My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

“Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

– Psalm 77:7-9

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How does God let bad things happen to innocent people? This is a question that I, as a person of faith have to ask myself every time I open a newspaper and read about the newest and most horrifying human event to present itself in the news. Andrew Thomson, the United Nations peacekeeper who identifies most strongly with faith in the book, Emergency Sex, is forced to consider this question time and time again as he encounters atrocities in such places as Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Haiti.

Andrew was born and raised in New Zealand and his parents had worked as Christian missionaries in the Solomon Islands and Fiji. He was raised in a Christian household and over the course of his life had developed what could be described as a strong Christian faith. He chronicles his father teaching him how to pray and affirming to him that the God they prayed to was a just and merciful God, saying, “My father taught me [sic] when I was a boy…he would kneel beside the wooden bed, showing me how to pray to a good God” (108). Many years after learning how to pray from his father in August of 1993, he writes, “It’s been over twenty years since I prayed besides my bed with my father. But as I take my first steps on Haitian soil, I’m still answerable to those beliefs…” (108).

Then, in 1995, he was sent to Kibuye, Rwanda. Rwanda was the site of the massive genocide of the Tutsi’s by Hutu militias, who were then given refuge by the United Nations. It was Andrew’s task to exhume bodies that were in mass graves in Kibuye. His “…team had been digging for weeks… pulling out corpses under a screaming sun” (234). The area he was tasked to unearth was the site of a massacre ordered by the Hutu governor after ensuring innocent Tutsi civilians refuge, only to then call for their death by his Hutu forces. The dead that Andrew was encountering were “…unarmed civilians, mostly women and children, almost all of whom died of blunt or sharp-force trauma” (235). The irony of the situation, despite the appalling circumstances surrounding the massacre was that the killings had all occurred in a church and it was here that he truly began questioning the presence of God. Still in Rwanda in February of 1996, Andrew reflects on the killings, writing, “This is one church where a lot of prayers went unanswered” (243). At one point, he climbed up the three-story bell tower of the church, perhaps to shorten the distance between himself and a seemingly uninterested God, and reflected. “Above is God, below are hundreds of cadavers stacked like cordwood between the pews and the altar… After many hours I decide God was here, maybe not far above where I’m sitting now, watching and listening. He heard all the desperate prayers, from the kids and the half-dead women, from the believers, the doubters, and the nonbelievers… And God just pissed all those prayers back down to earth, leaving everyone to die” (243). It is at this point that Andrew comes to the same question I voice at the beginning of this essay. “This can’t be the same God I prayed to as a missionary kid or at the communion rail as a medical student. This is a pitiless stranger and to pray to him up here in this bell tower would be absurd” (243). He later on comes to the conclusion that it is people who commit the wrongdoings against their fellow man and that God is not responsible for stopping genocides like the one he witnesses the aftermath of, reassuring himself of the conviction that the God he worships is a God that is Good. It is only people who can put a stop to the darkness penetrating the earth. Coming to this understanding, Andrew climbs down the bell tower, and puts his work gloves back on. In what could only be described as a devastatingly raw act of worship, once again undertakes the task of pulling cadavers from the dirt. Of this, he says, “…not the body and blood of Christ for my sins but ten more cadavers. It’s salvation through exhumation, a new creed” (244).

Andrew is not alone in experiencing a crisis of faith after exposure to some of the greater cruelties present on this earth. Mother Teresa, often hailed as one of the greatest women of faith in history, found herself struggling as she came to terms with what she perceived as an unfeeling and silent God as she began working with the poor and sick in Calcutta, India. Letters written from the year 1949, when she began working in Calcutta, until her death, were made public in 2007 in which she describes an incredible darkness and an unutterable feeling of being “unwanted” and unloved” by God. She says in one letter, “I am told God loves me, and yet the reality of the darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” Mother Teresa witnessed some of the most destitute populations present at the time and as a response, came to question the goodness and presence of God. And yet, in the face of all of this, she and Andrew both fought on and continued to tend to those, both dead and alive, who it seemed God had abandoned. Despite their crises of faith, he and Mother Teresa took on the responsibility of being those who would seek to put an end to the darkness they witnessed on earth in an answer to a silent God.

 

Works Cited:

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. London: Ebury, 2004. Print.

“Episode 4: Andrew Thomson.” ENOUGH ROPE with Andrew Denton. ABC Australia, 2011. Web. 18 June 2013. <http://www.abc.net.au/tv/enoughrope/transcripts/s1336474.htm>.

Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Moore, Malcolm. “Mother Teresa’s 40-year Faith Crisis'” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 24 Aug. 2007. Web. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1561247/Mother-Teresas-40-year-faith-crisis.html>.

 

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