Where are you when bad things happen to good people?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 26, 2008

Last week’s column on the question of where God is when bad things happen to good people drew so many deeply moving responses, I hardly know where to begin.

Several readers wondered where God was when Lindsay Kimmett, a young woman of our community with a history of serving others and a promising future in medicine, was killed recently in an automobile accident.

Another reader, Edmontonian Colleen Chapman, was coping with serious injuries from a wintertime fall only days after starting her dream job, while a middle-aged friend of hers who has suffered for years with Crohn’s disease was just diagnosed with inoperable bone cancer. “I frequently think of Job when I think of him,” she wrote.

Coffee companion Daisy McKinnon and her husband were just settling into their new home in Cochrane a few years ago when he suddenly took ill and passed away. She wrote:

“I had asked the same question (Why do bad things happen to good people?) when my husband died, and every now and then in my deepest moments, I still ask the same question. When my husband was in the hospital, the doctor told me that he was very sick and that he only had two to three days to live. Like Rabbi Kushner said, how does one handle news like that? I also felt the very same way that he did: unfair, it didn't make sense. I believe we were both good people, so why did God let this tragedy happen to us? Even though I seem to have moved on, made great friends here, got myself involved in volunteer work, etc., I still have moments of regret, feelings of unfairness.

“Your article gave me a better perspective on what I thought was God's unfairness to good people like my husband. What Rabbi Kushner said – that ‘we are called to forgive and lovingly accept a world which is less than perfect, and even to forgive and lovingly accept God when it appears He has let you down and disappointed you’ – really touched my heart to the core.”

Lindsie Haxton, also from Cochrane, had this to say: “I don’t think there is any pain greater than that of abandonment, and especially abandonment by God.” In our confusion, we are tempted to say, “This isn’t how things should be. What is happening? This doesn’t make sense.” Lindsie’s own conclusion as a spiritually-sensitive artist and writer, however, is that, all along, “God is there in the depths of our suffering.”

Lindsie’s conclusion is very much like that of longtime Calgary coffee companion Sandy Corenblum.

“It always saddens me when people ask, ‘Where was God,’ like in the time of the Holocaust, the most often asked ‘where-was-God’ question ever. God is always here with us,” Sandy wrote. “God gave us the choice to use our good or our evil sides. It is not for us to ask, ‘Where was God?’ but rather: ‘Where was – where is – mankind?’”

As if answering Sandy’s question, Cochrane entrepreneur Paul Morel has his particular take on where “mankind” can be during times of trouble.

“I believe I’ve had more than my share of bad things happen to me, but have never felt the urge to ‘blame God’ for anything,” he wrote.

Paul was in the midst of caring for his wheelchair-bound wife, Angela, one evening a few months ago, when he was unexpectedly called away on an urgent matter. It was a nightmarishly bad moment; he’d have to leave immediately and would be gone for several days. What was he to do about Angela? Where would he get the cash required by the emergency? “It was quite a desperate situation for us,” he said.

“Far from asking where God was, we found ourselves blessed with the wonderful response of friends and colleagues.” A professional care worker, volunteering her time, came over right away and spent three nights with Angela. Church and community friends did what they could to help out. Because of financial complications, two other friends “put up a small fortune” to cover the immediate costs of the emergency.

“That bad things happen, well, ‘bad happens’ is all we mortals can ultimately say,” Paul wrote. “But we must recognize where the true blessings lie. People helping each other is at the top of the list, I’d say.”

Paul’s right. I’m convinced that, when we cry out to God in behalf of someone in distress, God often replies: “Well, you do something about it; that’s why I placed you there.”

To us mere mortals is given the awesome privilege of being God’s hands and feet. We, too, can be the answer to someone’s prayers.

As Cremona coffee companion Kathie Reid put it to me by way of a quotation from the first century Jewish philosopher Philo:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

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