Tuesday, August 5, 2008

This may not be a good idea...

...but I am going to do it anyway. I am going to touch the third rail of polite discussion. Right here, right now. I am going to talk about religion. Or, rather, theology. I am going to try, very hard, to not flame, but discuss. And I am going to ask you, very politely, to please help me out. Preferably also without flaming.

See, I keep running into this one particular view of G-d's involvement in people's lives that is so foreign to me as to make me say, quite honestly, that I just do not get how one can live in the world we all live in and hold this view. And so I hope that maybe someone can explain it to me.

Here is the piece that prompted this particular round of head shaking. I was looking for a quick explanation of the Jewish custom of saying "B'sha'ah tovah," or "may it happen for you in good time" upon hearing of someone's pregnancy. This is the words I myself use because I feel that this avoids the presumption inherent in any form of congratulations. Congratulations, I feel are for when the baby is born alive. For the duration there is only the wishes for that outcome.

So I start reading this woman's story of how she came to appreciate the wisdom of b'sha'ah tovah, but I do not get very far before I trip and fall, and faceplant right into concrete. "Why is G-d doing this to me as I'm trying to bring a Jewish child into the world?" she asks about her difficult pregnancy, and I am starting to see red. Wait, I want to ask, so you think if you were trying to bring some heathen life into the world, it would be totally cool of G-d to do this to you?

But the part that is really bugging me, predictably, is the one about G-d doing this to her. Things get even more dicey, by which I mean completely incomprehensible to me, when, after relating the story of the pregnancy riddled with a number of problems, the author declares all of them to have been no more than a means to an end-- G-d's clever and miraculous way of assuring that her baby was monitored, and thus, saved just in a nick of time by an emergency c-section. The real problem, you see, was the unbeknown to anyone clotting disorder she had. Clotting disorder that would've killed the baby in only a few more hours. And, according to the author, all the other complications she experienced in the pregnancy were nothing but G-d's way of saving the baby.

Like I said, I don't get this at all. First, if G-d was getting involved, this seems like a bass ackwards way of doing it. Presumably, G-d could just fix the problem, or, you know, cause someone to run a clotting panel such that the actual problem was recognized before or early on in pregnancy, and the baby gestated uneventfully to full term and with no need for the somewhat traumatic early birth and NICU stay.

Second, and this is where I get really stuck, this sure looks like a lot of care to expand on this one baby and family. And it seems to me that if one is to accept that the supreme being did expand this much care to this particular baby, one would have to also note that an appreciable number of babies, Jewish and otherwise, were not granted the same level of care. And then one would have to ask what makes them less worthy? What makes their parents less worthy?

I never asked "why?" or "why us?" after A's death. Because to me it seemed like "why not us?" was an equally reasonable question. Bad things happen in the world, in every generation. Catastrophes for countries, peoples, and families. Holocaust was not that long ago. The concept of a G-d who decided to bring that down on each individual person who perished, everyone who was maimed or displaced, everyone who survived only to bear the scars, mental and physical, for the rest of their lives, that concept is not sitting well with me. Never had. On the flip side, ever since Monkey was born, I have maintained that there is no way to deserve to have a child, that nothing we could do would be enough to earn that happiness.

And so I never pray for tangible things, or for events I am hoping for-- I consider that futile. I only ever ask for peace and strength (and maybe wisdom, but that's borderline). I find myself firmly in the camp of "the age of miracles is long past" theology. But, more importantly for what I am talking about here, I find myself unable to understand people who claim personal attention/intervention from on high. Because to me that thought can not exist without a thought for what if? Or for the families where what if actually happened.

I can't understand how the author of this piece wouldn't see that by claiming divine intervention for her child, she is simultaneously saying that others weren't deemed worthy of it. Yes, I am saying that I do not understand how it is possible to not extend (or invert, whatever the case may be) one's thoughts on the matter. And once this thought is considered, the thought that for someone else the baby didn't make it, and there was no miraculous long-term plan in place to avoid that tragedy, well, once that's in one's head, I can't see how one would avoid asking what makes them so freaking special? And maybe I am wrong, but for myself I just wouldn't have an answer. Nothing about me is so exceptional that I can see getting a break of this magnitude, or any magnitude for that matter, while someone else did not.

I also feel, and this is perhaps a little tangential to this discussion, that her insistence on the divine source of her son being alive cheapens the professionalism and care exhibited by her doctors. If they were nothing but G-d's instrument, than it could've been any doctor there, any warm body with a medical degree. To me it is so much more inspiring to think that these were professionals who cared and did their job. And saved her baby's life, and her, from ever knowing things I know.

And yet, I know that hers is theology espoused often and by many. If you share it, or understand it, please explain it to me. Particularly, what I want to know is how is it possible to be a thinking person living in the world we live in and have this theology. I really want to understand. I feel like I must be missing something, some major clue, but I don't know what it is, or where to look for it.

