Why Do God Allow Suffer۔ing?

 

            What had keep۔d baby Rosita alive wuz prayer.  That wuz the belief of her mother, Carolina Mendez, and in Buenos Aires few who know۔d the story un۔agree۔d.

            Thus dur the winter mornin of 12 July 2008, when Rosita, crawl۔ing on sit·room rug, begin۔d another cough۔ing session, Carolina as usual, after pick۔ing she up, hold۔ing she to her shoulder and, pat۔ing her rear۔side, murmur۔d, “God, please dont let my baby die.”

            Soon Rosita wuz peaceful۔ly suck۔ing milk from Carolina’s rightside breast, and in the third-floor·level۔y apartment all wuz good again.  “Thank you, God,” whisper۔d Carolina as her baby shut۔d her eyes and lapse۔d into her sleep-breathe۔in rhythm.

*

            Until three months before her baby wuz birth۔d, Carolina – at age 23 her body stub۔y, her brown hairs cut۔d convenient۔by short – teach۔d first school·year at Santa Maria Middle·school.  Her grandmother had die۔d when Carolina wuz only six years old, but Carolina could still remember go۔ing to catholicmass with she, and together day۔y recite۔ing the rosary.  As a teenagorm, non۔alike most of her learnclass۔fellors, she had never become infatuate۔y with guys.  In her opinion, Buenos Aires’ husbands, alike those elsewhere in nation Argentina and throughout Espanya۔ese-speak۔in America, tend۔d to be macho and boss۔y, thus require۔ing from they's wifes a certain amount of kowtow۔ing plus do۔ing all or almost all the house·work -- shop۔ing, cook۔ing, clean۔ing – and almost all the child care, all in addition the wifes’ own usual۔by fulltime employment jobs.  Some husbands even hit۔d they’s wifes.  Mans expect۔d they's wifes to be sexual۔ly available; mans typical۔ly concentrate۔d on they’s own pleasure, neglect۔ing they’s wife’s pleasure, orgasm۔ing and then roll۔ing over to sleep (some snore۔ing). 

            Therefore Carolina, rather than focus on marriage alike so many of her friends, consider۔d become۔ing a religiousnun – ultimate۔ly reject۔ing the idea because she love۔d children, and wish۔d for one of her own.  Instead, support۔t by h  er large family , she attend۔d Pontifical Catholic University’s Buenos Aires campus, commute۔ing from her parents’ house via bus.  Dur her first year, among her learnclasses wuz History of Western Philosophy, which she like۔d so much that she decide۔d to specialize on the topic, but her parents and grandparents reject۔d the idea as non۔practical.  Therefore she settle۔d for a teach۔in certificate, with a minor focus on philosophy.

            Along come۔d Fernando Mendez, old۔er brother of Carolina’s old۔er brother’s wife.  A man of few words, 27 years old, a Catholic who attend۔d Sunday catholicmass whenever he wuz on land, who spend۔d most of his life in ocean ships, a good man, all say۔d, who could be depend۔t on to return periodic۔ly with money for his wife and children.  He arrive۔d after almost a full year work۔ing on a contain۔or ship, meet۔d and fall۔d in love with mystery-eyes۔y Carolina, after a short engagement marry۔d she, re۔locate۔d with she into her parents’ extra bed·room, and impregnate۔d she.  He wuz·not suit۔able for “land work”, he say۔d, so dur good-weather days while Carolina continue۔d to teach first school·year he walk۔d around the sprawl۔ing city, otherwise he watch۔d sports and news on television at home.  He wuz become۔ing jitter۔y, she notice۔d, but they had agree۔d he would not return to the ocean until after she wuz settle۔d with they's new baby.  Carolina wuz become۔ing accustom۔d to have۔ing he there when she return۔d home, but she consider۔d he too macho to shop or cook (“womans’ work”), and he like۔d sex “too much”.

            She quit۔d her teach۔ing job dur her dee۔seven month, dur August year 2007.  Fernando then surprise۔d she by announce۔ing that because she wuz too pregnant to work at school, she wuz too pregnant to work at home, henceforth he would assist her mother with household chores.  Thus Carolina walk۔d her husband to the cheap۔est market and coach۔d he in bargain۔ing skills.  Then she show۔d he how to cook, and he prove۔d to be a good learn۔or.  Even clean۔ing he do۔d routine۔ly, although when he wuz nolonger around she or her mother had to re۔clean; his and they’s definitions of “clean” wuz different.  Beneath his silent, masculine exterior, she note۔d with increase۔ing affection, her husky sailor wuz sweet.

`Meanwhile her body wuz change۔ing, belly and breasts swell۔ing.  Her thoughts increase۔ly focus۔d on the grow۔ing life within.

            In the hospital delivery room with the doctor and nurses and her husband, as birth۔ing begin۔d, she feel۔d more wonderful than dur any other occasion dur her life.

            However, the baby girl, fresh into atmosphere of air, do۔d not cry.  The doctor had pick۔d she up and gentle۔ly slap۔d sher on her rear۔side, but the tiny pale-skin۔y baby still do۔d not breathe.  It wuz then that that Carolina, lay۔ing on her rear۔side on her hospital bed, her husband Fernando hold۔ing her hand, sit۔d straight up and cry۔d out, “God, dont let my baby die!”  An instant later Rosita’s little face turn۔d pink, and she begin۔d cry۔ing.

            Rosita thus survive۔d her birth, but hospital tests reveal۔d that her leftside lung wuz deform۔t:  of no practical use.  Mean۔ing Rosita would live with only one lung, precarious۔ly.  “Realistic۔ly, her chance of live۔ing a long life iz diminish۔t,” warn۔d doctor Sanchez who deliver۔d the baby.

            Back in her parents’ apartment, Carolina feel۔d happy.  To her help۔less baby who everybody say۔d wuz so cute; she yield۔d total۔ly to her maternal instincts, and from the moment of birth love۔d her baby more than anybody in the world.  But an undercurrent of worry wuz always present, and she remain۔d ever-watchful of her baby’s health.  Beyond that, dur pensive moments as she watch۔d Rosita sleep, she feel۔d puzzle۔t.  A devout۔ly religious woman who never miss۔d Sunday catholicmass nor day۔y recite۔ing her rosary, she could not imagine why God had, as it seem۔d, ‘punish۔d’ she.  But, weapon۔t with prayer, she determine۔d to use her prove۔t channel with God to keep her baby alive.  She had earhear۔d many storys of prayer overcome۔ing dire medical predictions, and she had faith that prayer would sustain her baby.

