While the famous quote is there are no atheists in a foxhole, often facing G-d in a foxhole is also challenging. In this article, the author poses the question of how someone who is suffering can struggle with their relationship with G-d. I was struck by an aspect of her theology, namely that believing the G-d causes suffering somehow negates turning to G-d to get out the suffering. While this is clearly paradoxical, at the same time, the answer would be something along the lines of G-d causing the suffering to get a person to continue turning to the Divine for assistance. While I myself would not find satisfaction in that answer, and neither does the author of the piece below, I pose it as a means to answer that aspect of her question.
In general, the notion of suffering and G-d is quite difficult. I always wondered how people could still turn to G-d when feeling angry at G-d. Yet, feeling angry at G-d and expressing the anger is also a means of turning to G-d, for anger creates a confrontation, which is what the human/G-d relationship is about. We confront G-d through prayer and crying out, and G-d confronts us as well. The suffering “comes” from G-d from the perspective of G-d being the only True Existence and all else emanating from G-d. And yet, the one suffering, by crying out to G-d, is maintaining the essential relationship with G-d.
How does someone maintain a relationship with God when one describes one’s life as: dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable? If one believes that God is all-loving and all powerful, how then can one turn to God for help?
This question arose for me when I was reading an article about Tony Nicklinson who is living in what is called a “locked-in syndrome.” Mr. Nicklinson suffered a paralyzing stroke seven years ago. Prior to his stroke, he was a very active rugby player who “had a high-flying job as a corporate manager in Dubai, where he went skydiving and bridge-climbing in his free time.” He is now confined to a wheelchair and can only move his head, cannot speak and needs constant care. His condition is called “locked in” because it is a condition in which a person’s body is paralyzed but their mind is intact.
Mr. Nicklinson, who does not want to continue to live, would need someone’s help to die. Euthanasia is illegal in England as well as in the USA. And, in England, where Mr. Nicklinson lives, no one suspected of helping a loved one die has been prosecuted for it in recent years. But, Mr. Nicklinson wants to make sure that no one will be prosecuted for helping him and so is asking that a determination be made to that effect.
In all of the articles I have read thus far about this case, there is no mention as to Mr. Nicklinson’s faith or belief system and I am not questioning his choice or his motives.
I am not so much taken with his wish to die as I am with this question that arose in me as I was reading the article about him: How can someone maintain a relationship with God when one feels their life is dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable? For me, God may feel absent at times, but I usually realize later that it has been me that has been absent, not God.
There is also the defense that I hear from people who believe that God is all-powerful and has His own reasons for “making” someone suffer. That is not my theology and I have never told that to anyone to whom I have ministered. I do believe that God is there to help us get through those difficult times in our lives — and if you say that God caused something, then you can’t go to God to help you through it. I truly believe that things happen in life for which there are no explanations, nor are there reasons — it could be genetic, environmental, accidental, etc. God is there to help us get through those challenges, not to inflict them. That would be a sadistic God — and I don’t believe that God is a sadist.
So, what do you think? Those of you who believe that there is a God — how would you maintain a relationship with God when you feel that your life is undignified and intolerable?