I'm on call again this weekend. It's not been too bad as things go around here, but the numerous tragedies are ever-present. A two-year old had meningitis and subsequent problems draining the fluid around the brain. We had a neurosurgeon visitor at the time, and were able to place a drain, but things are tough to keep sterile here, and he ended up with a worse infection. He hasn't spoken in days, and it's only a prayer that maybe, somehow, he might again. A three-year old has a brain filled with strokes, and we're supplying oxygen and not much else of benefit, but this is what the family wants. I'm not expecting anything to get better, and so I guess I'm waiting on something to get worse. Trust me, the list goes on and on.
Sadness is the predominant image. Tragedy. But it's more than that. There is evil in the sadness, some sense that things could have been otherwise. Should have been otherwise. I don't have the strength to stare at it all day, every day. But it's there whenever I open my eyes.
Philosophers and theologians have, for years, debated the “problem of evil.” The reasoning goes something like this: How can God be all-powerful and all-good, and yet there is evil in the world? If you accept the contradiction and hope for some resolution, then you can (a) reject that God is good and/or omnipotent, (b) reject the reality of evil, or (c, seemingly the most popular option) reject that God is there at all. Actually, there are other options out there, and I would assert that some of the proffered Christian answers out there hold some decent water. However, they may or may not satisfy the intellect, but they will rarely satisfy the heart, when you're staring at a mom and her sick child.
And yet recently, I can't shake the feeling that there is a missing piece to the discussion. As I write this, little Maggie, growing every day, is repeatedly crawling up on top of her dad, just for the fun of it. A cool wind blows on a sunny day. A friend is only too glad to help. In fact, though we see our fair share of wailing in the hospital, if you could walk through it, you may notice that the predominant sound is laughter and friendly conversations, not just from the families whose loved one is getting better, but from the others as well. And not just because we can't bear to look at the sadness for too long (though I certainly vouch for that phenomenon). Rather, there is the simple fact of all the goodness around us all the time. Shattered and mixed up, like one would expect in our fallen world, but emphatically there nonetheless.
What do we make of this? Mostly we ignore it, but one could say it creates the philosophic “problem of good”, whose reasoning goes something like this: If God is not there or not good, then where in the world did all of this goodness come from? And thus, the suggested answers to the “problem of evil” may be creating another equally-challenging question. The presence of good is certainly subjective, but no less subjective or real than the presence of evil.
I'm not suggesting ignoring the evil or the sadness. Jump into the middle, in the moments where we have the strength, and take it on. But celebrate the small and forgotten graces. Celebrate the large, overarching blessings that are too big to keep track of most of the time. Celebrate the strong and holy goodness of God.