Her tears had stopped, but her eyes were still red with grief. He gave her a Percocet and sat on the edge of the bed. She took his hand in hers and pressed it to her cheek, closing her eyes for a moment or two. Then she looked at him directly.
“I don’t get it, Josh,” she said.
“What don’t you get?” he asked.
“You say that God loves us so much that He sacrificed Himself for us in the person of his only Son. You say that He hears and answers prayer. You say He deserves our absolute love and devotion,” she said.
“I believe all those things to be true,” he said calmly.
“Then why is there so much shit in the world?” she asked bitterly. “Why do children starve, and good people die of cancer, and innocent girls get raped and evil clerics blow up innocent people in the name of Allah? Why is Giuseppe dead?” Unable to contain her emotions, she broke into fresh sobs.
Josh looked at her long and hard. “If you expect that my faith somehow gives me all the answers to the unfairness of life, you are going to be disappointed,” he said. “I don’t know all the answers. I have asked the same questions of God that you just asked me. But I do know a few truths that might just help you understand a little,” he said.
“Right now I need all the help I can get,” she said.
“OK,” he said. “Here goes. There are two things that keep this world from being the perfect place God made it to be. The first of these is what has cursed man from the beginning – the fact that God made us with free will. Since the garden, every man and woman has been free to choose their own path. There are people in the world who voluntarily choose to do evil. God usually does not stop them – not because He is complicit in their evil, but because He will not force someone to behave as He wishes them to. Secondly, and hand in hand with that, there is the presence of sin. Sin is the cancer that eats up everything that is good in people and replaces it with bile and hatred. Sin is what twisted Dr. Tintoretto’s life and filled her with anger and misery. Sin is what drives fanatics to murder in the name of a supposedly compassionate god. Sin ties us in knots and keeps us from reaching for the good and perfect life that God has waiting for us.”
She nodded, understanding but not convinced. “And there is something else,” Josh added. “That is the fact that God is omniscient and we are not. When something like today happens, all we see is the short term pain and anguish and not the eternal consequences. Sometimes great evil can be turned into an even greater good. And sometimes pain is the way that God draws us nearer to Himself. Did I ever tell you about my cat, Lovecraft?”
Isabella actually laughed a bit. “You named your cat after a writer of Gothic horror stories?” she asked.
Josh sighed. “I told you I was a total nerd,” he said. “Lovecraft was a pretty Siamese, friendly and approachable. Far and away the best-natured cat I have ever owned! Of course, she had to be, given that I was a very typical mischievous teenager. But one evening, we went off to Wednesday church services, and Lovecraft the cat found her way into our garage. Dad had been bass fishing that Saturday, and left a rod and reel leaning in the corner with a lure still on it. The lure was something called a “Devil’s Horse” – about three inches long, shiny, and with three treble hooks attached to it. I guess the lure was hanging free and the cat batted at it with her paw. The treble hook bit in and got hold of her. The more she yanked and pulled, the deeper it went. So, being a cat, she tried kicking at the lure with her back claws to make it let go – and she got a hook in her back leg as well. By now the rod was broken and the garage has got fishing wire everywhere. When panic and flight did not work, Lovecraft tried aggression again. She BIT the lure to make it let go - and got a third treble hook through the cheek!”
Isabella looked at him, laughing and crying at the same time. “I think I know that feeling!” she said. “Everything you do makes the situation worse!”
“Exactly!” Josh said. “So we get home from church and Dad’s fishing rod is smashed, there is fishing line all over the garage, stuff is strewn everywhere, and in one corner, tangled in a huge ball of fishing line and miscellaneous things that had gotten caught up with her, was my poor cat, yowling, hissing, and ready to claw the eyes out of anyone who got close!”
Isabella was giggling now, as the Percocet took hold. “So what did you do?” she asked.
“I wasn’t able to do anything,” Josh said. “I was only 10 years old. But my Dad got a beach towel and threw it over the cat, wrapping her up tight. Then he uncovered one pierced cat member at a time, pushed the hook through the wound until the barbs came out the other side, used wirecutters to cut the barb off the hook, and then pulled it back out. You should have heard the cat howl! It sounded like she was being disemboweled! And despite the towel and two pairs of hands helping, she still managed to claw my Dad up pretty good. After he got the last hook out and cut her free of all the fishing line, she bit him for good measure, went streaking out of the garage and under the house, and did not come out for two days!”
“Poor kitty!” Isabella said.
“The thing is,” Josh continued, “to her limited understanding, Dad was just torturing her. There was no rhyme or reason to his actions that she could understand. All she felt was the pain. But the whole time, he was actively working to free her from the mess she had gotten herself into. And she clawed and bit him for his troubles!”
Isabella was quiet now, her rich brown eyes staring up at Josh.
“That’s us,” he said. “That’s our whole world. We are so caught up in our own sin, our own misery, and their consequences that we can’t even begin to see a way out. And when God tries to help us, we fight back because we can’t see the situation from his perspective. All we see is more pain, so we lash out at Him. But the whole time He is just patiently trying to extricate us from the mess we landed ourselves in by our own stubbornness and pride.”
Isabella was quiet for a very long time, and he thought that perhaps she had gone to sleep. But when she spoke, her voice was soft but very clear. “Thank you, Joshua,” she said. “It doesn’t make everything better – but it helps me understand. A little. I still wish Simone and Giuseppe did not have to die.”
Josh’s own tears started up again, surprising him. “Me too,” he said softly.