I promise I won't bite, but if you feel more comfortable commenting anonymously, go right ahead.


luna said...

ah, the proverbial third rail. I'll bite. and hope I don't get bitten in return...

I could never really believe in a god that could allow such horrible things to happen to anyone, let alone one who would deem one child more "worthy" of saving than another. I could never believe in a vengeful or spiteful god, or one that would turn a blind eye to injustice and suffering. but it's much easier to say what I don't believe than what I do. and that's all I'm saying...

DrSavta said...

To me, a believing, observant Jew, it seems obvious that G-d does not micromanage the universe and all of the people in it. Otherwise, all of the objections you raise would apply. We know that there are good people who suffer and evil people who prosper. I believe, for example, that if G-d micromanaged the world that despots and terrorists would die young and not be able to victimize others. Instead, many live very long healthy lives. So a belief in personal intervention might be comforting and reassuring, but to me, it seems naive. Instead, a belief that G-d in some way acts in a global manner seems to me to make a lot more sense.

Losh said...

I am not religious and would describe myself as agnostic, so the belief that G*d is in control of everything is an idea that I have always had huge difficulty with. I don’t want to believe in a G*d that is deliberately cruel and ignores the prayers of some, yet grants the prayers of others, who are no less worthy.

I can only imagine that for some, believing that their life is completely in the hands of G*d must simply afford them great comfort. How one can rationalise this belief in today’s world however, is a mystery to me also.

I am often torn between thinking that it is a big cop-out to say that it is G*d’s will as this removes any responsibility from yourself. On the other hand it must require huge strength of faith to continue to believe in a God that knowingly and willingly allows bad things to happen to good people. Faith is a beautiful yet curious thing.

Kymberli said...

I don't try to rationalize what God does or why He does them. I don't think it's for us to figure out, that God's reasons behind what happens make such little sense to us that it is futile to ask "why me" or "why not me." It's not so much acceptance of the things that happen, it's more a case of accepting that there are things I can't change. Thinking that way doesn't mean that I always have to be happy about the decisions that He makes for my life. Honestly, it sounds to me like she was rationalizing the "why" to save herself from being angry at everything she had to go through.

CLC said...

I don't believe in that either. I think the universe is too big and too many horrible things happen to people to say that God allowed or disallowed. It expecially irks me when people who were miracualously cured of something on TV give credit to god, because that implies that they are so special that god saved them, and all those others who may die are less special and unworthy. I try to remind myself that it's just ignorance, naivite, or whatever on their part, or maybe just a lack of a better explanation. Even my Mom said to me recently "god-willing, you will have another baby next year." I immediately asked her where god was last year and she didn't have an answer, because she wasn't thinking about the implication of a statement like that. I don't think she will ever say that to me again.

I thought "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Kushner was a great book and addresses this subject well. It offers a way to think of God and a situation without giving credit or blame to God and that situation. And it goes along with the universe is too big theory to think that God is micromanaging one baby but not looking out for the thousands of others that pass away.

sweetsalty kate said...

I don't know why the 'why me?' isn't more clear to the author of that piece. Clearly, her ordeal was God saying:

"Oh, crap. Another jewish kid. Had a lot of 'em arrive last week, we we're short on Episcopalians. But wait... hang on. I could just take one of these here Atheist kids out of column B, give three of them lukemia, and that should make way for the jewish kid, as long as I carry over the hindu twins tomorrow..."


I highly doubt you'll ruffle any feathers here Julia, as your readers tend to be the sort with, you know, BRAINS and all. Pardon my contempt but that article was just the same as when our southern neighbours crow, "God Bless America!" (AND SCREW EVERYONE ELSE.)

My thoughts on who God is are here: http://www.sweetsalty.com/sweetsalty/2007/5/9/and-god-says-oh-shit.html

And like I think most of your readers will agree, he's not sitting up there with a spreadsheet and a sign that says TAKE A NUMBER, PLEASE for prayer-answering from 2-4 PM every day.

niobe said...

When I think about this, what I think about is something that the voice from the whirlwind said to Job: Thus far shall you come, and no farther.

Antigone said...

There are so many flavors of theodicy. It seems like an unanswerable question.

Karen said...

