Forgiving God

I just read Forgiving God, written by John Boyle and one of my dear friends (and inspirations), Jeanne Bishop.

Each of the authors has had good reason to think about the question of whether we need to forgive God for permitting evil. As a young American soldier in World War II, Boyle was among those who helped liberate Dachau. “The sights and smells that engulfed [him] upon entering the camp initially stunned [him] into a stupor of disbelief that anything so horrible, so brutal, so obscene could have happened at all, much less have been perpetrated by human beings upon other human beings. Corpses of inmates of the camp lay strewn on the ground, in railroad boxcars, and stacked helter-skelter in piles. Before [him] in a panoramic display of carnage was bitter proof of the end result of anger, prejudice and hatred, when pushed to their logical conclusion.” Having been profoundly disturbed by my visit to Dachau this past summer, it is hard to imagine what it must have been like to see what Boyle saw when he walked in there in 1945.

Jeanne Bishop’s encounter was a more personal one. In 1990, her 25 year-old sister (then three months pregnant) and her husband were murdered. The murdered was waiting for them when they returned home after a family gathering. Jeanne’s brother-in-law was killed first, leaving Jeanne to “imagine [her] sister seeing the horror before her eyes: her husband’s body slumping to the floor, her dream of having children together and growing old dying with him. Then, seeing the gun turned on her. The killer fired into her body twice, in her abdomen and side, and fled.”

Each of the authors describes their experience in greater detail than I have done here in the course of sharing how they have grown and how they have grappled with their pain and anger. There is much in both of their narratives that is worth reflecting on and this is a book I would encourage anyone to read. (I was going to write “anyone who has grappled with the subject of God and evil – but I suspect that is most, if not all, of us at one point or another.)

Let me here just share one of the things each of them writes. John Boyle writes in talking about why even understandable outrage over injustice can become dangerous:

If my outrage or my anger is the only thing I have, am I in danger of becoming the embodiment of the only thing I have? Does it not then become the “god” around which I organize my life? And do we not ultimately become what functionally we worship?

I share it because there are so many circumstances where we persuade ourselves that our anger is justified, allowing us to feed it. I’m not saying anger is never an appropriate response, but anger easily moves from something that can lead to positive action to something that spirals out of control. And many who have endured tremendous suffering (especially at the hand of another) use their anger as a way of coping with their pain. They run great risks in doing so.

Jeanne Bishop shares the first step in getting past her anger with God, what she describes as her starting point. She writes

But all the time I was shaking my fist at God, questioning, I knew three things: first, that God existed; second, that God loved me, loved Nancy and Richard and their baby; and third, that they were somehow safe with God. That was my square one, my starting point.

If that is our starting point, we will be able to get past our anger and do what Jeanne was ultimately able to do: unclench our fists, uncurl our fingers and reach our hands into the “strong, loving hand of God.”