I'm going to make a suggestion to potential readers that I really hope you will take seriously. If you are a person who has a generally positive outlook on life, a person who doesn't have to try to find the good in things, a person who sees life as good with a few hiccups, I would suggest you not read this. There are a couple of reasons. The first is that you may entirely misunderstand me and begin regarding me as a malcontent. The second is that it will likely be a waste of time for you. In suggesting that you pass on this one, I am not suggesting that you are wrong, or naive. In fact, it could be that you have life figured out while I'm still hopelessly befuddled. You can read this first sentence, and then see what I mean, and decide for yourself whether to continue.
"To think unimpeded and remain optimistic is not possible. Let a man face facts as they really are, and pessimism is the only logical conclusion."
"Once grief touches a man he is full of reaction, he says spiteful things because he is hurt, but in the end grief leads a man to the right point of view: that the basis of things is tragic."
I offer this scenario. Someone, be it a KGB agent in a gulag, a confused kid in a high school in Columbine, or a run of the mill militant atheist, places a gun to my head and says "Renounce your faith in Jesus Christ or die now." I would not hesitate. If there were no reasoning with the threat, or possibility of disarming him, I would say "Absolutely not. If that is the way of things with no third choice, then kindly be swift and spatter brain matter on yon wall."
But suppose the threatener asks a second question, specifically "Why? Why do you choose to die instead of renounce your faith in Jesus Christ?"
I would answer, quite simply, "Because God sent his Son to die to save me from my sin and the penalty of it."
Supposing again, for the sake of my point, that the agent of death poses a third question. Perhaps he's genuinely curious, or perhaps he's a sadist, denying my pathetic request to do his deed quickly.
"Let me ask you this. You say you choose to die within the confines of the two choices I have given you because God sent his Son as an act of Mercy to save you from your sin and the penalty of it. I would ask you, as the holder of the gun, if you could lay aside (as Chambers and the author of Ecclesiastes did) that one event. That one cataclysm that you did not, in fact, witness for yourself, and only believe happened, I ask you to disregard as I ask this third question. I ask you, in your experience as a human, with the things that you have learned, the experiences you have had, the sights that you've seen, the unpleasantness you've suffered, the things you have seen those you love and the world at large go through, in this context alone, would you say that God is kind? Would you say that He is gentle? Would you say, as the Scriptures say, that He is tender?"
My answer would once again be quickly forthcoming "What are you, crazy? Of COURSE not. If I must base my answer on my experiential observational life, I tell you that God is less kind gentle and tender than yourself with a loaded gun at my head."
(Optimist, if you're still reading, you were warned.)
After all, what have I observed? I was born causing great pain to my mother. My memories of childhood are depressed and lonely. I married a woman who underwent horrific childhood trauma and still suffers from it today. I have a chronic disease and a stressful means of paying my bills. But enough about me. Every day, children are abused, the weak are exploited and tortured, sickness and disease ravages millions, famine is rampant, demigods rain terror and death down from the skies and erupt it from the earth. Sickness of the mind tortures many, leading to lives of quiet desperation, loud desperation, and suicide.
"What is crooked cannot be straightened, and what is lacking cannot be counted....and in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain."
Chambers says that the root of things is tragic, the ecclesiastical preacher says that life itself is vanity.
More and more, the question becomes not why would I choose to die, but why would I choose to live?
As I grow older, there is an excerpt from a children's book that becomes sadder, more relevant, and paradoxically more hopeful.
Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are shipped off to the English countryside to escape the incessant German bombing of London, while Mom stays behind in the danger zone and Dad fights in the War. In the expansive manor, there sits a wardrobe which temperamentally allows access to a magical world the inhabitants call Narnia. After some time in Narnia, the children are given to understand the way things stand. Narnia is under the control of an evil tyrant. But there are a faithful few who eagerly anticipate deliverance from a person named Aslan, who will depose the tyrant and restore the land. So far, so good. But then it is somewhat casually mentioned that "Aslan" is, in fact, a lion.
Susan voices an immediate concern that must be on all of their minds, with the possible exception of the childlike and credulous Lucy.
"Is he quite safe?"
The startled Beaver's response is the lifeblood of my middle aged faith.
If I may paraphrase, "Safe?! .....................Are you quite mad? What did I just say? I told you, He. Is. A. Lion! Of COURSE he isn't safe!!!!"
A lion is a man eating beast, a cunning hunter, a savage and mercurial killer.
What Beaver has just told them has terrifying implications.
Implications such as: this "Savior" could fasten his massive jaws around your throat and end your existence. He could tear you limb from limb and eat your flesh while you still breathe. He could toy with you endlessly, allowing bursts of false hope, only to dash them with his corralling roar.
More to the point, given the difference in perception between a human, a Narnian and this Lion, even his benevolence will likely be inscrutable. His offer of life will seem sadistic and controlling. His very nature will be to us savage, brutal, manipulative, narcissistic and unpredictable. His very helping paws have claws in them. His voice issues from between fangs.
So, at this point, I imagine Peter and Susan are thinking, "Yeah, no. The land is under siege by a cruel dictator and you're telling us our only hope is a killing machine. We can just go back to the lamp post, walk through the wardrobe and be done with it. Oh, wait. England is about to be overrun by the enemy. Well, this is just bloody fantastic.
Lion or Hitler? Maybe we should just flip a coin!"
Of course, you know what Beaver says next.
His next sentence is quite possibly the most contradictory statement possible given his previous utterance of "He's a LION, course he isn't SAFE!"
But.................................. He's good."
Yes, He's good. To my finite understanding, He is beyond finding out. He is a cosmic sadist, a cold and distant ultimatum, an Entity that knows me intimately and yet allows cruel things to happen to me.
To my faith, He is goodness that is so beyond my comprehension of goodness, kindness that outstrips the kindest human I've ever known, gentleness and tenderness that would make the most awestruck, devoted mother a faithless, abusive caretaker.
Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.