A coworker and his wife are the parents of a newborn who entered the world two months earlier than her doctors wished. The journey since the baby’s premature birth has been arduous, but her mom and dad are grateful because God is good.
In texts and Facebook posts, her father has thanked God as his daughter marked one milestone after another: when she arrived in this world at 2 pounds, 9 ounces but alive; when she made the various weight targets her doctors had set for her; when she weaned herself from the apparatus that helped her breath; when she took to feeding.
Most recently, during a routine checkup after the baby came home from the hospital, her pediatrician thought she heard a heart problem. Testing revealed a rare heart defect that could require anything from simple monitoring to medication to surgery. But again, God was good, because the baby had a great pediatrician who acted on her suspicions. As I write this, her doctors are mapping a treatment strategy for a defect that often goes undetected.
My coworker and I differ in many ways. He’s a Yankees fan who graduated from N.C. State University; I’m a long-suffering Cubs fan who graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. But the greatest difference is that he has a faith I can only envy.
Where he says “God is good,” I rage at a creator who would bring a child into the world much too soon and then with a congenital heart defect that could require surgery before she’s old enough to know what surgery is.
I get the theological argument that sometimes bad things happen to good people because of free will: A beloved parent or grandparent dies of lung cancer because he or she was a smoker. Lord knows, if I die prematurely, my wife and daughter will know to blame me and not my maker for my bad habits.
But where is the free will – where is the human choice – in a child struck by leukemia, or Down’s syndrome, or cystic fibrosis, or cerebral palsy or a congenital heart defect?
I get angry with the Good Lord right often but never more so than when I see a child stricken by a devastating illness. A benevolent God, I say to anyone who will listen, would not let that happen.
From many years now I have played in a golf tournament benefiting a now-20-something young woman named Jessica. She has, for as long as I’ve known her, been confined to a wheelchair, and I have seldom seen her when she didn’t appear to be suffering.
I know that free will led Jessica’s father to abandon her and her mother not long after she was born. And the would-be believer in me thinks that maybe God created Jessica to test the faithful – to see how the church she was born into would respond to her plight. (It has responded admirably, by the way, with the annual golf tournament.) But then I tell myself that no benevolent God would make a child suffer just to see if his avowed followers were as faithful as they claimed to be.
As you can tell, I’m conflicted on my best days, which are few, and angry the rest of the time. I wish I was my coworker, who’s grateful when, in my view, he has more right than I do to be angry. Instead, he’s grateful, because God is good.
That’s a faith that moves mountains, and I wish I had it.