            Her husband Fernando feel۔d less confident.  He fret۔d about “bad luck” birth۔ing a defective baby.  “Better she die now, than after you become too attach۔d to she,” he comment۔d.

            “I iz already too attach۔d to Rosita,” answer۔d Carolina.  “I know God will save she.  God love we, and iz all-powerful.  God can do anythin.”

            Fernando stay۔d another three months until Carolina wuz strong again and had settle۔d into a routine.  Then he board۔d another freightor ship, and head۔d back east۔north۔ward across ocean Atlantic.

            Since then, the devout mother’s intense prayers had twice pull۔d back Rosita from the brink of death, both occasions after spine-tingle۔ing cough۔ing sessions. 

            Reside۔ing with her parents, supplement۔t by what Fernando had leave۔d in they's joint moneybank account, Carolina choose۔d to stay home with Rosita, and so inform۔d her school.  Both her parents work۔d daytime jobs, thus she stay۔d with Rosita alone.  When Rosita wuz ten months old, Carolina spend۔d weeks teach۔ing daughter to say “ma-ma’, and when she do۔d, smother۔d the tiny being with grateful kisses.  Two months later she wuz attempt۔ing to stand.  “Soon she will be walk۔ing,” Carolina predict۔d cheerful۔ly at dinner one evenin.

            Daytimes unless the weather wuz warm and sunshine۔y, mother and baby daughter stay۔d home.  Beside care۔ing for and become۔ing acquaint۔d with who she wuz already think۔ing wuz a part of herself, she dur her many solitary moments continue۔d to wonder – the question wuz never far away – why she had been saddle۔t with a deform۔t baby.  God wuz omnipotent – all-powerful – therefore could intervene in natural processes.  God dint answer all prayers, but, ‘Why should·not God answer mine?’  She had always been strict۔ly moral, had only romdate۔d one man (her husband), never fail۔d to attend Sunday catholicmass, say۔d her rosary day۔y.  Why would God kill her precious daughter who had do۔d no wrong?  Why should God punish herself, Carolina, who no one could say wuz not God obedient not moral۔by upright?  No, God, she feel۔d certain, would sustain her daughter into adult۔hood, and some day medical research۔ors, who had already invent۔d artificial hearts, would find a way to re۔construct and replace Rose's lung.  Carolina would do her part by continue۔ing to live a Christian life, follow۔ing all God’s commandments to the best of her ability, and continue۔ing her fervent prayers.

*

            That mid-winter mornin Rosita, not quite one year old, upon awake۔ing in her mother’s arms after another cough۔ing scare, cough۔d again.  As Carolina rock۔d her back to sleep, she re-remember۔d her previous night’s dream, in which she lay on her rear۔side on her marital bed, look۔ing up۔ward at Rosita, who remain۔d suspend۔t slight۔by below the ceil۔in, hold۔d aloft by wind blow۔d from Carolina’s mouth.  Every time Carolina draw۔d in a breath, Rosita would begin to fall back down۔ward, force۔ing Carolina to blow quick۔ly, to keep her baby up.  Nor, despite increase۔ing fatigue, could she stop to rest.  She wuz compel۔d to continue blow۔ing up۔ward or her baby would fall, with no end to the dilemma in sight.

            Non۔expect۔ly Rosita cough۔d again, cause۔ing Carolina to resume worry۔ing.  Raise۔ing a child that could die at any moment wuz a nervewracky, drain۔ing pleasure from mother۔hood.

            Again Rosita cough۔d.  Carolina feel۔d frantic.  Both her parents wuz at they's jobs.  Fernando wuz still away, on a freight۔or somewhere in the North Atlantic ocean. 

            Carolina glance۔d over at the telephone, consider۔ing telephone۔ing doctor Sanchez.  When she look۔d backdown, Rosita face appear۔d bright pink.

            Cough, cough.

            “What, baby?” ask۔d Carolina desperate۔ly.

            Cough, cough, cough.  Then a half-cough, and Rosita’s little head seem۔d to go limp.

            Carolina emit۔d a cry, as she move۔d her hand to baby’s chest.  The little heart she could not detect beat۔ing.

            Her eyes wuz open but not move۔ing.

            Mother put۔d her hand over daughter’s mouth.  No breath come۔d.

            “Oh, God!” cry۔d Carolina.  “Dont let Rosita die!”

            She put she on her shoulder and pat۔d she, as dur many occasions before, but she do۔d not respond.

            Minutes pass۔d, which seem۔d alike clockhours.  Still no response.

            Look۔ing down at the non۔move۔ing bundle in her arms, Carolina final۔ly accept۔d that her baby daughter wuz dead.

            “Why, God, why?” she wail۔d, as tears stream۔d from her eyes.  “Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?”

*       *

            Dur her period of mourn۔ing Carolina stay۔d in her parents’ apartment, daytimes alone, clean۔ing, often weep۔ing over her loss but, increase۔ly, return۔ing to her basic question:  why?  All those answer۔t prayers, and then one non۔answer۔t one.  “Why?’  It wuz·not true, as her husband had once suggest۔d, that it would have been better had the baby die۔d at birth, because dur Rosita’s short time on Earth, Carolina cherish۔d she.  `Would not it have been great if God had give۔d me a normal baby?’  Instead, an adore۔able one who could die at a moment’s notice.  `Why me?’

            She consider۔d ask۔ing Father Martinez, her priest, but feel۔d shameful to be question۔ing God.  Nobody else – her family membors, church friends, former school colleagues – venture۔d forth an answer.

