A coworker, whom I'll call Mark, passed away the other day.He was 60 and his end was not pleasant.
He had smoked heavily for many years and had a nicotine-tinged voice and a horrid hacking cough. His skin was furrowed from decades of tobacco.
He was also the kind of acerbic and brilliant guy who was given an office and a computer, and spent his days reading the paper or skimming the internet. Once in a while, some higher-up would need wisdom or a vision for the future, and they'd drag Mark out of his office to a closed-door meeting. There, Mark would expound, amid fits of chest-rattling coughing, on the obvious direction the company should take. The execs would nod their heads sagely. Mark would tell them exactly what they should be doing next, his sad eyes belying the occasional digs he'd make to failed projects, with the obvious warning not to follow their example. those doomed projects that had not taken his advice, venturing off into the untracked wastes where stupid ideas go to die. Then Mark would be thanked for his time. He would retreat to his office to finish the paper.
Mark ended up (no surprise) with lung cancer. Then a stroke that left him unable to speak or read.A most cruel fate for a man whose reading and voice were his soul's tools. Though his family was devastated, his end was a mercy.
I think of Mark because of the curious approach the priest took when homilizing. "Why, why did Mark leave us in the prime of his life? Why cancer? Why now?"
Anyone who knew Mark and his habits knew the answer: "Because he smoked like a trash pile for 50 years, and was too damned stubborn to stop. That's why!"
A friend's father died "young" in much the same way many years ago. He smoked, but also drank himself sick and violent before finally giving up the booze and smokes. But the damage had been done.
"I guess the Lord was calling him wanted him to come home," some said. I thought, "Yeah. God wanted him home --
in thirty years!
We do love to comfort ourselves with nonsense:
- A child dies of leukemia. "God wanted another angel!"
- Parents and an infant die when their van blows a tire and rolls into a water-filled ditch. "It was their time."
- A 45-year-old father of four throws a clot and drops dead of a heart attack. "God has a plan."
But why does God have to take the heat when bad things happen to us -- especially bad things that are preventable? Is it blasphemy to blame God for things that are ours to control? Is it sacrilege to suppose that God has plan when maybe he doesn't? Is it the sin of pride to refuse to be liable to the vagaries of nature?
The religious mind insists that God is in everything. To the simpleminded, that means that God
everything; be it earthquake, train wreck, industrial accident, war or disease, God's hand is in it all. But what if God wants us to
to accept the randomness of life? What if his purpose is to make us so sick of chaos that we find ways to banish it from our existence? What if our chore on earth is to learn to predict the earthquake, to prevent the cancer, to banish war, the poverty , the injustice?
Let's be humble enough to accept our lot as the objects of the Universe's cruelest jokes. Let's learn not to palm off our misfortunes on a capricious deity, but to become one who, like God, will "smash the heads of the dragons ... (and) crush the heads of Leviathan." (Psalm 74:13-14)