Q: I have a conflicting dilemma. I was diagnosed with ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease. I spend my life in a wheelchair, unable to speak, essentially waiting to die from this fatal disease. I am extremely depressed and cannot get over my anger with God. I know it’s not right, but my life that God has given me has virtually been taken away. I’ve prayed to God throughout the day and night for six years since I was diagnosed. I continue to worsen, and as for the pain, it continues to be intense. I have always been told God is in control; he is the conductor of our lives and all of our things are God’s will and in his hand. Each time someone speaks of God or I watch a religious TV show I am left in tears, crying uncontrollably. I am so hurt, disappointed and angry with God. People tell me God didn’t do this. Oh no? God is in control, right? And God hears all prayers. I have prayed to God for six years to either heal me or ease my pain. Neither has been done. If God hears my prayers then he has ignored them. I feel abandoned. I say you can’t have it both ways. God is in control but he didn’t do this. What? It doesn’t make sense to me. God is merciful? I still don’t understand or find comfort in my faith. I question my faith daily and continue to be angry with God because he has either done this to me, or allowed this nightmare to happen to me, my family and friends.
— T from Farmingville, via email
A: Because I write about mysteries and not about problems, none of them goes away. Your searing and heartbreaking question is about the mystery of suffering, and I return to it not to solve it but to help you find a way to acceptance and hope.
Let me begin by saying that I care more about saving you than saving God. God will endure independent of our praise and our doubts. The question at the heart of this mystery and your agony is, “How does God run the world?”
There is a traditional religious view that God micromanages the world and that not a single sparrow falls from the sky without God causing it. If that is true, then God has indeed been cruel to you. However, God running the world can mean that God established the world with certain physical laws of causation and then let the world run according to those laws. If that is true, then whatever causes ALS is a natural part of the world and that natural part of the world rose up and bit you out of sheer bad luck. That is what I believe.
So if God is the creator but not the intervener in the world, what do we make of miracles? What do we make of God’s promises to heal the sick and free the captives? What do we make of God’s promise to reward the righteous and punish the wicked? I call all these questions spiritual distortions of true faith. If we do good things just to get rewarded by God, we are not doing good things. If we use our free will to allow the rise of dictators and warmongers, that is our failing, not God’s failing. As far as miracles are concerned, I have to demur. Miracles are above my pay grade. I believe in the miracle of the Exodus and I admire Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus, but I cannot explain to you how miracles fit into a world of law. Are miracles possible in which God intervenes in the natural world to help us individually or collectively? Yes, I believe that, and I cannot fully explain that. But as for miracles, I follow the teaching of ancient rabbis, “Do not rely on miracles.”
So where does all this theology talk leave you? I think it leaves you with some choices. You can continue to blame God, and that will certainly continue to embitter you. You can pray for a miracle cure from God but not expect one. Or perhaps you can find a way to turn to God for strength in facing your pain. Perhaps you can turn to God not as a magician but as a shepherd. Perhaps you can find a way to hope and to believe that death will not be the end of you, but that you will find your way to a heavenly realm where pain does not exist and all mysteries are answered.
God bless you. I pray for your healing into hope.