            Eventual۔ly, she realize۔d that the question – why do an all-love۔y all-powerful God allow so much suffer۔ing? – wuz a serious one.  Nor would it go away.  In fact, the voice in her mind compel۔ing she to discover the reason behind her tragedy sound۔d ever loud۔er, demand۔ing an answer.  Her faith had been shake۔t.  The religious rituals she love۔d, but only if they wuz base۔d on a rock-solid foundation.  `God love everybody and can do anythin, thus why dint he intervene?  She need۔d to know.  She suspect۔d the explanation would color her attitude toward Catholicism and perhaps even God.

            Confide۔d she in her mother, `On the answer to my question hinge my faith.’

            Advise۔d her mother, “Dont trouble yourself about it, dear.”

            Final۔ly, as winter become۔d springtime, Carolina return۔d to teach۔ing first school·year – as a substitute teach۔or in varyous schools throughout Buenos Aires, until a more permanent position become۔d available.  That allow۔d she plenty of variety, plenty to occupy her mind.  Evenins she cook۔d for her father and mother, and afterward clean۔d the kitchen.  Usual۔ly in the sit·room the three watch۔d television until bed۔time. 

            Carolina still had plenty of time to brood:  less then less from the death of Rosita and more then more about what seem۔d almost a betrayal by God.  She could not, she discover۔d, return to her old religious innocence without first find۔ing the answer.

            Meanwhile her eyes wuz open۔ing to the many un۔justices around the planet, which she catch۔d glimpses of on television news.  Millions of children wuz malnourish۔y, some to the point of starve۔ing for lack of food, while elsewhere millions of peoples suffer۔d from obesity from eat۔ing too much food.  Millions die۔d of diseases for lack of available vaccinations.  Some children wuz raise۔d with health۔y food and attend۔d universitys, while others wuz home۔less beg۔ors in filth۔y shanty·towns.  `What,’ wonder۔d Carolina, `could those millions of un۔fortunate children have possible۔ly do۔d wrong?’

            Other peoples wuz birth۔d blind, or cripple۔d, or dur wars, or dur famine.  The more the world’s un۔justice come۔d to Carolina’s attention, the good·luck۔yer she feel۔d in her own situation.  Yet she remain۔d as puzzle۔d as ever as to why a beneficent God would create a world with such suffer۔ing.

            ‘If God iz really all-powerful, then God iz cruel.’  Nosooner do۔d she have what she dub۔d “that crazy thought” than she decide۔d to end her mourn۔ing and solve the mystery.  ‘I will continue ask۔ing until I know the answer,’ she resolve۔d.

*

            First expert to be question۔t:  father Martinez, the priest of Santa Maria Catholic church.  The kind old man, bald with a fringe of gray۔ish white hairs, plump, fat cheeks and goodnature۔y laugh·wrinkles fan۔ing out from the outsides of both brown eyes, usher۔d she into his office and ask۔d how she wuz feel۔ing, four months after lose۔ing her baby.

            “Much better.  Thank you, father.  But questions burn in my soul.”  Her words tumble۔d out.  "Why do۔d God allow my baby to die?  Why do۔d my Father possess۔ing infinite love and power allow such a thing to happen?  Iz there great۔er wretched۔ness than a mother who loose۔d her child?  Why do۔d God create a world so full of suffer۔ing?”

            The old priest tiltlean۔d back in his chair, prepare۔ing a response.

            “And why me?”  Carolina wipe۔d away a tear and continue۔d.  “Do۔d I cause this?  What do۔d I do to deserve this?”

            The priest scratch۔d his bald head.  “Perhaps your faith iz being test۔t."

            She frown۔d.  “Perhaps.”  She breathe۔d deep۔ly.  “I have summarize۔d all my questions into one.”

            “Ask it, my child.”

            “God iz both all-love۔y and all-powerful, thus why do he allow suffer۔ing?”

            “Suffer۔ing iz the big۔est motivate۔or toward god۔yness.”  He pause۔d.  “Misery iz attract۔d to religion.  Without hardship, would we even have religion?  Religion alleviate anguish, distress, even hope۔lessness.”

            “You mean kill۔ing Rosita wuz God’s way of urge۔ing me to be more religious?  If that wuz God’s motive, I wish he could have tell۔d me in a gentle۔er way.”

            Say۔d the priest, “God’s motives iz not always clear at the time.”

             “What possible۔ly could have been good about my baby being birth۔t with a deform۔t lung?”  She withhold۔d tears.  “And then die۔ing.”

            “Difficult to think of a good answer to that one,” Father Martinez say۔d sympathetic۔ly. “But we peoples can·not comprehend, and thus can·not judge, God’s ways.”

            Walk۔ing back toward the street, Carolina feel۔d non۔satisfy۔y with the priest’s answers.  That God, know۔d for infinite love, utilize۔d suffer۔ing as a whip to urge peoples to learn lessons seem۔d to the first school·year teach۔orm non۔probable.

*

            Antonio Morelos wuz a rare sciencor in that he wuz also religious.  He and his wife and two little brunet daughters regular۔ly attend۔d Santa Maria Catholic Church.  One Sunday after the worship celebration, at Social Clockhour in the Activitys Room, Carolina corner۔d he, and ask۔d he pointblank, “Why do۔d God create a world with so much suffer۔ing?” 

            Mistor Morelos adjust۔ing his necktie, begin۔d to express condolences about her baby, but Carolina stop۔d he with her hand.  “I still grieve, but, beyond that, I want an answer to my question.  My own suffer۔ing iz miniscule compare۔d to those of millions elsewhere.  Why do۔d God create a world with so much suffer۔in?”

            “Because peoples iz animals.  That iz your answer,” state۔d the sciencor, a zoologist.  “Peoples iz animals with souls, but we iz still animals with bodys nonethe۔less.  And animals iz sometimes birth۔d deform۔t or become handicap۔t, many iz hunt۔t, they become injure۔t, succumb to accidents, they suffer from natural disasters, they become old, infirm, they die.”

            She follow۔d his glance, over to where his wife and daughters sit۔d at a round table half۔way across the room munch۔ing on cake.  “Please continue.” 

            “Dur recent۔est centurys sciencors have discover۔d cures, so that peoples’ life۔spans have double۔d, but we still have far to go.  Thus peoples iz destine۔t to suffer.

            Carolina nod۔d.  “I see.”

            “Often when one people die, many suffer.”

