“Even our savior on the cross believed that the Lord had forsaken Him.”
“You don’t want to try that with me. It was all over for Jesus in three days.”
— Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow
I often wonder why nobody has politely suggested to Him that He let somebody else plan the damn parties from now on, because when He does, we always run out of beer early and somebody winds up having to drag a goat out of the swimming pool:
Abed, the truck driver, said that God, not he, had caused the crash (adding that he had lived an unholy life before the crash, partying in Tel Aviv and Haifa). He did not note that he had ignored large yellow signs instructing him to shift his truck into a low gear (evidenced by police photographs of his brake pads). And he did not note that he had already been guilty, at age 25, of 26 driving violations.
But I noted these things. And what for so many years had seemed to point to the arbitrariness of life was soon evidence of the opposite — my broken neck the almost inevitable consequence not of a divine plan, but of a reckless driver, a truck loaded with four tons of tiles, a backseat with no headrest, and a dangerous road. And it was out of this recognition that the narrative of a slim book grew, careful always to make sense, to reflect, to contextualize — the obvious efforts of a once passive victim to exert agency over an ungovernable act.
That agency is important for the writer. It is what enables him or her to wring meaning from facts and observations, and then be free of them. And because agency informs the narrative, it is important for the reader too. Millennia after Job suffered, my Chasidic crash-mates put him forth to me as an example of faith in the face of sorrow. But he had ached to write his own narrative too.
Can I be blunt? People who say “it’s God’s plan” to you after something shitty happens are assholes. They just are. Assholes who just want you to stop being so damn SAD. Assholes who don’t know what to say and so instead of saying nothing say the thing they’ve heard a thousand times that everybody says that means nothing and helps not a whit.
God may, indeed, have a plan. You may, indeed, come to believe that, in your searching to make sense of the lousy way your life has twisted this week.But nobody else gets to make that decision for you. Nobody else gets to suggest how you think, or how you grieve, or how you believe or don’t believe. Trust in God? What is that, an order? Is this my inherent rebellion against authority, that I hear somebody tell me to trust in God and want to say NO just to piss them off?
It’s not as if I’m unfamiliar with the benefits of the concept. One of the great solaces of my life during a really, really crappy time of it was looking upward and saying, “KNOCK IT THE FUCK OFF, YOU JACKASS, GO FUCK WITH SOMEBODY ELSE FOR A WHILE.” The best part of belief, for me then, was having somebody to argue with, kick, and blame. I know people who’ve been made immensely happy and peaceful by the idea that somewhere in their suffering is a deeper meaning. I have no quarrel with them.
For me the key is the same as the author’s above: The agency of the thing. I don’t like the idea that we’re not in charge of our own lives. I don’t like being absolved of responsibility. I don’t want to kick back and let God handle things. I guess I am a spiritual control freak. Besides, the couple of times I have let Jesus take the wheel, He’s wrapped the Porsche around a tree and staggered off into the woods singing Danny Boy, leaving me to wait for the cops.
I know, okay, that we’re trying to make sense of things. And I know that most of our stories, most of our poetry that we call scriptures, is the way that people made sense of the world and still make sense of things they can’t understand. What frustrates me is the unwillingness to let things NOT make sense. Things don’t make sense. Why do they have to? The universe is awful and random and life is short and it sucks a lot of the time. Why, why, why shove a God with a plan in there? To make it bearable? Does it make it bearable?
It doesn’t, for me. I despise easy answers. I loathe them. They make me want to hit things. I get so angry at the harmless people saying the harmless shit everybody says, the “thoughts and prayers,” the “God’s will,” the “trust that there’s a deeper meaning in some dead kids,” the comparisons to Job and Lazarus. Did either of them ask to play a part in this mess? Did anybody ever bother finding out if THEY thought it was all worth it?
Or is that just something we said to make ourselves feel better? And if so, how dare we make this all about us?