Oh Julia - I think what niobe said is very to the point. Having been a member of the protestant wing of the christian church for oh so long now, I can tell you that this is a group of people very uncomfortable with not knowing why things happen & therefore a tendency to overexplain big mysteries, like why one persons prayer is answered and another is not.
I think my many of my fellow christians are displaying some poorly thought out theology as well - because the idea of that God has given us free will is central to the whole idea of humanity and faith, so how can we be just robots used by God to answer one another's prayers. For example what if two faithful people are praying that God will give them the same exact position in a company? Who decides? Isn't it rather their future employer? Don't their resumes and experience matter? Don't we all know that their race/class/gender/age will often matter? The very idea that the only factor in an equation like that is God or God's will is just ridiculous & makes God - to my mind - too small. God, I think, created a world full of agents with genuine say-so. I chose to be married to Matt. I chose to get pregnant. I then have agency in all the repercussions thereof - both good and bad, but only to a limited degree. I do not have complete agency because my environment and other people (And in the Christian tradition we even believe in spiritual agents with ill intent - I'm not sure, is that true in the Jewish tradition as well, or are their only evil people, not evil in the spiritual realm? truly just information seeking here. Not 100% well educated in this area, despite having a partially Jewish family...sorry)
So, I see it as oversimplistic to give all the blame or all the credit to God - though I do see God as, in a general way, a source of blessing & as having a desire to bless - I guess it seems to me that things don't always go God's way either. Does that sound like blasphemy? Like I don't think God is omnipotent? I guess I don't, or rather I believe God could be all-powerful, but in our time does not choose to strong arm people/circumstances/forces to make sure everything happens the way God wants - or the way I want, or the way someone else wants. Wouldn't there be tons of conflict?
If God is a source of blessing then we will get the strength we need, the peace, the courage. And sometimes cirumstances will work out in our favor. I don't think it is bad, in general, to show gratitude when things do, but I think we all can become rather self-centered about that - thank you God for giving me this job may be a real prayer, but there are still others looking for work. We need a wider view, gratitude for our blessings and compassionate concern for those who are still seeking the blessings. That is more about who we are/how we act than about the character of God, I think.
lots of words. I'm glad you wrote this. I'm thinking deeply this morning because of you.

Jenny F. Scientist said...

I gave a d'var torah on this selfsame subject once. I see it as at once a very Christian view and a very old-testament view. The latter because of all the passages about 'but if you follow these commandments you will prosper and I will bring rain upon your lands' and, of course, the opposite: the wicked do not flourish, the crops do not grow, their enemies invade. The Christian side is, I think, related to a very Puritan concept of predestination: you can tell the elect by their success and prosperity. (Different from the OT view in the pre-determined nature, but the same idea: success is a measure of divine favor, whether in direct consequence of action or because of winning the Heaven lottery.)

Anyhow. This is a very long-winded way to say that my personal faith would thank G-d for giving this woman's doctors the wisdom and abilities to help her medical problem, but not necessarily for being her personal saviour. The deterministic view- that everything is for a particular reason- doesn't meet up with my views on, say, chance, or free will.

My sister (very frum, a little crazy, but not that crazy) used to make gentle fun of some very-Hasidic friends of hers. 'I went to the market to buy an orange and there! They HAD an ORANGE! A nes! A nes!' (A miracle!)

Magpie said...

I think, in a nutshell, this is why I believe there is no (aren't any) god(s).

Carbon said...

I have my beliefs, but a personal G-d is not one of them. I never understood the groups that would pray before football games. What makes your team more worthy? And, wouldn't G-d have better things to do than manage the outcome of a mere game?

In the words of Karl Marx, religion is the opiate of the masses. It intentionally does not make logical sense, for when tragedy strikes, all that is logic and reason either makes no sense or has no relevance anyway.

It is a coping mechanism, and like many... it involves whatever makes us feel better. It is a realm of the heart, not of the head. Any questioning of such belief is easily met with the counter of G-d working in mysterious ways that do not follow human rules of logic, logistics, or reason.

All that said, the vast majority of people mean no harm and do no harm through these beliefs. So, if it brings comfort, more power to them. I would much rather have people praying and believing in things that don't make sense to me, than hurting themselves or others.

kate said...

Article written in 2003, huh? I guess God was so busy saving her baby, that mine fell off His radar. Or maybe it's because we are Christians...i should consider conversion.

Seriously, that article is hideous and that woman is an idiot. For all the reasons you state. Thank you for linking it, though. I have often come across this world view amongst protestant Christians, and it is refreshing somehow to see that this kind of sloppy narcissistic thinking is not restricted to one religious group. Diversity rocks!

You ask what i think about it, well, i do pray & i do ask for stuff for self & family (you know, like health, not a new car). I am not under the illusion that i will get what i ask for because i pray for it, but i guess i think it can't hurt to ask. I do believe that God has the power to intervene, and that basically he chooses not to. I don't know why and i do not think that it is 'for my own good' either. This is one of those unknowable things that i got tired of thinking about at some point.

I should probably read the rest of the comments, huh?

Anonymous said...

When my son was in the NICU my husband and I would drive there every day and my husband would want to pray on the drive up there. I am not a religious person in the least, I’m an atheist; I could see how he wanted to do this so I gave in and chanted along with him. But he was saying the prayers so fast that I couldn’t keep up. I asked him, why aren’t you saying these slower? I would think that you would want to concentrate on each word, feeling its meaning. But, no he just kept saying them faster and faster until I just stopped saying them along with him. It just didn’t make any sense to me at all.