            “Sure.”

            “Peoples iz an evolutionary specy.  We iz attend۔ing the school of hard knocks.  The knocks hurt.  Burn your finger, and henceforth you iz careful of fire.  And how often iz death – the non۔escape۔able fate of all animals -- pleasant?  Even the thought of death causes some peoples distress.”

            “You make it sound so natural.”

            “When environment changes, as it always do, specys either adapt or die.  Deformitys – physical aberrations -- iz central to the theory of evolution, which states that in rare cases where those deformitys (forex long۔er fangs) increase the chance for survival, that animal’s offsprin will have a better chance of survive۔ing, etcetera, until, multiple birthcycles later, that trait will have enrich۔d the entire specy.  Most deformitys iz deadend failures, but a scant few become build۔ing blocks to preserve and advance the specy.”

            Carolina nod۔d.  “Rosita’s deform۔t lung make more sense in the big scheme of things.”

            The sciencor, after a quick glance at his sit۔in family, nod۔d.  “Peoplese iz spirits in bodys.  We cant escape the biology, chemistry, and physics of animal life.”

            Ride۔ing home after church with her mother and father, Carolina feel۔d, without know۔ing why, better.  True, as she had learn۔d in middle·school biology class, deform۔y births wuz the key ingredient for specy evolution, and thus for survival within change۔ing environments.  And, true, almost all deformitys fail۔d to enrich the specy.  `Being animals, we iz bound to suffer in physical ways,’ she had learn۔d from the sciencor.  ‘Part of the answer,’ Carolina’s instinct tell۔d she, `but only part.’

*

            “What exact۔ly iz a moralist?” ask۔d Carolina. She wuz sit۔ing in an office, face۔ing on the opposite side of a glass۔top desk a middle-age۔y woman, plump, wear۔ing a green two-piece suitset.  Carolina had notice۔d her advert in the rear of “Spiritualist”, a gratis month۔y magazine dedicate۔d to alternative spiritual approaches.  She had already pay۔d her fee.

            “A moralist iz somebody who emphasize morality as the cornerstone of happy۔ness.”

            “Dont all religions emphasize morality?”

            “They do, but as side issues, add-ons, so to speak.

            “Therefore moralists iz atheists?” question۔d Carolina.

            Teresa Hernandez shake۔d his head, no.  Moralists, philosophic۔ly, iz areligious:  neither religious, agnostic, nor atheist.  We consider religion non-essential in solve۔ing the world’s great problems.  Morality iz what iz need۔d, not religion.  Religions teach some morals, but violate others.  Look what the religious Europens have do۔d to theyselfs throughout they's two-millennium long history of lethal wars.  Religions sometimes even do more harm than good:  forex, the Crusades, and witchorm-burn۔in.  Nor iz religion necessary for morality.  Look at present-day Western Europe – a moral but essential god۔less society – and China – historic۔by and present۔by God۔less – as proof.”

            “Thus you personal۔ly iz an atheist?”

            “Heavens, no.  I iz a church-go۔ing evangelize۔or.  Each moralist, alike everybody else, decide for taself about religion.  For we, what iz important iz that peoples comprehend that moral behavior iz the keystone to global happy۔ness.”           

            Carolina nod۔d, motion۔ing for she to continue.

            “Moral evolution iz a slow process, with many reverse steps.  But morality can be teach۔t.  The more peoples learn from they's teach۔ors, the less they will need to learn the hard – suffer۔ing – way. 

            “What about law?”

            “Laws and morality may or may not overlap.  Strict but fair laws with sensible punishments contribute to morality by limit۔ing temptation.  Where there iz a conflict between the two, morality should always trump law.  Example:  Do not fight in an army’s un۔just mission.”

            “I comprehend.”  She breathe۔d deep۔ly.

            A silence, the first of they's meet۔ing.

            “Now,” say۔d the moralist.   “You say۔d you had a question?”

            She nod۔d.  “Why do God allow peoples to suffer?”

            “God dont ‘allow’ peoples to suffer; on the contrary, peoples make decisions, even select life-styles, which result in they's own suffer۔ing.  We have the free will to choose right from wrong – hence the possibility of evil – and if we choose wrong there iz consequences.”  She pause۔d.  “Most suffer۔ing these days iz nolonger physical but emotional.  Most peoples nolonger need to forage for food dur a drought, but could lose spouse, children, and house in divorce lawcourttrial.  Today most of peoples' suffer۔ing iz cause۔t by other's peoples’ un۔moral acts.”

            Carolina nod۔d.  “Examples?”

            “War, the great cause of peoples’ suffer۔ing, dur the recent۔est century kill۔ing more than 100 million peoples.  Crime kill۔d and hurt۔d millions more.  For every death, many suffer.  Lopside۔y distribution of wealth, some peoples with more than they could ever spend, others with not enough to eat.  Deceit split marriages, betrayal end friendships, leave۔ing feel۔ins of resentment and distress.  Selfish۔ness and greed, forex when divide۔ing inheritance, tear familys apart, never without agony.”

            “Thus you iz say۔ing most suffer۔ing iz cause۔t by peoples?”

            “Most suffer۔ing iz emotional, and iz cause۔t by peoples.  Yes.  If all but a few aberrations behave۔d moral۔ly, most suffer۔ing would disappear “

            “A big if.  Prophets, even moralists, have been instruct۔ing peoples dur millenniums to behave moral۔ly – without huge success.”

            “Actual۔ly most peoples do behave moral۔ly.  It iz the exceptions who cause most of the misery.”

            Carolina nod۔d.  “Un۔moral behavior generate un۔happy۔ness.”

            “Correct.  If everybody follow۔d the Golden Rule – treat others as you would like to be treat۔t – the vast resources present۔ly spend۔d on war and law enforcement would be vast۔ly minimize۔t, so that vast new recourses could insure everybody sufficient food and medical and dental treatment.  Peoples could be live۔ing as though in paradise.

            Dur the walk home Carolina agree۔d that much suffer۔ing – perhaps indeed most – wuz cause۔t by other peoples’ selfish behavior.  ‘But how do that relate to the loss of my baby?’

