Saturday, September 27, 2014

Where Was God That Night?

I have friends all across the religious spectrum, from true-blue believers, to die-hard atheists. And their facebook posts reflect their biases on a regular basis.

I apologize, but I'm taking issue with the believers today. Because their facebook posts are the ones hitting me the wrong way lately. They have a tendency to attribute to their God all the happenings in their lives, big and small, thanking him for stepping up and taking care of business. 'Cause that's what he does, takes care of their business. And whether he fixes their current woes to their liking, or sends further trials their way, he still gets their reverent thanks. Lucky guy, can't do anything wrong.

A couple of months ago, a friend posted her gratitude that God had helped her find a precious piece of jewelry, a diamond earring that she had misplaced about a month previously. She was pretty sure she had dropped it on the bedroom floor, but after much fruitless searching, the earring remained lost. Fortunately, and miraculously, it would seem, the earring turned up a few weeks later, smashed into the carpet near where it had been dropped. It was saved, by what seemed to be divine intervention, from being hoovered into oblivion. She very effusively thanked God for preserving her earring until such a time as it became visible to her, deep down in the pile of the carpet. And there was an accompanying picture. A beautiful earring, to be sure, and I can imagine the joy she felt upon realizing that its twin would not be relegated to a permanent, lonely spot in the jewelry box, bereft of its mate for all eternity.

It may appear that I am mocking her joy, and I suppose I am. But not gleefully. It makes me sad that she worships a being who would so graciously find for her a lost piece of jewelry, precious as it may be, and refuse to answer the many prayers uttered in behalf of lost humans. Whom he claims are precious in his sight.

The most egregious example that comes to my mind occurred the same week my friend made her joyful post.

A family in Texas was brutally gunned down, in their own home, by the unhappy, vengeful, ex-husband of a relative. From what I read in the news, the five children were home alone when this man came to their door. He kicked the door in, proceeded to tie the children up, aged 15 and under, and then waited until their parents arrived home. He then tied them up as well, and forced them all to lie face down on the floor of their home, where he shot them, execution style, in the back of the head. Each one, shot, in the back of the head. And all but the oldest child, a 15-year-old girl, were killed.

This was a Mormon family, a faithful church-going family, headed by a priesthood holding man. The parents, by all reports, had been attempting to raise their family in righteousness, which I would assume included regular family prayer and scripture study, and regular Family Home Evenings, as recommended by the church, as well as regular attendance at church meetings. They seemed to be a pretty typical Mormon family, and, as I listened to news reports of this horrific crime, I couldn't help but imagine what went on in that family room that night.

I can envision those parents, in their positions face down on the floor, praying and pleading with their God for divine intervention. These would have been prayers unlike any other uttered in their faithful lives, as they were helpless against what seemed to be, and indeed turned out to be, pure evil standing over them, wielding a gun, threatening the lives of their precious little ones. These were children they had been raising to worship a supreme, heavenly being, one capable of stepping in and protecting them, as he had protected the children of Israel. As he had protected the righteous family of Noah. As he had protected and preserved the lives of modern day pioneers as they crossed the plains in pursuit of religious freedom. They had been taught, as was I, that this God was capable of wrapping his arms around them and shielding them from evil, if they lived up to the covenants they had made. And they were looking for him to come through on this promise. Here, in their moment of greatest need, they pleaded, pleaded, with God to please, please, please, stop this evil in its tracks. Please save their children. Please make the gun misfire. Please bring the police to their door. Please change the mind of their executioner. Please, God, do not let this happen. Please.

As a mother myself, I wept when I read this story, and I imagined myself in that position, lying helpless next to my husband and children, listening as the gun went off, then again, and again. Seven times. Defenseless against the evil being perpetrated against my loved ones. And begging my God to intervene. Pleading with him, bargaining with him, promising him anything if he would save my family. Anything. Please, please don't let this happen.

And then, nothing. No more cries, no more pleading. No more praying. Because no one intervened. No one stopped the evil. No one stepped up and stayed the hand of the gunman. He was allowed to accomplish his horrendous deed that night, and succeeded in killing all but one member of that family.

I have struggled to make sense of this, with my limited understanding of what it means to be a god. To be an omnipotent, supreme, being, with the powers of the universe at my command, and to decide not to step in and prevent the massacre of a family. A beautiful mother and father, and the five children they were lovingly guiding through this mortal probation. To allow them to die at the hands of a crazed, deeply disturbed, former family member.

And that same week to guide another of my children to find her precious earring hidden in the deep pile of her bedroom carpet.

I have spent a lot of time in the months since then contemplating this scenario, and I have attempted to discuss it with believers, those who look to God for intervention in their own lives. How can they justify the lack of intervention under such dire circumstances, but give God credit for what is ultimately worthless in the grand scheme of things? Given a choice, I'm betting the finder of the lost earring would have given it up forever in exchange for the precious lives of this family. If only God were the bargaining type.

The answers I have received range from "God's ways are not our ways", to "You're putting limits on what God can do". I have been told I need to have greater faith and know that all things will make sense in time. I have been admonished not to question God, the maker of us all, and the ultimate judge of us all.

And I have to wonder, in all of this, who will be God's judge? Who does he answer to?

If there is any justice in this universe, he will answer to that mother. He will look in her eyes, and see her anguish, and sorrow, and pain, and he will have to tell her why he did not answer her prayer. Why he allowed her family to be taken in this brutal manner. Why he allowed them to die when he had, has, the power to save them. What greater purpose can there be in the murder of an entire family? What kind of a monster stays neutral when so much is at stake?

Where was God that night?

Religion provides no satisfactory answer, for me. I understand that others find comfort in prayer, in the hope that the reasons will be clear in the eternities, and I have no wish to take that away from them. If believing in God helps them cope with tragedies such as this, great.

But it doesn't help me. It just makes me sad. And angry.

And determined to make every day count, and to love those close to me while I have them, because life can change in an instant. And when it does, God may not be there to intervene. He has earrings to find.