Afterwards my husband said, see I knew you weren’t a true atheist, you prayed with me. I had to break it to him that I did it for him. That people pray and ask for g-d’s help when they feel out of control. This praying makes them feel that they have some control over something they don’t. I told him that if anything we should be talking to the doctors that were helping keep our son alive. They were the ones in control, not g-d not me and not my husband. He didn’t like that answer.

I’ve always felt that religion is for weak people (sorry if I offended anyone, I really am). No one is on control but you and you’re in control by the choices you make and even then some times really awful, bad things happen to us. I can not possibly wrap my head around an all knowing all seeing all powerful g-d that would let a baby die, a child die. If I wasn’t a true atheist before that would surly make me one.

c. said...

I began to question religion and g-d in my late twenties. Since losing C, I have banished any belief in these matters at all. I do not follow these patterns of (illogical) thinking. I cannot believe that there is a higher power that would plan or even allow my son's death. I do not find comfort in believing it was g-d's will. I do not cling hopelessly to the idea that C died so I may be able to grow or learn or whatever and this is what g-d intended for me. This is shit. Pure. Shit.

I assume that people who think along these lines find some comfort in it. I can even see HOW they might find comfort in believing it is all part of g-d's divine plan. But, for the life of me, I cannot figure out how they can hold steadfastly to these precarious beliefs.

I will also say that I wish I could find some comfort in religion and g-d. In some small way, I envy those who can because they are not left asking why? why me? I am. And it's hard.

Tiffi33 said...

no one can presume to know what God is thinking or planning..
I am with drsavta in believing that God does NOT micromanage...
bad things happen just as much as good things happen..

I am a christian (non practicing Catholic to be exact) so I don't know the Jewish side of your beliefs (I know a bare minimum about Jews)
It may seem simplistic to say that everything happens for a reason, in my experience it does...
and congrats on not needing any emergency intervention w/ your last hospital stay!!!

S. said...

Hey. I'm skipping the theology. Did you get an answer about b'sha'a tova? A friend of mine who is a historian of the Jewish medieval period and Knows Things Like This told me that it dates to then, and is a wish that the baby be born to a good astrological chart.

Rachel said...

I found your post really interesting. As a religious (Jewish) woman I am often baffled by the very personal appeals some women make on their blogs and the request for prayer by everyone they know. I just never grew up with such an idea of personal intervention on my behalf. I was taught Jewish practice as a means to self-improvement and an 'end in and of itself.' I love the rituals and traditions and I think they have merit, but I certainly don't think that in a post-shoa world we can even start to think that Gd is watching out for one group in particular. If we are still living in a time of miracles, there are so many really big things (like diseases, starvation, global warming) I'd like to see fixed. And if Gd hasn't taken care of those, it seems a bit absurd to give him credit for an early c-section (although I would certainly admit modern medicene is a miracle by any standards).

And I have to admit to wondering what this type of appeal does to a person's ego if their wish is answer or unanswered.

Catherine said...

I could have a field day with this topic, but I've promised myself I would give it a rest for a while...for my own peace of mind. BUT...I will say that this "identity crisis" of God is apparently nothing new. There are different descriptions of God in the Bible itself that lead some to think that the stories contained therein may actually be of more than one being. There is the personal God, who physically wrestles with the traveler on the road. There is the manipulative "obey me" God from above who requests the killing of one's own son upon an altar, stepping in at the last minute. There is the God who judges and lets fly plagues and floods and pestilence without any apparent regard for the human suffering caused. I don't know and I certainly don't espouse one belief set over another. But the questions have apparently existed for a long time...perhaps for as long as humans themselves have existed (but that's a whole other debate entirely).

k@lakly said...

Ahhhh, the G*d issue...seems most here are of very similar minds, so it is unlikely you will get an answer to your question. I too share your bewilderment at the audacity of some to believe they are the chosen ones and that G*d has a special plan just for them. I think it is an incredibly selfish and simplistic way to think. It disregards every real tragedy ( read whole countries of children starving, being tortured, abused, persecuted, earthquakes in China, typhoons, 9/11 etc...) in the world and allows for a belief in a G*d who chose one child/person/family over literally millions of others. Sorry but it doesn't even pass the giggle test for me, much less the bullshit one.
I think some people, just need to believe something else is in control and will take responsibilty for everything. But if you ever press them on this particular issue, which I have done, they can not answer it with anything intelligent, only "G*d works in mysterious ways" which just makes me feel sad for them.
Nature and people are imperfect and bad shit will happen right along with the good stuff. That's life, that's my philosophy, that's what I am sticking to:)
P.S. How are YOU and the wee one???

Wabi said...

Despite the fact she's a Jew, that blogger's viewpoint seems very fundamentalist Christian to me, very "Your Own Personal Jesus."

Also, sort of like Amway God. (Amway-- now there is yet another thing I really don't get ...)

