“You mean you’re comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle In Time.
Like many, I’ve been thinking about the tsunami that followed Thursday’s earthquake in Japan. The event calls to mind our agreement regarding what L’Engle–in comparing life to a sonnet–calls the “strict form” of life.
We live most days without thinking about the way we agree on the nature of this “strict form.” We know to avoid casual conversations about politics, religion and the specifics of how another parent should raise their child. We share a clear agreement to not discuss these things in public.
Many of us also lean towards the hopeful side of the form, believing that if we pray hard enough, hope hard enough, believe hard enough and work hard enough, only good things will happen in our lives. Less daringly, we urge each other to do these things so that circumstances will get better.
Watching the waters wash everything away is stunning and transcendent. Clearly there is nothing a single person can do “hard enough” to slow the waters inland push. We are pulled towards two forms of the same question: Why? and How could God let this happen?
Aside from a discussion concerning the science of plate tectonics, these are not questions that can be answered.
That doesn’t mean folks won’t try. Glenn Beck is already echoing Pat Robertson from a year ago. He is blaming the victims, assuring his listeners that there is a reason! I’m not sure if he’s thought of one yet, but I won’t be surprised if he does.
At America Magazine, James Martin, Why Do We Suffer? discusses perspectives on the question offered by the Jewish and Christian traditions. If you’re as flummoxed by the question as I am, the full piece is worth the read.
At the end of the story Martin notes that because a question cannot be answered, it doesn’t mean that you have to blindly accept the result:
“When we are suffering, our friends will want to help us make sense of our pain, and they will often offer answers . . . Some answers may work for us. Others may leave us cold or even be offensive. But, in the end, every believer must come to grapple with suffering for ourselves. And while our religious traditions also provide us with important resources, ultimately, we must find an approach that enables us to confront pain and loss honestly with God.”
Earthquakes, Tsunamis and all manner of natural disasters challenge faith. We have visceral reaction to hearing words that blame others for them. I think that shows we’re aware that it’s a mistake to do so. When we blame God for not stopping these events, I think we make a similar error.
We cannot answer the question of why suffering happens. It is part of the “strict form” of life. Perhaps the freedom within the strict form of our sonnets, isn’t found in the answer to why suffering happens. Instead, maybe it’s found in the way we respond to it.