I’m going to do something I’ve never before done in my columns: ask for help. No, not for me; but for some people we know.
When tragedy strikes, it’s a common reaction to ask, “God, why? Why would You let this happen?”
I received a phone call on the afternoon of St. Patrick’s Day from my friend Tiffani. “I’m calling with a prayer request,” she said, chocking back sobs. “Even as we speak, the Doles’ house is burning down.”
To receive such a call is shocking at best, but this case takes some explanation.
The Doles are a homeschooling family of eight children. They would have had nine, but they lost a baby (Tucker) a couple years ago. Mike Dole lost his job, so the family has been struggling. Tracy was pregnant with their 10th child when they learned the baby had a rare and usually fatal congenital heart defect. Little Jethro was born dead three weeks ago. The doctors revived him. He underwent surgery and is in precarious condition. We don’t know if he will live.
And now their house has burned down.
I asked my husband, “How much can one family take?”
And then I got mad at God. How could He let such a thing happen? One or two things, maybe. But to lose a baby? And a job? And possibly another baby? And their home? And all their possessions?
So yes, I was mad at God. What was He thinking? Couldn’t He … maybe spread things out a little?
Why do bad things happen to good people? These kinds of multiple blows should be reserved for bad people. That’s the kind of neat and orderly “payback” it would be nice to see. The only people to lose jobs, lose babies and lose homes should be those who … well, who deserve it.
But of course that’s not how things work in this world. While some say God’s plan is perfect, sometimes it sure is hard to see what that plan could be. What on earth is God doing, burning down the Dole’s home in addition to losing their source of income and taking their littlest baby? Is He just plain mean?
Troubled, I turned to Harold Kushner’s classic book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” The author surmises that maybe things don’t happen because God directly “causes” them to happen. Sometimes things just … happen. But it’s what we DO with those things that make a difference. Do we turn to God or reject Him? Do we seek solace in prayer or in hatred? Do we cope by opening ourselves spiritually or by shutting ourselves off with bitterness? Better minds than mine have pondered these dilemmas for centuries.
What’s left of the Doles’ home.
There’s a scene from an old Western movie about some pioneers. In the movie, a man’s wife had died, leaving him with a small daughter. A woman, pregnant with her first child, loses her husband on the trail.
The woman looked at the wreckage of her dreams and blamed God for her troubles. The man took her aside and said, “I know you’re mad at God. But God is not responsible for your problems.” He added, “When I go for a walk with my daughter and she trips and falls, she knows I didn’t push her down. But she also knows that I will be there to lift her up. To minister to her hurts, to support her on her journey and if necessary to carry her home.”
I take comfort from this thought. Perhaps God didn’t smite the Doles because He was having a bad hair day. Perhaps stuff just … happens. It’s how we deal with the “stuff” that matters.
Rabbi Kushner writes, “Laws of nature treat everyone alike. They do not make exceptions for good people or for useful people. … I don’t know why one person gets sick, and another does not, but I can only assume that some natural laws which we don’t understand are at work. I cannot believe that God ‘sends’ illness to a specific person for a specific reason. I don’t believe in a God who has a weekly quota of malignant tumors to distribute and consults His computer to find out who deserves one most or who could handle it best.”
In other words, God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Or as one reader so eloquently put it, it’s God’s way of saying “bleep” happens.
“God does not cause our misfortunes,” concludes Kushner. “Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal, living in a world of inflexible natural laws. The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehavior, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God’s part. Because the tragedy is not God’s will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to Him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are.”
I don’t pretend to be able to pry into the mind of God to understand why bad things happen to good people. Nor do I know if Kushner’s conclusions are theologically sound. I’m just trying to make sense out of what seem like senseless tragedies.
But whatever the reason, the logic or the explanation, the fact remains that the Doles are homeless and may soon lose their baby. Our community is doing what it can to meet their physical needs. Prayer is fine; but prayer doesn’t provide shelter. People do. Our county has approximately a 25 percent unemployment rate, but we’ll come together in compassion and generosity to do what we can.
The Doles have tripped and fallen, and I don’t think God pushed them down. But we can help God pick them back up and set them on their feet. I’m asking you to help.
Donations can be made to:
FBO Jethro Storms Dole
Sterling Savings Bank
P.O. Box 285
Plummer, ID 83851