*

            The chief theologor at Santa Maria Theological College, Jorge Gonzales, agree۔d to meet Carolina Mendez after she tell۔d he on the telephone, “I have been a dedicate۔d Christian all my life, and I recent۔ly loose۔d my 11-month-old daughter.  I iz search۔ing for answers.”

            “Come on over,” he had reply۔d.

            To her surprise, he wuz a much young۔er than she had image۔d:  a young man with bush۔y brown hairs, still with a trace of his baby face.  She sit۔d in his office, spacious, with a tall wide window behind he overlook۔ing a tangle of green plants. 

            After introductions, she comment۔d, “You iz so young for such an important job.”

            “The Vatican know that dur this period of accelerate۔ing change the Catholic church must either adapt or lose relevance.  Here at the university we iz encourage۔t to explore ideas, few which ever see the (public) light of day.  It iz the pope, ofcourse, who set policy.”

            “Well, that certain۔ly iz impressive, and I must confess I envy your job.  I minor۔d in philosophy at Pontifical, and have always been religious.  The philosophy of religion – iz not that what theology iz?”

            “I never consider۔d it that way.”

            She laugh۔d. “Nor do۔d I.”  Her face become serious.  “You can see I iz past grieve۔ing for my little one.  I iz here to find the answer to a question.  I had talk۔d to my priest, a moralist, and a sciencor, without satisfactory result.”

            “Ask, and I will do my best.”

            “Why do۔d God create a world of such suffer۔in?”

            “Therefore you iz a bit of a theologor.”

            “A dabble۔or.”  She pause۔d.  “I will re۔phrase it.  “God iz all-love۔y and all-powerful.  Why do he allow suffer۔in?”

            “A worth۔y question,” comment۔d Jorge, “and ofcourse you iz·not the first to ask it.  Broad۔ly speak۔ing, in my own non۔orthodox view, God iz not a “he”, not a superduper male (or even female) capable of control۔ing nature as though via puppet strings, who can swat armys as though blackflys.”

            “The Bible say he iz.  God create۔d the heavens and the Earth dur only six days, so I guess there iz not much he could not do.”

             “Sciencors estimate that between the time planet Earth wuz form۔d and animals roam۔d on it, billions of years pass۔d.  Therefore, for me, six days obvious۔ly mean six symbolic days, six eras.  Which to my mind prove that atleast some Biblical storys iz symbolic.”

            “Well, I dont necessary۔ly take the Bible literal۔ly.”  Carolina pause۔d.  “What about my question?”

            “The power of God to alter certain events may be limit۔t.  Western Christianity’s pre۔science insistence on an omnipotent God who can manipulate everythin iz, in the view of many of we here at the college, outdate۔y.

            “Outdate۔y?”

            “God iz certain۔ly not outdate۔y, but our concept of God iz outdate۔y.”

            “How, then, should we view God?”

            “As non۔view۔able.  Non۔know۔able.  God iz too great for tiny intellects feed۔d with minimal, main۔ly un۔correct info, to comprehend.  God best remain a mystery.”

            “You iz say۔ing God iz not omnipotent, iz not all-powerful?”

            “I iz say۔ing that iz possible.  Let we review the arguement.  God iz omnipotent, while on Earth peoples suffer, therefore God allow suffer۔in – the logic of those who ask the question.  The flaw in the arguement iz an un۔correct premise:  either God dont usual۔ly interfere with natural processes, or God cant.”

             “Well, difficult to believe that the God who create۔d the world cant manipulate it.”

            “Restrictions if any on what God can do may be physical, or may be mandate۔t by spiritual laws we peoples know nothin about.”

            “God, subject to spiritual laws?”

            “Why not?  We dont know.  That iz the essential point.  We know that we dont know.  Or it may be God’s preference:  parents often withhold favors for they's children that they iz physical۔ly capable of provide۔ing.  The little boy consider۔d his mother cruel for not give۔ing he candy, which he dint comprehend would have ruin۔d his appetite for a nutritious dinner.”

            “Iz you say۔ing prayer iz not effective?” ask۔d Carolina.

            “Prayer iz certain۔ly effective.”

            “If God iz not all-powerful, how can we pray for miracles?”

            “It iz possible God could be less than all-powerful but could still conduct what peoples consider miracles.  Note:  even 100 years ago a man walk۔ing on the moon would have been consider۔d a miracle.”

            “So dont pray for somethin too difficult,” she say۔d sarcastic۔ly.  “Alike keep۔ing a deform۔t baby alive.”

            “Pray for whatever you want.  But expect۔ing God to reverse natural processes may be ask۔ing too much.”

            “If God dont interfere with natural processes, who iz God?”

            “God iz mysteryous.  God iz too great for we to intellectual۔ly comprehend. We need faith.”

            “God could not have save۔d my baby even if God want۔d to?” she summarize۔d.

            “Second-guess۔ing God iz a win۔less task.”

            Carolina breathe۔d in and then out with an exaggerate۔y sound.  “God’s ways iz a mystery, thus we cant know they.  That iz not satisfy۔y.”

            “But the fact iz, God iz a mystery, whether we like it or not.  For centurys Catholic authoritys insist۔d that they's specific version of God wuz the only correct one, and so severe۔ly punish۔d those who public۔ly un۔agree۔d, that when sciencors begin۔d to prove they's version of reality wrong, the church had maneuver۔d itself into a corner.  Now Europens, who develop۔d Christianity into the world’s most popular religion, iz practical۔ly atheistic.  Catholics iz final۔ly learn۔ing not to second-guess science, only to be prove۔t non۔refute۔ably wrong.”

            The essence of the smart young theologor’s arguements, Carolina summarize۔d dur her bus ride home۔ward, wuz that God wuz limit۔t in what God could do.  But her faith wuz too strong to believe that.  `God can do anythin.’  Of that she feel۔d certain.

*

            It wuz·not by chance that Carolina Mendez dur her search to resolve a conflict at the root of her Christian beliefs, which include۔d a promise to herself to `leave no stone non۔turn۔t’, seek۔d the opinion of an atheist.  She had to look no far۔er than her neighbors, mistor and misses Alvarez.  Particular۔ly mistor Sergio Alvarez wuz outspoken against the existence of God whenever the opportunity arise۔d – so much so, Carolina had once think۔d, that down deep he probable۔ly do۔d believe in God. 

