Dear Mystery Steward,
How do people hold onto their faith in the face of unspeakable tragedy? When I think of the children in Aleppo, or when I hear of children senselessly murdered, I wonder how one continues to believe in God.
Ahh … THE question of Faith. Why DO bad things happen to good people? How DOES one continue to believe in a God of love in the face of evil, especially if it afflicts those we love including children the world over.
The short answer is: I don’t know how people hold onto faith in these situations.
A longer answer: I do know that many, many have been able to do so. I wonder if what we witness in these situations is related to these verses from Ephesians 2:8-9.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
By that I mean, perhaps holding onto faith is a gift in itself. When I try to imagine what that looks like – what that feels like, I imagine faith as a living, breathing thing, that holds us. Specifically, I imagine God’s hands, bigger than this world, holding us, and perhaps they shake slightly, for God’s own heart is also broken when any of God’s children suffer. And so, within those mighty and gentle and yes, shaking, hands, we cannot help but hold on – to a finger perhaps. It is a mutual holding.
I say this not to offer some imaginary vision designed just to quiet your restless heart, but as a vision borne of things I’ve witnessed myself.
A woman at the graveside of her beloved son, who is one minute paralyzed by grief and the next, reaching to comfort her own mother who stands nearby. A couple who lost two children, within a year of one another, in tragic accidents, who continue to hold hands and walk slowly into church, even though they cry in every single service. Yet on the way out, tell how the Gospel lifted their souls and how they are encouraged and given strength for a time. A father who cries out to God on his knees in the middle of the hall in the NICU at Children’s hospital. Enraged, engulfed in pain at his loss, who gradually gathers strength to stand as his mother, in her wheelchair, rests her hands on his head and recites Psalm 23 by heart.
And then there are those I’ve read about: prisoners in concentration camps who could barely move, and yet were moved to pray; some moved to share their meager bread; many to bless it and thank God for it before consuming it dry.
So, to answer this big question is both beyond my ability and also beyond my ability to deny: faith it seems is a gift from God that is given to many, often in their darkest hour. And it is not something we necessarily hold onto; rather it seems to be something that holds onto us.
See the Mystery Steward page on this blog for other columns. And send your questions about mysteries of faith to firstname.lastname@example.org