Monday, August 16, 2010

Suicide and Faith (Part III)

I think that it would be fair to say that one of the basic threads of discussion which I have pursued with my spiritual director for the past two years goes something like this:

Where was God?

Not exactly an original question in the wake of catastrophe. But then, originality is not a requirement.

My daughter is driving from North Carolina to Ohio as I write this. I have spent the past 26 years waging a battle against terror whenever any of my children are out of my sight. Having lost a mother, brother, stepmother, and aunt all to sudden deaths at young ages, I have no particular sense of assurance about human safety or well-being. Actually, I have none at all. But I did pretty well for 24 years, and managed to conceal most of my fears and not convey them to my children. And then one night something I wasn't even afraid of came true.

So where was God? I have asked tearfully and furiously and tiredly, over and over and over. Not with respect to myself. I couldn't have cared less about that. With respect to my child.

After about a year, I had reached the point at which I could at least acknowledge the promise Jesus makes in Matthew 28:20: "Lo, I am with you always." And hope that it might be true.

And then it was completely ruined for me by a sermon preached at seminary. It happens that that verse is preceded by one in which Jesus says "Go and make disciples of all people." The sermon was an energetic call to mission, and an argument that making disciples of all people is a predicatory requirement for Jesus' continued presence with us. "No 'Lo' without the 'Go!' " said the pastor,

I was completely devastated. I had just barely, gingerly, come to a tentative and fragile confidence that Jesus might have been with and fully present to my son when he died, and this preacher essentially told me: No.

It was months before I set foot in the seminary chapel again.

Now another year has gone by.

And I have slowly and tentatively reached the point at which I can barely grasp the hope that the Jesus who is always present to people at their lowest and most helpless was surely with my child; that the Jesus who always extends healing and wholeness to the sick and broken did the same for him.

I am able to say that largely out of my own experience, out of my gradual waking to the recognition that Jesus has been present to me in so many ways through other people since Josh died. And I am not nearly as broken as Josh was. So my only conclusion can be that Jesus is even more interested in him.


I know that some folks are wondering why I am writing this. I sometimes wonder myself. Shouldn't I, as a spiritual director and almost-pastor, be offering emphatic assurance in the hope of the Resurrected Christ?

I think it's important, even if only in this little-read blog, to witness to the genuine experience of the most horrific kinds of loss. The path to a renewed and confident faith is a steep and rocky one, with many slides backward over rough gravel and gnarly roots. Pretending otherwise is of no help to anyone.


karen gerstenberger said...

Amen, sister. Thank you (again) for your honest and beautiful reflections. xoxo

Anonymous said...

Ah, you have some courage.

It is a long and dodgy trip back to the light of some kind of faith with no certainty in it at all. All sorts of crass and narrow minded unimaginative people knock us to our knees and make the going on all the harder.

You are right. Witness to what we have learned, in the most bitter of circumstances, that the Loving god remains, is vital in our world that hurts so much ...

Thank you for your honest witness.

Mrs. M said...

1) I kind of want to punch the seminary chapel preacher. I know that's not helpful, just sharing my initial reaction.
2) I think it would be horrible, hurtful, and wrong if, as a spiritual director and almost-pastor you exclusively offered emphatic assurance in the hope of the resurrected Christ. In my heart, I believe that dishonesty kills more faith than anything else. I'm grateful for honesty your courage gives us.

Cynthia said...


Diane said...

it terrifies me to think about what devastation we are able to release upon one another in the name of faith.

I am glad for your honesty.

Rev. Dr. Laura said...

Oh, Robin. What an evil, spiritually abusive, and theologically bankrupt sermon.

I am so sorry it was inflicted on you, and glad that you are starting to heal.

I don't know if you ever spoke to the preacher about the effect on you, or considered it, or could stand to...But if it ever did feel right to you, I believe that the wisdom of your hard won experience would be something that person--and, more importantly, their future congregants--could really use.

Rev. Dr. Laura said...

Plus I echo what Mrs M said about your call as director and pastor. Most Christians and clergy are far to ready to preach resurrection without honoring the real depth of crucifixion, which makes the former largely irrelevant to those who have suffered the latter.

Gannet Girl said...

Well, I doubt that something being painful for me makes it evil, spiritually abusive, or theologically bankrupt.

Presbyterian Gal said...

Geez, that pastor is obviously someone who has not experienced the spiritual beating side of life. Oy.

Fortunately you are brave and true and have a gift for connecting the dots you find while seeking outside the box. Though everyone I know who can do that has been through all 9 levels of hell and back.

This corporal life of ours is microscopically small compared to the universe and our souls' experiences here, IMO, are the same. Of course Jesus is still with your son. Because it's all so much bigger than just this.

christine said...

i think of the words i have spoken that seemed to make sense in my life-that had no clue and may have left others hurting and confused. your post is good-i need to be slow to offer thoughts i think i may have some wisdom about and if my feet haven't ever touched nor walked in those shoes--may cause a fall for someone---as other words from other people-like these did for you. thankfully the hand of Christ helps us up and on...even if it takes a long time.