            They talk۔d one sunshine۔y Saturday afternoon, stand۔ing on opposite sides of they's front-lawn bodywaist-high wood۔y fence.

            “Why do God allow suffer۔ing?”  Carolina wuz wear۔ing a brown dress, knee length, cinch۔d at the bodywaist.

             “Because there iz no God.”  Mistor Alvarez wuz bald and fat, and always friend۔y.

            “Well, your answer iz certain۔ly clear.”  And certain۔ly expect۔t.

            “Easy answer.  God iz a fictitious concept, bring۔t on by desperation.  The correct question iz ‘Why do۔d my baby die’, and the correct answer iz:  bad luck that her lung wuz deform۔t, and bad luck that doctors could not repair it.”

             “That dont seem comfort۔ing.”

            “It iz not.  That iz why it iz not accept۔d as truth.”

            “To some, the paradox that God iz all-love۔y and all-powerful, but allow enormous suffer۔in, demonstrate that God do not exist.”

            “Flawful logic.  Proof iz not need۔d that God do not exist.  Proof iz need۔d that God do exist.”

            “Proof can·not be forthcomey because God iz not observe۔able via sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste.”

            “Belief in God iz comfort۔ing, but do not alter reality.”

*

            Regard۔in her marriage to Fernando, Carolina wuz satisfy۔d.  She thrive۔d on her independence, her freedom, although somewhat guilt۔ly she regard۔d it as selfish۔ness.  As a wife, she assume۔d community respect, and she feel۔d protect۔t from stray glances from strange mans by her wed۔ing finger·ring.

            When her husband return۔d, always with money for she, she treat۔d he alike a king.  He seem۔d secret۔ly relieve۔d that the burden of Rosita had pass۔d, although he notice۔d, he say۔d, imprintstamp۔t on her mouth, melancholy he had not see۔d before.  They dine۔d with they's parents, attend۔d two movys, eat۔d at restaurants, stroll۔d in publicparks. They agree۔d not to try for another baby, but, proper۔ly protect۔t, she allow۔d he fun with she.

            One night at dinner she ask۔d he, “Why do you think all this happen۔d?”  She mean۔d the come۔ing and go۔ing of they's baby.

            He shake۔d his head.  “I have no idea.  I iz mere۔ly a sailor, with minimal school۔in.  But I suppose God know۔d what he wuz do۔ing.”

            Final۔ly he become۔d jitter۔y again, and soon afterward accept۔d a job on a ship.  He had stay۔d not quite two months, and give۔d she his entire salary.  As she watch۔d his freightor ship move away from the dock, he stand۔ing in a row of sailors look۔ing down۔ward, she brush۔d away tears.  Yet after his ship had sail۔d around the corner of the harbor and out of sight, walk۔ing home in a cold wind, she thank۔d God for bring۔ing she such a good husband while allow۔ing herself to be so free.

*

            Watch۔ing television, Carolina, when she wuz alone, wuz a channel change۔or, constant۔ly press۔ing buttons on the remote-control device to change shows on the screen.  She remain۔d a strict Catholic, resist۔ing a world-around trend of Christian Catholics migrate۔ing to Christian evangelical churches, but she like۔d to watch·listen evangelical charismatic minister۔ors on television.  The main difference between the two approaches to Christianity, in her view, wuz that evangelical minister۔ors discuss۔d at length present-day problems and they's Christian solutions.  Spouses separate۔t by physical distances, un۔compatible marriages, joint child custody, even loss of a child – wuz topics Carolina had earhear۔t discuss۔t on varyous television shows.  Catholicmass, contrast۔ly, wuz almost entire۔ly ritual ceremony.

            That wuz how one night she stumble۔d on program entitle۔d, “Have Faith in God’s Plan for You”.  The title immediate۔ly attract۔d she.  The show feature۔d testimonials, oversee۔t by evangelize۔or minister۔or television host Juan Marcos, mid۔age۔y, slim and handsome in his expensive suitset.  A young woman wuz terminate۔t from a job she dint like, only to be offer۔t her dream job.  Another woman tell۔d of miss۔ing her ride to the middle·school prom, only to meet the man who become۔d her husband.  After a fruit vend۔or loose۔d his little business, he become۔d a successful carpet lay۔ort.

            Comment۔d host Marcos, “Apparent misfortune can, with positive attitude, become a bless۔ing in disguise.  God have a plan for each and every one of we.  Know that God always have in mind for you what iz good.  Have faith in God’s plan for you.”

            ‘Seem sensible,’ think۔d Carolina as she switch۔d off the television in the middle of a laundry soap advert.  `But what type of a plan would involve kill۔ing my little Rosita?’

*

            Bounce۔ing up and down in her seat, as the noise۔y old bus pass۔d by Cherish Te Buddhist monastery, the mother of none pull۔d the chord, and when the bus stop۔d, step۔d off. 

            Inside a roof۔less courtyard, scarlet robe-clad monks, they's heads shave۔t, hover۔d near a life-size۔y gold-plate۔t Buddha statue.  Pungent smoke from numerous sticks of incense float۔d through the air. 

            A monk – a man with a kind smile who seem۔d old۔er than most others – approach۔d, welcome۔d the newcomorm, and ask۔d if he could help she.

            “I hope you can.  I have come with a question.”

            He invite۔d she to sit, and lead۔d she along a walk·way beside a long brick one-floor·level۔y build۔in he identify۔d as learnclass·rooms, into a thick۔ly plant۔t courtyard, to a bench face۔ing a mini۔pond in which swim۔d orange fishes.

            “Perfect place!” exclaim۔d Carolina.  “Why do۔d my innocent baby have to die?” she burst۔d, and then, astonish۔y herself, weep۔d non۔control۔ably.

            Final۔ly she accept۔d the hanky he hand۔d she, and dry۔d her eyes. 

            “Karma,” answer۔d the monk.

            “What?”

            “You ask۔d why your baby die۔d.  The answer iz karma.”