Liz said...

Julia- thank you for touching the third rail. I really appreciate how open and sharing you are regarding your faith.

Anonymous said...

You expressed my feelings on this issue better than I ever could have. Thank you for the post. A related philosophy that drove me bonkers while we were waiting for the referral of our daughter (adopted from China) was the idea that G*d had a child picked out for waiting families and that child was born for the new (adoptive) family - G*d divined it. I found that idea so shortsighted and selfish. It totally discounts the birth family and that fact that a woman went through an entire pregnancy only to have to abandon the baby. I hope G*d wouldn't put someone else through that for me.

janis said...

Well, you just did it again, Julia. Writing about a sensitive subject with eloquence and impartiality. Bravo!

I can't answer your question. All these "G-d's will" and "G-d has a plan" things really grate on my nerves, but I've always suspect it is because my ego is too humongous- I am so arrogant I cannot swallow the fact that someone else can run my life! I just think now that Nature is random; like you said elsewhere, effing lottery game.

I am not sure I can understand. I think I've had it explained to me and I still don't get it. Maybe I just don't want to get it.

CappyPrincess said...

I’m not sure that I can answer your question to any degree of satisfaction, but here’s my stab at it. I believe the answer lies in the relationship with G*d. It is my understanding that different faiths have a different idea of what the relationship is with G*d – and that sometimes they are not far apart.

I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (LDS for short.) The relationship I have with G*d is one that He is literally my Heavenly Father, that He has designed and created this world for all of His children and has a purpose and a plan for each of us. I believe that He allows things to happen in our lives without interceding in order to allow us to grow and to have our faith tested. And I believe that we are encouraged to petition Him in prayer for our own needs and wants as well as for the needs and wants of others. I strongly believe that He hears and answers every prayer that is offered to Him, just not always in the way we want Him to. I also believe that he knows the desires of our hearts without our prayers but He expects us to petition Him anyway.

I have often uttered “those” questions while in the midst of personal crisis: Why me? Please, L*rd, won’t you save this child? Why not me? Why now? Won’t you please help me? – of course always me centered. Not very community oriented for sure, but I didn’t intend, nor would I intend to this day, that my prayer was any more important that any other person’s prayer. My child’s life was not worth more than you child’s life, but in my moment of crisis, all I could see was the ending of my child’s opportunity for life along with the end to the hopes and dreams that came with that child. For that, I reached out personally and selfishly to my Father in Heaven to help me understand.

I do not believe that G*d micromanages our lives. In fact, I believe quite the opposite. While He has a plan for each of us, He gives us the opportunity to live our lives and make our own choices – very much like we give our children the opportunity to live and choose and grow through experience, like our parents gave us as we grew from being children to being adults – all with the expectation that we maintain our relationship with Him, often through prayer.

I do not believe that being LDS or Catholic or Hindu or Jewish or Islamic or any other faith gives us special entitlement the way you felt the author was conveying in her use of “a Jewish child” in her editorial. Personally, I think she added the extra word without thinking about how it might be perceived by others given that her audience may also be predominately Jewish?? (just a thought).

And I am from the camp that believes miracles happen every day all around us. If G*d is not dead, why would miracles cease?

I feel I’ve taken up entirely too much of your comment section and believe I want to expand on a few of my own comments, so I will repost this (expanded) on my own blog and invite any comments there as well.

Hopefully I make some sense with the “abbreviated version”.

Anonymous said...

cappyprincess - It sounds like you believe that our babies died because we didn't pray hard enough, we needed to learn a lesson, or we needed to have our faith tested. I am not trying to be confrontational, but doesn't that mean that god specifically chooses the babies that die? Why would you want to believe in that kind of a god? I am just glad that I have always been an atheist. Otherwise, I would be one pissed off and confused lady by now.

CappyPrincess said...

Anony - quite the contrary. I don't believe that "how hard you pray" has anything to do with the results, else I'd have a whole parcel of children to feed and clothe. I was only answering the question on why folks may feel entitled to pray for themselves or for their circumstance. I think that babies live and babies die regardless of our faith and we may not understand why. It's very hard to describe someone's faith in a few paragraphs, so I apologize if I tried to summarize so much that the message became a presumption of "we deserve to have babies die to be tested".

No one deserves to lose a child.

Bon said...

i was having this very conversation today, over coffee, with two lovely women friends. one was once a Protestant minister of sorts, but we still couldn't come up with any rationale for the personal intervention stuff, only historical precedents for that particular breed of religious arrogance.

me, i don't get it. i think - even as a non-believer - that there can be value sometimes in the private supplication to whatever you may hold higher, the "please" to the universe, if you will...because it serves to remind me, at least, of how not in control i am. but you're right, the please ought to be for strength, not for a particular outcome.

Karen said...

