Thursday, January 20, 2005

On Grief and God

About a year ago, Carnaby and I watched as our mother died a rather painful death from a rare form of cancer. Watching her suffer and pass away was very sad, and we've both certainly shed tears over this -- but by and large the long-term aspect of grief is not what either of us expected it to be.

Among other things, I am dealing with a fair amount of depression at the moment, which has caused me to become very lethargic. Carnaby is currently experiencing some odd physical symptoms, which we were all a little concerned might be indicative of something really awful like a brain tumor. He had an MRI today, and we'll get the results on Tuesday. However, I'm fairly convinced that his symptoms are simply those of grief. We checked this website from the University of Virginia Health System today, which lists these symptoms:

Physical symptoms Emotional symptoms Spiritual symptoms
  • Lack of energy; fatigue

  • Headaches and upset stomach

  • Excessive sleeping or, conversely, overworking and excessive activity
  • Memory lapses, distraction, and preoccupation

  • Irritability

  • Depression and, conversely, feelings of euphoria

  • Extreme anger or, conversely, feelings of being resigned to the situation
  • Feelings of being closer to God or, conversely, feelings of anger and outrage at God

  • Strengthening of faith or, conversely, questioning of faith
From what Carnaby has described to me (headaches, memory lapses, distraction), he's suffering from grief. Ever the overachieving big sister, I have every single one of these symptoms. One thing I have noticed in particular, and was surprised to see this on the list, is the strengthening of my faith in God. I strongly disagree with the classification of this as a symptom of malady, but I do agree with the classification of anger with God as such a symptom, and what follows explains why.

Let's think logically about what someone is really saying when he becomes angry with God because he's suffering. Unless he's been living alone in a cave his entire life, he was aware that terrible, tragic, unthinkable, things happen to people every minute of every day in some part of the world. By becoming angry with God only after tragedy has struck him, he has in effect said that he was a-okay with God as long as God was only allowing these terrible things to happen to other people.

That's evil.

No matter how misguided, I can understand the reaction of a person who has been angry with God all along, because he believes that a loving God would not allow any suffering in the world. However, I truly believe that it's impossible for, say, a genuine Christian to become angry with God only after experiencing personal tragedy. Afterall, he was willing to place his faith in God before, knowing what he knows happens in the world; and, as Gerald Schroeder points out in his book Genesis and the Big Bang, the Bible is quite clear on the fact that everyone eventually dies, sometimes horribly. (The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, anyone?)

I'm sure very few people have actually thought this through and realize this is the implication, but if you approach the idea logically, that's what you're left with. So either these angry-with-God people are evil or their thinking is so clouded by grief that this is the result.

The only thing I struggle with is the physical suffering of others. I almost can't bear to think of the suffering of children who have been tortured and murdered at the hands of foul creatures like John Wayne Gacy. Thankfully, our mother only went through the really bad stuff for a few short months, but that was plenty. It was hell watching her suffer at the end, and I was so relieved when she finally passed. I suppose if there really is an afterlife and it's as glorious as many believe it to be, then physical suffering really doesn't matter all that much. I ought to be rejoicing that our mother -- and those children -- are in such a wonderful place. Emotionally, though, it still bothers me that she suffered and that she's gone, so I have to take it as an article of faith that it's part of God's plan. Not an easy thing to do for a scientist; but, the alternative is to believe that our mother's suffering was pointless and she has now been relegated to oblivion, just like everyone before her and everyone who comes after. I'd rather push the I-believe-in-God button and hope for the best.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I lost my brother about 6 months ago, and have been going through very similar things. Nice to know I'm going crazy and that my irritation with God is pretty normal....

6/10/2006 7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scratch that, I meant "Not going crazy"...

6/10/2006 7:03 PM  

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