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When Faith Means Something

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I stood in front of that cross last night at vespers, praying for Kara Tippetts because I was haunted by her post about explaining to her daughter that she’s probably not going to beat cancer, and moved to tears by her response to our resident curmudgeon Charles, who found that post “a bit flowery.” Kara wrote in the combox:

Excuse me Charles, this is the only story I have to share.

Rod, I appreciate you sharing my story, flowers and all.

I would have lashed out in anger had my writing about such a tender, heartbreaking moment been dismissed as “a bit flowery.” But she didn’t. That’s when I thought: I wish I were more like her. Before vespers, I had let my anger get the best of me, and ranted at one of my kids. In part because of Kara’s response to Charles, I stayed after and went to confession, and came home after vespers and apologized to my son, and asked forgiveness. She gave me that small grace, and she didn’t even know it.

She doesn’t know me either, and I don’t know her, but I do know what it’s like for a young mom to be stricken out of the blue with terminal cancer. There’s another woman, Alison, whom I don’t know, but I know her husband, and she got her Stage IV diagnosis (there is no Stage V) about a month ago, though she doesn’t yet have a prognosis. I prayed for her too.

I don’t find praying for people in these situations comforting. In fact, they make me mad at God for allowing this cancer to happen. When the anger rises in my heart, I hear the voice of my late sister telling her children, “We are not going to be mad at God.” Still … I am. I was reading the theodicy part of the Spufford book today, and he’s right: there really is no satisfactory explanation for why God allows these things to happen. Some explanations are better than others, but really, how can you claim necessity when you see a young mother having to contemplate telling her children goodbye?

And yet. I believe God loves us. I believe He is all-good. I believe he is all-powerful. I cannot logically reconcile these things with the cancer these women have, or that my sister had. If the Christian faith is to mean anything, it has to make sense in some way when confronted by the worst of life. It’s easy to believe in God when things are going great. But your faith means very little if it cannot withstand a mother’s cancer.

I was thinking about this, standing right in front of the image of the crucified Christ you see above, and then I noticed that I was looking at an image of an innocent man, tortured to death, a man who was the same God whose ways I question. A man who could have come down off that cross, but who stayed, because He wanted to share our pain to the end, to drain the dregs of the cup of suffering. So we could live.

I don’t understand this, and I never will. It’s an unfathomable mystery. But I believe it all the same, despite everything. This is hard. But what else is there?

UPDATE: Kara Tippetts was on my mind this morning. If she is meeting what is likely to be her death (though please God, send a miracle) … if she is dying like this, then she knows how to live. It’s the same lesson my late sister Ruthie taught. You could see the light in her face. Go to Kara Tippetts’ blog, and look at her face; you see the same light there. Would that we could all know such incomprehensible peace.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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