I too have hesitated to "go there" in my blog, because some of my family (who might be in my small audience of readers) are more, shall we say, convicted than I am. I am from the evangelical Christian tradition, and the woman whose article you quoted does speak of faith/prayer/God in a way very familiar to me.

My own mother, who I dearly love, speaks of her own serious illness and partial recovery in this way. I posted about it from my perspective a few weeks ago (http://venetianmusings.blogspot.com/2008/07/week-before.html). Just after I'd posted, I heard her talking about it to a friend from church and realized how my account included none of the gratefulness to God she seems to have. It's hard for me to frame the fact that my mom lost her kidney function and is on permanent dialysis (pending a somewhat unlikely transplant due to her buildup of antibodies from several transfusions) as some kind of miracle. Of course I'm glad she didn't die, but couldn't God have prevented the whole thing if s/he's in the business of doing "miracles"?

Nonetheless, it's my mom's disease and her faith makes her happy and possibly a more content person than I am. I really like the posts from sweetsaltykate and niobe. It's a mystery, how all this works and how we come to terms with the suffering we (and others) experience. And that's as far as I'm prepared to go. Not that I don't think about it . . . a lot.

Kudos for speaking up, wondering, writing as well as you do.

Ahuva Batya said...

I am not going to give a long and thoughtful response; I just wanted to say that you and I see this topic in a very similar way, and I too am always puzzled by the viewpoint the author of the article is stating.

mama o' the matrices said...

Ah. Where to begin?

I've never been a fan of God's plan. I think that we don't deserve our children, and that some of us are just more aware of the fragility and specialness (okay, lousy word, ya I know) than others. So don't tell me that 'God only gives you a trial that you overcomes,' because I'm going to drop kick that deity in the nuts.

Let's take a step to one side. When my SIL was pregnant for a third time, her husband said to me, 'three easy pregnancies and three healthy babies. That's proof of God's existence right there.' I just stared at him. So, what? Me doing IF and then having two kids with medical problems is proof of what, exactly? makes no sense.

People invoke God a lot as an active force in the terrible/difficult/unthinkable/happy thing du jour. I think that's a cop out. Maybe God's there, maybe not. (I think yes, for the record) But doesn't He have better things to do than to set up lots of hurdles for you, specifically? WHy are you so special?

I prefer to think of a god who sees us all as children. Some of us screw up, and She stands aside and lets us fall. Some of us get hurt, and I think She has empathy. But like any good parent, He's standing back and letting us live our lives.

Although I do have a suspicion that whatever deity is watching me, has a slightly warped sense of humor.

(oh, and Rachel? I bet that asking people to pray for you is as much asking for intercession as it is for a statement of caring and community.)

Natalie said...

"It expecially irks me when people who were miracualously cured of something on TV give credit to god, because that implies that they are so special that god saved them, and all those others who may die are less special and unworthy."
Yes. This drives me NUTS. It makes me absolutely livid when someone says something to the effect of, "G*D saved my child because I prayed!" - possibly in more words than that. Because what, does that mean I deserved to lose my child?

I am quite thankful I do not believe in any higher powers or sentient beings who sit up there micromanaging and deciding peoples' fates. I have far too much anger for any kind of being like that. It's simply non-sensical to me. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I'm athiest for a reason.

ginger said...

I'm not sure I can do this topic credit, but I'll give it a try. I feel like I need to give you a little background on me first though to put this in perspective.

I'm a protestant Christian, firmly in the middle between the evangelicals & charismatics. That basically means that I believe the Bible is literal & I believe that miracles are still happening today. I also have a master's degree in chemistry from a well-respected university and teach as an adjunct at the college level.

When my husband & I started trying to get pregnant it became clear that it wasn't going to be easy due to my irregular cycles. After our first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, I faced many of these questions, and though I don't have satisfactory answers, I can give you what I have so far.

I believe that God does want personal interaction with every human being on the Earth. He knows each one of us inside & out, and I really do believe that He wants us to pray - not just to ask for stuff , but to communicate with Him. He does talk back, just not necessarily verbally. I also believe that God has given us free will. He doesn't want a planet of robots who worship Him because they have to. He gave us choice so that we can use it. We can choose to know & love Him or we can choose to reject Him. However, I believe that He continues to love everyone regardless of whether they believe in Him or not.

Since God has given us free will to do whatever we like, there is a lot of, well, crap in the world. We make poor choices; we hurt each other, and as a previous poster mentioned, I think God does act as a loving parent and let us experience the consequences of our actions. Does He have the power to step in and solve all of our problems? Absolutely. Will He do that for anyone? Absolutely not, no matter how hard you pray.

However, that doesn't mean that He doesn't step in and intervene ever. He can & does intervene in individuals' lives. He uses people to make miracles occur - including doctors & medical personnel. I believe He speaks to us by giving us an insight or a hunch more often than not. That doesn't discount those people's efforts, and we still have choice whether to act on those things or not.

