|© Jaime Valdez Photography|
Typically when someone comes to the door I either A. Don't answer it. or B. Point to the "No soliciting" sign, say, "no thanks," and shut the door.
So when a Jehovah's Witness came to my door the other day, I'm not sure why I didn't do either of these things. Instead, I listened to his introduction until he said:
"Why do you think God allows suffering?"
To my great surprise, I laughed a little and answered promptly with the air of a schoolgirl reciting a lesson:
"So that we can learn."
Then he asked:
"What do you think we're supposed to learn?"
"How to be better people."
I thought this was a pretty good answer and didn't realize until long after he'd left that it was not at all the one he was looking for. I didn't understand how any of what he said after that had to do with God allowing suffering and eventually realized he didn't have an answer to his own question.
The whole thing made me feel like I'd just taken part in an inkblot test. It's not often that someone walks up to you unexpectedly and asks your philosophical views on the reason for your pain. I was quite surprised to learn that I had an answer on the tip of my tongue. But what did it mean? And do I really believe that? Do I really believe that Malachi had a brain injury to teach me how to be a better person?
If so, I think it's working. I never accepted how prejudiced I was toward people with physical and mental disabilities until my son was one of their number. In many ways, I still am prejudiced, but I'm getting much better: I saw how cool a wheelchair-bound man's backpack was; I enjoyed seeing a severely disabled person's delight at the sunshine at the zoo. I wouldn't have even seen those things before. My eyes would have slid right on passed them.
I also feel more compassionate towards others — I know that the bad things that happen to them are not because they are bad people or stupid people. I'm more likely now to take it as a given that they tried their best to achieve the best outcome, but that it wasn't in the cards for them.
Before, I would say: "Don't build your house in a flood zone, dumbass." Or, "Put down the KFC, chunky, and maybe you won't get heart disease." Or, "Duh, take better care of yourself when you're pregnant and your kid won't be screwed up."
Now I know that these are lies we tell ourselves to make us feel immune to that suffering, to make us think that we're safe from tragedy because obviously we would never do something so stupid. Now I know you can try your hardest to avoid catastrophes and still run smack dab into them.
So perhaps I have learned something and perhaps I will become a better person. But, wow, what a terrible price and why does Malachi have to pay it? Even Jesus got to live for 33 years before being asked to make a sacrifice. It hardly seems fair to exact the cost of my shortcomings from the brain of my newborn son.
I guess what I'm saying is, I still don't understand, God. Why do you allow suffering?