My twenty-three-year-old grandson is in a coma. Six months ago, he was struck by an automobile near his university. Since then, he has been in five hospitals in three states, struggling with a “disorder of consciousness.”
At the first hospital, the surgeon explained the injuries, predicted a less than positive outcome, advised his parents to develop a plan B – end of life considerations. He asked them to imagine whether their son would want to live with the inevitable disabilities should he live through the surgery, or if they would want him to struggle with those disabilities. That was a most frightening and distressing message!
His Mom buried her face and tears against my son’s chest with an uncharacteristic expletive. The surgeon left to get on with the surgery.
Six Months Later
Now, in the sixth month, we are assured he is feeling no pain and his brain is not dead; it just does not function in the way it was designed.
Multiple daily therapists work to awaken him from traumatic brain injury.
It has taken all my better pastoral and theological stamina to avoid shouting, “This. Is. Not. Fair!” How can it possibly be fair that such a promising young man must spend the rest of his university senior year, six months and maybe more in an unresponsive state?
I wanted to pray: “My God, Author of Life and Lover of my grandson and his parents: How dare you allow this to happen to him! It isn’t fair.”
Prayers Take On Another Perspective
Eventually, while spending hours at his bedside in critical care units and specialty hospitals, the prayers began to take on another perspective.
We realized these intensive rehabilitation centers exist because all around us were other young and older persons with brain injuries, some well on toward recovery, others still unconscious, all receiving the best efforts of devoted highly trained medical teams. What did THEY do to deserve THEIR traumas?
My prayers began to expand: “Holy One, I don’t understand how or why, but obviously YOU did not abuse my beloved grandson. Thank You for all the help he – and the others – are receiving.”
We began to see that he is not alone, not singled out. Annually hundreds of young adults are victims of brain injury from automobile-related accidents.
Does God Cause Injuries and Disabilities?
But is it fair? What is fairness, anyway? Are injuries, disabilities, poor health, disparities and prejudice chargeable to God?
As we listened to the stories of other families in the hospitals around us, we framed our experience differently. This accident and suffering are not attributable to God. God didn’t put him and that automobile in the same crosswalk at the same time. God did not decide his family needed a comeuppance of some sort in order to make them pay better attention to matters of faith and obedience. Whatever reasons there are for such disastrous events, they are about human behaviors not God’s actions.
What We Understand About God
We began to understand in a new way that while we hardly understand many mysteries about God, so do we barely understand the consequences of how we use the gifts of freewill and autonomy which have been given to us by God!
My questions are now formed differently: Can you believe in a God who imposes suffering – who desires suffering – who dishes out suffering to teach us a lesson or demand compliance to God’s will? I can’t. I don’t. I won’t.
What is truly not fair is to assign disparities, inequalities, prejudices, injustices, even our spiritual, emotional and physical sufferings to God.
Fairness is not in God’s lexicon. Love is.
When I got to that point, I began to embrace the abundance of God’s grace. I could set aside my railing about unfairness. Now I concentrate instead on the precious gift of life…. for my grandson - and for all others who struggle to cope with tragedy and distress.
I pray you can, too. THAT would be fair!
For Reflection (either individually or with a group)
Read the blog. Read it a second time, maybe reading it aloud or asking someone else to read it aloud so you can hear it with different intonation and emphases. Then take these questions for a walk in the woods or in your neighborhood, for a swim or a run or for a hot soak in the tub. Invite the questions to join you for tea or coffee.
- Do you believe it’s OK to blame God when bad things happen? Why or why not?
- Do you agree with the author’s statement, “while we hardly understand many mysteries about God, so do we barely understand the consequences of how we use the gifts of freewill and autonomy which have been given to us by God!” Why or why not?
- “Fairness is not in God’s lexicon. Love is.” How would you put this statement into your own words?
Download a pdf including the Reflection Questions to share and discuss with friends, family, or members of your faith community small group.