Thursday, October 7, 2010

Presbyterian Fatalism

Last week my supervisor at the pediatric hospital asked how I've been dealing with all the tragic stuff I see. I was caught off guard and it took me a moment to understand what he meant. I really have not been very deeply affected by all the sad, sad stories which I step briefly in and out of. When I'm in the room, I feel sad if the patient/family is sad, hopeful if they're hopeful, but I generally don't take anything with me when I leave--except some anxiety about how I could have served them better.

Reflecting later upon this sense of detachment, I thought perhaps it comes from a kind of Presbyterian fatalism. I really do believe that the entirety of creation is ordered by the inscrutable wisdom of God. I don't know why God would ordain so much evil, so much suffering and pain--especially for children--but I did not create the world. I cannot see from my limited perspective how it is happening, but I trust that all things are working together for the good of those who love God.

A high view of providence is very much out of style nowadays, I think. Such a view seems to make God the author of evil. I don't think it does--perhaps another time I'll go into that, but right now I want to consider whether it's monstrous of me not to be overly upset by evil because I trust that God's purposes are being worked out through it somehow. Am I falling into a kind of white-washing of evil, pretending things are okay when they are not--am I guilty of the very thing I deplore?

I want to say: No, because I simply cannot bear the weight of grief and outrage that I would feel if I responded commensurately to the horror of every awful happening I found out about. If other people's tragedies became my tragedies, I would never stop crying. So I feel as much sorrow as I must in order to serve the suffering persons well. But after that, I must entrust them into God's hands.

I'm not really satisfied with that ... Perhaps because I'm falling into the ancient ("original") sin of wanting to be like God. God alone bears the full weight of the whole world's suffering. To be mortal is to accept limitations. It seems odd not to accept simply and gladly the limit mercifully placed on my own suffering, yet we human beings are a perverse lot.

Perhaps also, though, I know that things are not supposed to be too easy. ... Wait a minute. Or are they? Jesus said to take up his yoke, which is easy, and his burden, which is light. Hmmm ...

Well, I don't think I'm going to resolve this one before dinner. Which I'm supposed to be serving right now. Perhaps clarity will come another time ...

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