            “Karma?”  She had read۔d about the concept, but had never think۔d to apply it to her life.

            “Dur this or a former life۔time you cause۔d somebody to suffer, therefore now it iz your turn.”

            “Harsh.”

            “Karma iz impartial.  And precise; only it's time۔ing varies.  Alikewise good deeds generate good karma.”

            “And I also, a religious woman, I suppose I iz being punish۔t because of my own bad karma?”

            “Why else?”

            “Well, I guess Rosie and I receive۔d what wuz come۔ing to we.”

            “Karma in action.”

            Carolina walk۔d away un۔satisfy۔y.  She believe۔d in life after death, consider۔ing heaven a body۔less form of existence.  But to believe that she had dur a previous time period live۔d on planet Earth seem۔d too far a stretch.  And even if she had, she could not imagine being bad.

*

            That same afternoon, wait۔ing for the bus, in a section of Buenos Aires popular with Bharatans, she notice۔d, almost direct۔ly across the street from the Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple. Despite her feel۔ing of discouragement, remember۔ing her resolve to neglect nothin in her search for an answer, she stroll۔d over.

            Inside, no monks could be see۔t, but after a while an old man stroll۔d by, thus Carolina hurry۔d out and introduce۔d herself.  “My baby die۔d, and the question iz why?”

            “Wuz ta sick?”

            “She had only one good lung, the other deform۔t.”  An non۔voluntary sob escape۔d she.  “One day she stop۔d breathe۔ing.”

            “So...  Sorry.  What iz your question?”

            “My question iz:  why?  Why wuz she deform۔d, why do۔d I birth such a fragile child, why do۔d she die?”

            “I see.”  The old man nod۔d.  “The answer iz:  Your baby wuz an illusion.  You concoct۔d the entire situation in your mind.”

            “You mean I never had a baby name۔d Rosita who die۔d?”

            “Only in your mind.  Reality emanate from mind.”

            Reply۔d Carolina, “I have earhear۔d that Hindus believe that what we call normal life iz an illusion, but, frank۔ly, that strain credence.  Iz you and I not stand۔ing here talk۔ing?  If I iz imagine۔ing it, iz you imagine۔ing it at the same time?”

            “I iz.  We iz.”

            “Well, then...”  Carolina feel۔d at a loss for words.  Final۔ly she re-center۔d herself.  “Why do۔d God create a world so full of suffer۔ing?”

            “Asian socald religions dont personify God the way the eastern Mediteranean religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do.  In the Hindu view, peoples create they's own realitys.  Find a quiet place, shut your eyes, and when thoughts come, let they go, release they, dont pay they attention – they only relate to a fleet۔ing world.  Meditation render all problems and questions regard۔in the socald physical world mean۔in۔less.”

            “Well, okay, thank you.”  Carolina add۔d, “Comprehend۔ing such an answer iz beyond me.”

            “Come back, and meditate with we – every evenin at seven.  Gradual۔ly all those materialistic thoughts – include۔ing your burn۔ing question – will slip away.”

            Wait۔ing back at the bus·stop, Carolina shake۔d her head.  ‘How could it be that Rosita never exist۔d?’  Tentative۔ly conclude۔d she, ‘That iz no answer.’

*

            New Age religion, a term bandy۔d about dur final years of dee۔twenty century and begin۔ing years of dee۔twenty-first, refer۔d to an amalgam of diverse spiritual, social, and political elements with the common aim of transform۔ing individuals and society via spiritual aware۔ness.   The mini۔massmovement wuz root۔d in dee-19-century spiritualism and in decade 1960s counterculture, which reject۔d materialism in favor of Eastern mysticism and prefer۔d direct spiritual experience to organize۔t religion.

            Dur first Saturday of each month (weather permit۔t) at the popular publicpark local۔ly know۔t as Third of February, New Age practitionors gather۔d to chat with and answer questions with interest۔t passby۔ors.  One springtime Saturday, Carolina walk۔d past table۔ets with tarot cards, I Ching coins, astrology horoscopes, and numerous books include۔d Course in Miracles, Conversations with God, Be Here Now, and numerous Bharat۔y books.  Carolina stop۔d at the table (empty except for a “General Spiritualist” sign) behind which sit۔d a mid۔age۔y woman with sympathetic brown eyes fan۔d with laugh·wrinkles.  After introductions, Carolina blurt۔d, “Why do God preside over a world with so much suffer۔ing?”

            After a pause, the woman say۔d, “Physical existence as we know it iz soul kindergarten.  For peoples, planet Earth iz a train۔in ground, and before we advance to the next level, we peoples must learn our lessons.  We feel physical۔ly tempt۔d to indulge in un۔social behavior.  God dont hand out free tickets to paradise.  You have to earn your way to the next level.  There iz no free lunch.  Rather, God dispatch۔d messagors to inform we how to reach paradise – which can be here on Earth.  If peoples opt for selfish۔ness, they and those around they will suffer.  Most suffer۔ing iz the consequence of failure.”

            Carolina nod۔d with approval.  “But how do it relate to me personal۔ly?  Those who know me will testify that I iz a God-fear۔ing woman.  Unless I iz fool۔ing myself, my worst sin iz my weak۔ness for listen۔ing gossip.  Yet my baby wuz birth۔t deform۔t, and after a precarious heartwrench۔y eleven months, she die۔d.  What do۔d I do to deserve such suffer۔in?”

            “Your recent۔est question need re۔phrase۔ing.  Forex:  by my heartwrench۔y experience, what spiritual channels have open۔t that I would not have notice۔d otherwise?”

            “Well, that iz a refresh۔y approach.”

            “There iz no accidents.  Therefore there iz a spiritual explanation.”

            “What explanation?”

            The woman shrug۔d.  “Only you, down deep, can determine that. If messages iz ignore۔d, a stubborn or over۔ly content people may be jolt۔t out of ta’s complacency.”

            “I have not ignore۔d any messages that I know of.”

            “To discover the mean۔ing behind a life-change۔ing event, ponder how that event change۔d you.  That iz the key.  How have your life improve۔d since your baby die۔d?”

            “It have not.  Contrary۔ly, I have loose۔d the two most precious things in my life:  my baby, and my previous۔ly non۔shake۔able faith in God.”