I hated it when people tried to comfort us with phrases like it was "God's plan" or "God's will" that our first baby didn't make it. I wasn't comforted by the assurances that there "must have been something wrong" either. I would have loved my child regardless of whether or not they were "normal" or perfectly healthy.

So where did that leave me? Why would my Daddy allow this when so many others have babies easily, babies that are unwanted, neglected, & abused? I don't know. I still don't know, even though that was four years ago. Even if God explained it to me I don't think I could understand. What is it in 1st Corinthians? Now we see through a mirror darkly?

What I cling to is that I know that my Father loves me. I know that there is evil in the world that will come against us all, and sometimes nothing we do will make a difference in that evil. I know that we all will suffer in this life, and that even though God has the power to wipe it all away He doesn't. Believe me I have a lot of questions for God when I finally get a face-to-face, but for now I take comfort in my relationship with God and the knowledge that His heart broke over my baby too.

Sorry. This was way too long, and possibly incomprehensible. Hope it gives you some insight though.

kazbern said...

Wow, what a great post and what thoughtful comments!

I've been participating in some formalized interfaith dialogue for the past year (I'm Jewish) and this topic has not yet come up at this depth. We have talked about "what you pray for," and it does seem to be a cultural thing, whether you pray for the tangible or ephemeral. I think I will raise it again with the others in our (only women, only "Abrahamic" faith) group.

My own personal path has followed a similar trajectory as most of the commenters. I felt during my IF years that it was foolish and hurtful to say it was G-d's plan for me to be barren. I learned that a prayer for strength was the most soothing to me, and helped me to persevere through 7 IVF cycles. I never say that I was "blessed" to have my daughters because to me that implies that those women who are still struggling are not blessed.

My first daughter was conceived through ART after 5 years of struggle, my second was a spontaneous pregnancy after a failed IVF, my 7th. Which one is the "miracle?"

I have felt very connected spiritually in my life on several occasions. Strangely, few have happened since my first pregnancy. Either I'm too distracted by my kids or my IF years left me too scarred to feel that special link in the world that we call G-d. In any case, I continue to observe my faith as vigorously as I can manage in the hopes that someday soon all the gears will fall back into place and I will reconnect.

FeyIndigoWolf said...

That's something I'm working on myself. I'm currently reading When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner. When he was told his son wouldn't live through adulthood he asked himself a lot of those same questions. I'm only half-way through the book, but I really like what he has to say about the whole thing so far.

Lori said...

Well... you're brave, Julia. But I already knew that.

I don't know that I have the energy to "go there" right now. The summer sun has shrunk my brain considerably.

I would hope you would know me well enough to know though that although I am a person of deep faith, this is not my view of theology. And, in spite of the opinion of some of the commenters, I don't believe it to be a uniquely Christian (or American) view either- obviously, since this women is Jewish. It seems I hear all the time from the New Age groups how there are "no accidents." I would hope that people might consider that this sort of "meant to be" mentality knows no religious, cultural, geographic or racial boundaries. It can pop up in all sorts of places.

However, I particularly liked Niobe's comment because it most closely relates to my own thoughts. It may be a cop out- but I am content with mystery. I am content to live out my faith, and my relationship with God, in the context of the mystery that is God, that is the universe, that is Beyond. I am content with not knowing. A cop out? Maybe. But I have come to this place after a heck of a lot of soul searching, struggle and both intellectual and spiritual study. Getting here didn't feel like the easy path to me.

Good for you, for raising the question.

Star said...

Well, I don't think I can add anything profound to what's already been said, but for what it's worth, I totally agree with everything you said. Of course, I've been agnostic for over 15 years now . . . I especially loved what you said about how there is nothing you could do to earn the happiness that is having a child. That made me tear up because it's how I feel about mine.

Lisa b said...

Others have commented much more eloquently that I will be able. I did want to agree that the idea that god favours some of us irritates me no end. As you say, there is nothing we could do to deserve the joy that is a child, so conversely there is nothing that would explain how someone could lose a child.

HMC said...

I am a Christian, and I have struggled with this issue immensely since the death of my daughter. My husband and I have come to the conclusion that the "why?" question is a futile and dangerous one to ask, because really no answer would suffice. I try to respond graciously to people who say that there is a reason and that God has a plan. This is NOT God's plan. God never intended for babies to die - that I know. My husband and I feel that as believers our responsibility is to look for the ways God can work through our sorrow. It is not ever easy, and I am frequently angry and feel lost, but if I reach for Him, I know he will hold me in the midst of my grief.

Mandy said...

Ginger said a lot of what I'd have said, if I hadn't been struggling so hard to come up with the words.

