully in spite of the personal tragedies.
A large part of the problem of bitter feelings and profound disappointments lies with self preoccupation. As long as I am the center of the universe, to that degree self pity intensifies.
Jesus knew suffering and the agony of Calvary. He was emptied by disappointment. But in the garden the night before he died, he reversed the temptation to be the center of everything. Three times he prayed, “Not my will, but yours.”
As Lent begins anew, we have an opportunity to realize again that the primary purpose of divinity in this world was not to make our lives easier and more comfortable. If this is a fundamental attitude, disappointments are bound to sting. If, on the other hand, we recognize a higher purpose and give ourselves to it, the faith that results will guide us through any tragedy that life may bring. Have a happy Lent.
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