            “Give it time.  Keep your mind open for what that lesson you may be learn۔ing.  Because if you dont listen, another shock may come your way.”

            That frighten۔d Carolina.  She still had her mother and father and her husband.  And good health.  And a brain.  She hope۔d there wuz a lesson to be learn۔t – that would mean that afterall God had been look۔ing after she all along.  Thus to her night۔y prayer she add۔d a request:  “If Rosita come۔d to teach me a lesson, please reveal what lesson.”

*

            For an answer to her question, How could an all-love۔y all-powerful God create a world with such suffer۔ing?, Carolina could think of no other specialize۔or to ask.  Her priest had answer۔d that suffer۔ing spur۔d religious dedication.  The sciencor remind۔d she that peoples wuz animals, natural۔ly subject to pain and death.  A moralist contend۔d that lack of morality wuz the cause of most suffer۔ing.  The youthful free-think۔in theologor refute۔d the concept of “God as superduper male-gender spirit who control every aspect of nature”, suggest۔ing that God could not change certain things.  The atheist predict۔ably deny۔d God or spirit or soul exist۔d, and attribute۔d Rosita’s premature death to pure bad luck. Her husband Fernando dint know.  The handsome charismatic television evangelize۔or implore۔d his flock to have faith that the life of each people wuz develop۔ing accord۔in to God’s plan, add۔ing that apparent tragedy wuz often a bless۔ing in disguise.  The Buddhist monk believe۔d that Rosita’s death and Carolina’s own suffer۔ing wuz pay·back for they's bad deeds dur former life۔spans, while the Hindu attribute۔d the entire episode to mind-create۔t illusion.  As for the New Age spiritualist, she envision۔d the world as a test۔ing ground for kindergarten souls, suggest۔ing that suffer۔in wuz cause۔t by a lesson not yet learn۔t.

            Carolina dint know what to think, so she decide۔d, dur a while, to let the feedback ‘simmer’.  But she had not relinquish۔d her quest.  Dur her night۔y prayers she never neglect۔d to beseech God for the answer.  Dur varyous occasions, but especial۔ly dur her bus commute to and from Santa Maria Middle·school, she think۔d – sometimes in bits and pieces, sometimes in broad summarys – about conversations she had had with the knowledgeful experts. True, she decide۔d, suffer۔ing do tilt we toward God, and, true, our spirits iz temporary۔ly house۔d in the bodys of vulnerable animals.  But she consider۔d beyond credence the idea that dur a former life۔span she had do۔d somethin so evil that God punish۔d she by present۔ing she a deform۔t baby, wait۔ing, then snatch۔ing the baby back.  Nor could she reconcile the idea that the life of each people wuz develop۔ing accord۔in to God’s pre۔determine۔t plan, with the idea of life being a soul test۔ing ground, which imply۔d free will to make choices between good and bad.

            Many answers, none entire۔by satisfactory.  Still, no conclusion. 

*

            The climate continue۔d to warm, as summer approach۔d.  One evenin Carolina receive۔d a telephonecall from Jorge Gonzales, the young theologor at Santa Maria Theological College, ask۔ing she to stop by his office on the follow۔ing Saturday mornin “for additional consultation”.

            When she arrive۔d Carolina ask۔d, “Do you have an answer to my question?”

            “Yes and no.”

            “Yes and no?”

            “That will be for you to decide.  What I do have iz a concrete offer.  Here at Santa Maria we thrive on relent۔lessly inquire۔ing minds such as yours.  If you would like to enroll here as a student...”

            “Me?  A theology student?”  Carolina lookstare۔d at he.  “Why, the idea never occur۔d to me.”

            “You would be a natural.  A philosophorm with an non۔shake۔able faith in her religion – that iz how I – and my superiors – see you.”  He add۔d, “And the fact that you iz a woman, in a field tradition۔ly and present۔ly dominate۔t by mans, iz a plus.”

            “Well...”  Ofcourse she could not afford to quit her teach۔ing job.

            “I have recommend۔d a full scholarship,” Jorge continue۔d, “include۔ing tuition and a live۔in allowance – which I iz confident that my superiors, after have۔ing an opportunity to interview you, will approve.”

            As Carolina walk۔d to the bus·stop, she feel۔d as though in a daze.

*

            At the end of the school term Carolina quit۔d her teach۔ing job, and the follow۔ing autumn begin۔d attend۔ing Santa Maria Theological College.  Her first-year learnclasses consist۔d of a chronological history of Christian theology, start۔ing with the record۔t utterances of Jesus, move۔ing on to Paul, and eventual۔ly proceed۔ing to the Council of Nicaea, when what wuz to be dub۔t the Catholic church amalgamate۔d.  And never, except for those few moments between when Rosita wuz birth۔d and when she wuz diagnose۔t with a life-threaten۔y deformity, do۔d Carolina feel so happy.  She intuit۔d, somehow, that her life wuz final۔ly on track:  she do۔d afterall have a mind for theology (she could see it in the responses of her professors and fellow students).  It seem۔d that she wuz final۔ly live۔ing her life in accordance with God’s plan.

            And how do۔d she come, by such a aroundabout routeway, to become an ardent student of theology?  Had it not been for the arrival of Rosita, she would nodoubt have been content to spend her work۔ing life teach۔ing Espanya۔ese and history and geography and arithmetic to elementary·school students.

            A few days before the close of the first semester at the theological college, Carolina stop۔d at Jorge Gonzales’s office, to tell he how much she wuz enjoy۔ing the learnclasses and to re۔express her thanks.

            “And your question:  have it been answer۔d?” he ask۔d, raise۔ing his bush۔y brown eye·brows.

            “Yes,” she reply۔d, “and I believe you also know he answer.”

            “Your baby’s actrole wuz to nudge you into the career God choose۔d for you.  She accomplish۔d her spiritual mission, then free۔d your time, herself pass۔ing on to another realm.”

            Carolina smile۔d broad۔ly.  “What a beautyful way to remember my beloved Rosita!”

*       *       *

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This story is from a collection of Christian short stories, Christianity, by Flora Morales.  Click link for details.

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