For the last few weeks I’ve been training/working as a chaplain at a local pediatric hospital. The normal weekly routine is a day spent training, learning, debriefing, etc. with other chaplains and two days of clinical hours, visiting patients on our assigned floors. In addition to these regular hours, we also serve as “on call” chaplains during the night and weekends. There is a lot of heaviness in a hospital environment, particularly when working in an institution focused on treating children. There is often not a lot of hope. But there are always a lot of questions.
Recently, a family member looked at me with tear-filled eyes and asked the question that every patient and every family member asks. Not all verbalize it. Not everyone phrases it in the same way. Some ask it through their eyes, bloodshot and dazed. Some through their shaking hands, clutching desperately at those they love. Some patients ask without words, as they struggle for gasped breaths. But they all ask the same question.
How can God allow this? How can God be good?
A question that is, to put it mildly, philosophically problematic. When it’s asked in a moment or season of tragedy, it’s simply excruciating.
It is the question that has led me away from God as many times as it has led me toward God.
My gut reaction is to try and provide an answer. Anything that can make them say, “ahh, I understand now” or at the very least, “I can see why you believe that.” But it’s not that easy; there is no such answer that can satisfy this question. The absence of a satisfying answer creates a massive chasm. Between me and the family. Between all of us and God.
Moments like this tear away the walls that we build around ourselves in everyday life. We realize that no one among us is “okay.” None of us are safe and protected. None of us are “good enough” to escape tragedy; it has nothing to do with “being good.” The distinction between “needs” and “wants” can come into focus like never before. In the darkest and most excruciating moments, people are forced into an honesty unheard of in a culture full of pretense and masks that protect us from reality.
Some of those things are good. Maybe some good can come out of tragedy and pain. But none of these things provide an answer that satisfies. None of these experiences and emotions are pleasant when they happen suddenly and forcefully.
So the question remains. I don’t anticipate it going away anytime soon. I can only hope that when our eyes meet, they realize that they are not alone in their questioning.