It was the end of the day and one of my students was posing one of my least favorite questions. The question is mildly manageable if I sense that the student is asking this question out of sincerity and a desire to understand God in a deeper way.
That wasn’t how he asked the question.
His question was posed more in opposition to God. It was meant to hurt our perception of God as loving and merciful. And I find that attitude very difficult to tolerate.
“Did God use Satan to strike the people down in Egypt at the Passover? Or did He use one of His angels? And if it was one of His angels, how come God decided to kill so many people?”
In a certain sense, it is a fair enough question.
In another sense, it tears at my heart.
So perhaps my reply was a little more abrupt then necessary, but it was to illustrate a point. I didn’t directly answer the question at first, but I attempted to answer the incorrect aspects surrounding his perception of God.
“God doesn’t owe us anything. God doesn’t even owe us life.”
I think they were surprised by that response, in all its bluntness. I reassured them of God’s great love for them, but spoke of how it is never our “right” to exist. Existence, in its entirety for humanity, is a gift. God, in His great love and mercy, never blots out our existence. For mere mortals, death will come. For even the God-man, death came. But life continues beyond the grave.
We are a people who expect that certain things are our due. It seems an injustice to us that bad things happen, that we are not treated as we wish, and that death will come to us all. How many people have expressed, in the throes of sorrow after the death of loved one, that it was so unfair to lose them as they did, when they did? I do not disagree that death can be tragic or that we will be left with many, many unanswered questions and seemingly unheard prayers. Yet isn’t it the natural course of life?
I am not owed this next breath.
It is not my due that tomorrow will dawn and I will be alive to see it.
It is not my right to live until an old age, surrounded by loved ones.
In reality, God owes me nothing, because He has given me all I have in an act of extreme generosity. It is not necessary that I am alive, but He wills it to be so, for now.
God gives life and God can take that gift away, too. It doesn’t make Him a murderer, as the question my student posed seemed to imply. A murderer is one who does not have the right to take a life and yet does.
Let’s say each month you receive $100 in the mail from a close friend. If that friend should stop sending that money, would you then call them a thief? Of course not! They were generous to give the money, but as a gift, it must be freely given. And as a gift, it can end.
All of this is not to make you question the tenderness or faithfulness of God. He cares about you with a fierceness that is intense to behold. Yet His ways are so often not our ways. It can be confusing to muddle through the events that befall us and see how God is working in the midst of devastation. It won’t always be easy and we often won’t understand.
But this is necessary to know: If God removes a gift, it is because He is offering a different kind of gift.
It may not always be easy to see the beauty in that new gift, though. When we are no longer healthy, we can experience the gift God offers in suffering. When we experience a death, we can see the gift God offers in grief. The gifts never cease to flow abundantly from His hands, but they may look other than we would wish.
To a generation that thinks they are owed so many things, I told them God has never been beholden to them. Everything they have and everything they are can be chalked entirely up to the mercy and love of God. They did not have to exist and yet they do. And it is very good.
You are here because God desires you to be here right now. It would not be less loving of Him for you to no longer be alive; He would simply be offering you a different kind of gift. However, since you are here right now, God has a purpose and a mission for you. Throughout this life, He will offer you many gifts. You might not like them all. But in the end, He will offer you one of the greatest gifts, life everlasting with Him. I see that not as robbing me of something that is my due (how pale this life will seem in comparison to the Beatific Vision), but inviting me into a mysteriously beautiful gift that is entirely undeserved.
So breath in and breath out.
Those were gifts. Handcrafted, uniquely given to you. Not because He had to, but because He chose to. Someday that won’t happen. And that will be a gift, too.
Thank You, Lord, Giver of all Good Gifts.