“God is good”, you hear people say when things go their way, as though this mythological entity of questionable existence has allegedly made the decision to intervene and bestow moments of goodness in the lives of a blessed, chosen few. I don’t believe that God exists, but if I did, I would probably agree with my late mother, who – robbed by ALS of her ability to speak or eat – confided in me last year (using a text-to-speech app on the iPad that never left her side) that she believed in God, but that she did not believe he was benevolent. Less than six weeks later, she was gone – taken not by the ALS, but rather by an exceptionally aggressive bout with ovarian cancer that took us all by surprise and turned our world upside down.
It is difficult for me to accept the notion of a deity who may be charitably benevolent under extraordinarily mundane circumstances, while denying that same benevolence to others – even when lives are at stake. How can your God be good if he is seemingly charitable on a whim, yet indifferent – sometimes brutally – to suffering? If God existed, why would he rally behind you to ensure that you get something relatively trivial, while at the same time suddenly take the life of a father of three young children, a father who lost his own father only two weeks earlier? What kind of “good” God does something like that?
Your God is not good when refugees are suspiciously seen as terrorists instead of victims of war.
Your God is not good when hate so often seems to be on the verge of trumping love, when there are those who judge people by the color of their skin, their religion, their country of origin or their sexual orientation.
Your God is not good when he drowns a family in grief and then plunges them in even deeper, or when he seals a woman’s fate with one terrifyingly crushing disease but destroys her with another.
And do not speak to me of your God’s master plan or tell me that everything happens for a reason, for I can think of no valid reason for your God to wreak such havoc and devastation. I can think of no sane reason for children to suffer the heart-shattering loss of their father while grieving the loss of their grandfather, or for their grandmother to bury her husband and son within two weeks of one another. I find no comfort in master plans of bilious darkness or senseless loss, in destructive chaos and stolen innocence. If there is a comfort to be found, it is in the beauty of selfless deeds and acts of kindness; it is in the love we share and the space we hold for others in times of need – or in the space they hold for us.
If your God was truly good, I would like to think that he would not be so selective in his benevolence. I believe in benevolence, but I do not believe in God. Instead, I choose the tangible goodness of friends, loved ones and strangers. It is these blessed beings who truly accompany us during our journey, celebrating our joys and supporting us through our sorrows, helping to collect the shards of broken lives strewn about amidst a clutter of unanswered prayers.by Liza Rosenberg
The road we traveled to bring our son into the world was long and painful. There were several pregnancies during which fetal anomalies were discovered, and one that ended with the birth of our first son in the 26th week of pregnancy – a preemie born very small with birth defects who managed to survive for just over six months. During those nine years of failed pregnancies, endless tests, hope and despair, I tried to understand how all of this happened to us. The doctors didn’t know what to tell us, and the geneticist that joined my circle still hasn’t managed to connect all of the anomalies – including those with which I was born, rare defects that were fixed in the months following my own birth.
During my first pregnancy, when I was still innocent, inexperienced and not terribly knowledgeable, the detection of a grave defect was explained as bad luck that probably wouldn’t happen again. We painfully accepted this and continued to try. We were less naïve and more cautious, but still believed that everything was behind us. With the discovery of other defects in each of the subsequent pregnancies, my frustration increased. I chased after answers and explanations with no success, and in a moment of crisis, when it seemed that wherever I looked, women all around me managed to get pregnant and give birth to healthy children, I started to look at my situation from a different angle.
My geneticist tried to convince me that even though she hadn’t succeeded in understanding what caused of all the problems we were having, she could tell us that despite the fact that different defects had been found in all of my pregnancies (aside from the last one, of course, which resulted in the birth of our now 11-year-old son), that there was no medical explanation – we simply kept falling on the wrong side of the statistics in a very drastic way. In other words, it was all a matter of luck, and in our case, this luck had been horrible.
So how did we deal with such news, that even though I did everything I was told to do, that I was cautious and careful (and more than a little worried), something went wrong time after time? I turned into something of a genetic and medical expert as I tried to find even a small clue that would hopefully lead to more meaningful one, without much success. I became familiar with all the right websites and pressured my geneticist to find different tests and speak to as many experts as possible in our quest for answers (though there wasn’t a need for too much pressure – she was just as curious as I was).
Friends and acquaintances talked to me about plans and God, and tried to comfort me by saying that everything was in accordance with his plan – a plan that I didn’t necessarily need to know about. It was hard for me to accept this, even though there were moments when I began to think about my experiences and the chances of experiencing so many tragic coincidences. It’s hard for me to believe that there’s some sort of plan whereby I was supposed to suffer loss after loss, and each instance joined a seemingly endless succession of physical and emotional pain. It was inconceivable. I don’t believe in God, but even if I did, I couldn’t believe that he would actually choose me to go through so much anguish. And even more than this, I wasn’t ready to accept that God had plans for all of my unborn children, or for my prematurely born first son, who never spent even one night outside of hospitals, who knew only the suffering of operations and tests. Who would create such a nightmarish plan for such a tiny, fragile baby? Why the hell were we chosen for such plans? I absolutely refused to accept this option.
My anger was mixed with feelings of guilt and I wondered what I’d done in my lifetime (or in earlier lifetimes) to end up in this situation. I was sure that I must have done terrible things in a previous incarnation (even though I still haven’t decided whether or not I believe in reincarnation…), things that somehow justified what we’d been through. But there was no medical explanation, and it was hard for me to process the bad “luck” that hit us every time I’d managed to get pregnant.
I wasn’t ready to accept that this was my destiny. Why did we have to endure these tests, this suffering? There are those who say that God doesn’t give people more than they can handle, and this was something I heard more than once from individuals I met along my journey, apparently intended as words of comfort. But for me, however, it was no comfort at all. I didn’t want tests, and saw it as being a bit sickening, to be honest. It was as though God wanted to fling me into hell and see how I dealt with it – because he knew that I was capable of getting through it and not falling along the way. Why me? Why did I need to go through this again and again? And it’s not that I want to see others going through it instead of me. God forbid. I wouldn’t wish this fate on anyone.
Following four unsuccessful pregnancies and years of despair and frustration, we discovered that I was pregnant again. To say that it was a high-risk pregnancy would be an understatement. Under the guidance of my geneticist, I underwent every possible test. We ruled out all of the defects that had been found in the previous pregnancies and dealt with problems like gestational diabetes and others that I won’t bore you with here. I was made to stay home from the 16th week, and in week 39 (one week before my own birthday), I gave birth to a healthy little boy. As a final “test”, I almost died shortly after giving birth, but the amazing, talented doctors surrounding me saved my life – and it’s good that they did, since I don’t think I would have been able to successfully deal with such a definitive, final test.
And today, eleven years later, I look at my son and feel so incredibly blessed, as if I’ve won the lottery. I suppose it’s possible to say that our persistence brought us to these moments, and that if we hadn’t succeeded in handling everything that came before, we wouldn’t have gotten so lucky in the end. When I look back over our journey, I still can’t accept the explanations about divine plans or targeted “endurance” tests. What I can accept is that everything we’ve been through turned me into the person I am today. I know that I can cope with a lot of pain, and that I’m capable of pulling myself out of the darkness. Sometimes, I allow myself to believe in destiny; if there’s something I really want even though the chances are slim, I can convince myself and calm myself down with the thought that if something is supposed to happen, it will, and if not – it won’t.
And if we say that there are plans, tests and some sort of fate and karma, and the result of this is that we were granted the privilege of raising a boy who surprises and impresses (and sometimes also tests) me every day, a boy of whom I’m so proud, then I can try to accept it – if it’s my destiny to do so.by Liza Rosenberg