Well, if there was ever a year that could really test my faith in a loving God, 2020 will do just fine.
What an unmitigated disaster it has been: So much loss, confusion, anger, division, violence, suffering, and death. After such a time, many people might say that if there is such suffering, then a loving God is obviously not there.
We have all heard, and maybe said, “How can a loving God allow this pain and suffering in the world?” “Theodicy” is the attempt to explain how a loving God could create a world with so much evil, and this has been a fundamental human question from the beginning.
The hard truth is that we simply cannot put God and “why” in the same sentence and expect any satisfaction. We do it all the time, yet we will never get the answer we want because we are not God. If you and I could understand and explain God and God’s ways, then God is just one of us, no less but also no more. The power of faith is that we choose to believe sometimes — many times — against the evidence.
This faith thing can get a little tricky. Faith is a choice. Believing is a conscious decision. It is not a feeling, and it is not something that happens without our participation.
God has blessed us with free will, but there are times when that blessing seems more like a curse. Wouldn’t it be lovely if faith in God were just given to me with no effort on my part? What if I woke up tomorrow morning and I believed! That would be fine until the phone rang and I learned of a personal crisis or loss.
The truth is that if I do not choose to believe, it has no meaning and no power in my life. Yes, faith is an offered gift from God, but it is a gift we must decide to accept. It is a gift we must unwrap, take out of the box, and put to use. It is a gift that grows in power and influence as it is put to use. It is alive and dynamic and life-changing.
So what is faith? Well, it is not “knowledge.” Rather, it is confidence, trust, reliance, conviction, assurance, loyalty, commitment and allegiance. And above all, it is a personal choice we all make every day of our lives. God has made promises to us about his unwavering and eternal love for each of us, but not a life without pain and loss anymore than his son Jesus experienced.
Why? Beats me. If we wait to say yes to God until we receive the answer to our “why?” it will just not ever happen.
There is a cost to being people of faith. We will not always fit into the world very well. Sometimes when we try to be faithful to God and do what is right, what is noble, what is pure, what is most excellent, we may find irritation, anger, and even rejection, from others. Each of us must decide for ourselves if it is worth that cost.
It is possible that we can be the agents of redeeming the trauma of 2020. As we begin 2021, may we be the people willing to accept that cost and focus on the good we can bring into the world instead of simply being victims of the bad behavior of other people.
Instead of complaining that God is not handling the situation in the way that would please me, what if I accepted the truth of a reality I do not understand and often do not like? What if I seriously and intentionally looked for the proof of God’s presence in the midst of the suffering?
He is there, in quiet loving acts of so many people, in the sacrifices people make for others, and in little acts of kindness around us every day, even in days like we saw in 2020. Choosing to see this is most important “New Year’s resolution” we could ever make, and it is a very personal decision we must make every day of our lives.
The Rt. Rev. David C. Bane Jr. is the retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia and a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Elizabeth City.