Yogi Bhajan used the phrase “good God, bad God” to describe the God that we have a really hard time accepting. He said we love to talk about good God, the God who pours out abundance and health and happiness and all the blessings, but we refuse to acknowledge bad God. Bad God is the God who hurts us and takes things away, who leaves us alone to suffer terrible things. We pretend that this side of God doesn’t exist because it doesn’t make sense to us, and we do it in lots of ways.
As far as I can remember, I have always been taught that hard things come into our lives for basically one of two reasons: either I or someone else made a crap choice that led to the bad consequence, or else it was just the result of living in a fallen world, and God can’t intervene all the time or we wouldn’t learn anything. I think both of those statements are completely true, but I think there’s at least a third reason, and that is this very unpopular one: I think God intentionally hurls curveballs at us more often than we want to believe.
The idea that God can’t intervene in certain instances of suffering doesn’t really make sense to me. This is God we’re talking about, after all, and there are starkly obvious interventions that go on all the time in sufferings large and small. We talk about God as a loving parent, just as we strive to be, who would never cause intentional pain to a child, although there are times when the pain of skinned knees and broken bones and sicknesses must come upon them, and learning occurs despite how much these incidences pain us, so we watch, always there but perhaps removed.
But what about last week when I took both of my children to the appointment I scheduled in advance for the express purpose of vaccinating them? I hated holding their arms and legs together while they were stabbed four times each, sobbing and screaming that the nurses were hurting them and begging me to make it stop. I hated it so much. And I understood both that they were going to be sore for days and would probably develop angry welts that itched and burned as well as the fact that there was a slight risk of much more serious damage occurring. But I did that to them, even if I wasn’t holding the needles. I gave them terrible pain (seriously, those MMRs are beasts!) because, even with the risks involved, I believe that pain is a protection against worse things. I gave them that pain because I love them with dragon mama love. They didn’t do anything to “deserve” a shot, and I didn’t just let it happen because there’s a schedule and whatevs--I’m actually fairly intentional about how and why I vaccinate, which is why my 2-year-old is still getting shots--but instead I went to some lengths to make sure that very unpleasant scenario unfolded just as it did.
Parenting is not a perfect metaphor for God’s relationship to us, in my opinion, because we as human parents are super screwed up in plenty of ways that make us bad parents sometimes even when we think we’re rocking it, but I think it often works better than most. God sees the bigger picture, always. We basically never do. So when stuff we hate shows up in our lives, we usually automatically say it’s bad and either get mad at God for not preventing it or beg him to take it away. A person who strives to be faithful doesn’t usually think that God specifically sent that particular evil his way, though, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s all that terrible to consider.
In my experience, we go through seasons of pain. There is currently a lot of pain raining down on various people close to our family, so this concept has been on my mind a lot lately. I feel very unqualified to be asserting my opinions about the nature of suffering in mortality because, barring a few incidents, the vast majority of my personal suffering has been internal--generally plagues of the mind. Virtually never has something happened to me or to someone dear to me that creates lasting harm and loss. So I recognize that for those who are familiar with atrocious external pain factors, my opinions are probably little more than noise, and that’s okay. I hope I can be decently sensitive.
What I keep coming back to, however, is that Christ didn’t have to perform the Atonement, supposedly. But I’m 99% sure God didn’t just let that one happen. From what I can gather, every piece of Christ’s life was a preparation for the event that had been planned from the beginning, and he was sent into mortality for the purpose of passing through and triumphing over this unimaginable and miraculous horror. He agreed to it beforehand, and he had to agree to it again and again even as he experienced it. And in the end, he finished the task completely and utterly alone. Matthew 27:46 breaks my heart: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” God surprised even Jesus with a cruelty he had not imagined. He did it on purpose, and because he did it, Christ was able to triumph over death, ascend to his Father’s throne, and save all of humanity from our wretchedness in the process.
We are not better than Jesus. But God doesn’t love us any less than he loves his Only Begotten Son, so I do believe he sends us pain sometimes. If this life is truly a blip in eternity, even the most vile atrocities cannot be more horrible than the glories we can attain are wonderful. The temporary can never overshadow the eternal. What shocks our sensibilities as unfair and cruel might very well turn out to be the opposite when we’re able to see clearly. Pain might not be the enemy we make it out to be, and we might go through plenty of pain for no other reason than it helps someone else--and that might be okay, in the end. Maybe that's exactly what we signed up for. We came here to learn to let go of everything that stands in the way of our divinity. I wonder now if there really is anything that is not worth the price of reaching God.
I’m grateful for Jesus. I’m grateful he took my pain, and I’m grateful for the ways he’s teaching me that one of the ways that happened was through his example of how to pass through it. I’m grateful for his teaching by example that pain is impermanent and potentially transformative and always worth it. And I’m grateful that even when I refuse to grow because life is still too big and confusing, he still bears me up and suffers with me just so I’m not alone, even if I’m in a place where I can’t feel him there. Oh, to be patient and merciful like that. It always comes back to Love.
Hallelujah and Happy Easter and Sat Nam!
Exploring the spiritual side of things. Brevity is not my forte.