I struggle with the question in many ways. I look at my two losses, and how things worked out with my son and it's hard for me to reconcile. I make a lot of crappy jokes about how things have happened, because I just haven't processed it all. At the end of the day, I don't know how I got so lucky to have my daughter's pregnancy go so smoothly after infertility, how and why my two losses occurred, how I managed to have so much go wrong with Joseph's pregnancy and yet he is here and so am I. I joke about the lessons I was supposed to learn from all of it, and while there have been many things I've learned, I don't know if that's the point of it all or not.

I know how lucky I've gotten, and I don't know why. or how. To believe we got through it by the grace of God fits because it feels like a miracle, but I can't reconcile it with all those who have suffered the devastation of coming so close and watching their babies slip away. It's the why me/why not me/how does he decide that makes it hard for me to believe one way or another.

Sometimes it makes me wonder if I believe at all, then I'm reminded that I do....but knowing what I believe is harder for me to grasp.

Anonymous said...

I so appreciate this post. These are things I have often pondered, and although I have no words of wisdom...I agree with you.

Its so difficult for me to explain what I believe, but its along the lines of..."life happens...good and bad" Its not trivial, its serious business...and even though I believe in G-D...I look for peace and comfort. I dont expect to have everything I wish for answered, cause like you, I know I am only one person in this huge universe. Difficult questions...no real answers I suppose.

As far as what others believe...I have often thought we all believe what helps us in the moment. Not really sure though.


Anonymous said...

In a different domain, and with an additional twist, I am puzzled with these questions. My mother received a "one month" prognosis given when her cancer had left her bedbound and unable to eat or drink. To everyone's shock, the next day she requested fried eggs, bacon, toast, and a *milkshake*, pounded it back and recovered enough from there to go home until the cancer finally got her two years later. A miracle attributed, variously, to G-d's great compassion, to my mother's fighting spirit, and never to the brand new "last ditch" drug that they had happened to start the day before with a shrug of "it might not work, but if it does, it works quickly and has few side effects. Let's see."

But during those two years... the number of times G-d's love was declared so apparent, and the emails and calls from friends touting my mom as being so strong, reminder that she "rocks" left me queasy every time. The inevitable truth, the sad, cold, hard medical truth, is that we had a reprieve. One we were enjoying, every day, but one we knew was finite. At the end of it, I wondered, what would friends say? "Hmmm....I guess G-d just kind of stopped loving her?" (More likely, the logically incompatible "He only takes the best" - a favorite among Catholics in certain circles.) And of my mother? Would her death be the most clear sign that she just decided not to fight anymore, was I no longer worthy of being told that my mom rocks? And yet, rock she did in those last days, when it was apparent that all of the tryingness wasn't going to get us far, when she cared only of others, not of herself. Merely living is not a sign that one rocks, nor is the act of dying. It is how we do both that determines our rockingness, and, I hope, if there is a greater being, how we are judged.

The other great loss in all of this was the people who were rocking. The medical researchers and teams who got my mom on new drugs literally as they were approved, who WERE the ones whose fight gave us those extra years? Yes, drug companies may be slimy ripoffs but in those buildings are people standing over beakers, and it was their hard-earned science, probably developed in agonizing fits and starts, (coupled with the dedication of the medical team to make the move from beaker to bedside) that kept her alive longer than we had really dared hope.

Sorry - I got us a bit off topic here. I know the value of making attributions in order to make some sense of the senseless. But to be consistent, you have to carry those same attributions with you to some yucky places.

Snickollet said...

I'm too tired and brain-dead to comment on the substance of your post, but I wanted to drop by to tell you that I gave your blog a wee award . . .


Lollipop Goldstein said...

I think that prayer is not actually meant to go outward (as in, to G-d) but instead is meant to center us, hone in on internal strength, vent. It's interesting because I don't think that G-d is micromanaging our lives; doling out fate; deciding which babies make it. That is all chance. Medicine. The way the chips fall. And yet, when I'm relieved, I often find myself saying, "baruch ha'shem." It's such a conflict. Yet, after reading your post about a dozen times over the last few days, I sat with this thought and finally realized that what I am thankful for is the fact that prayer exists--that we have this way to center ourselves, hone in on what is important, vent. But it all moves inward for me. I am asking something of myself when I pray.

Tash said...

Great post, and really amazing comments.

I have very little to add -- I'm atheist, and sometimes feel either utterly unable to comprehend attitudes like the woman who penned the article, or really fortunate that I don't have to muck through a crisis of faith on top of my grief. To those who weathered no crisis, I'm grateful, and for those who questioned and found a conclusion, I'm in awe.

MaggieO said...

It was good to read this and remember that I'm not the only one who finds this infuriating. My in-laws take it to the extent of, "Oh look! A parking space when we needed one! God is looking out for us!" It's so prevalent with infertility, too. When you can't get pregnant, no one says, "I'm sorry God is cursing you with that." (Or perhaps they are just thinking it?) But if you are successfully able to have a child, it's always a miracle, and God's timing, etc. I am like you and wish that I knew their reasoning behind it all. I suspect there is none.