My Dad was a pretty negative guy. When I was growing up, I could never go to my friends’ swimming parties. When I asked why, my Dad would say, “Because you don’t know how to swim.”
“How am I supposed to learn if I never try?”
“I don’t know. But you’re not going. You might drown.”
There was no arguing with that logic.
My Dad was a very skeptical guy, too. He never went to college, but he was street wise. My cousin tells me that my Dad could look somebody in the eye and tell whether they were lying. I have no idea how my cousin knows this, but I know its true. Something in his experience told him to look at the world with a raised eyebrow. And he passed this on to his children. In the short time I had with him, one of his enduring legacies to me was de omnibus dubitandum — doubt everything. This was my father’s worldview.
I have to say this has served me well over the course of my life. It helped cure me of any sense of entitlement I might’ve had; I’ve learned not to expect much from the world. The skeptic tends to be more self-reliant than others, confident in his own perspective. In the years immediately following his death, my skepticism began to heighten. I learned to value my own way of thinking, my own way of doing things. Too much, in fact. But I like to think that even though my father had no way of knowing how little time we had together (10 years), his words served to somehow prepare me for what was to come.
But I fight this in my spiritual life. I’m just idealistic enough to want to believe in faith, hope, and love. I want to believe in the goodness of man and — moreover — the goodness of God. It was this idealism that drove me to ministry, to try and be a part of the solution rather than wallowing in the mire of negativity and doubt that comes all too naturally to me. I guess it runs in the family.
Why is there so much evil in the world? Why do we suffer? These are questions that thinkers have pondered for centuries. And the “answers” we have — we live in a fallen world; we live in a world of free will; we live in the aftermath of our own choices and the choices of others who willfully choose NOT to image God in creation — are intellectual and abstract. I believe these answers to be true, but on some days, they’re not much help in answering the question at a visceral, gut level. Today I spoke with a gentleman whose daughter’s life hangs by a perilous thread. She was in a serious automobile accident over the weekend. 18 years old, severe brain trauma, the doctors have said her case will be “touch and go” from here on out. Why is there so much disaster around us? Heaven knows.
I don’t suppose I’ll ever stop grappling with this question, in part because of the nature of my calling, in part because of the nature of my upbringing. But I’m finding that a different question occupies my thought life lately. Call it a pessimist’s take on hope, I guess. But I can’t stop asking myself, Why is there so much goodness in the world? Why is there beauty? In a world of random violence and chaos and terrorism and earthquakes in Haiti and volcanic eruptions and senseless car crashes…why are there simultaneous moments of rapturous joy and beauty that cause me to hit my knees in worship? Why do I feel such strong feelings when I look on the faces of my children and see the image of their mother and me mingled together there like some divine work of art? Why is there love anyway? Why is there such beauty alive everywhere? Why is my backyard teeming with such minute and intricate declarations of God’s glory that only my family and I are able to witness? Why does the setting sun light up the sky with such brilliant hues that I find myself writing Psalms in my mind to try and encapsulate the vastness and the greatness of my Creator God? Why?
And this is where the answer comes flooding in, speaking tones of soul language that move me to my core: Because I AM. Because there is a movement afoot, a revolution at work to eradicate evil and suffering and chaos and death. Because His character — His greatness and goodness — is pressing in at every corner, reconciling His creation back to Him once more. There is something very assuring and peace-giving about the final images in Scripture: a new heavens and a new earth and the new Jerusalem, the city of God, descending from the clouds to inhabit this new reconciled arena where there’s no such thing as cancer and death and violence any longer.
I’ll wake up tomorrow and I’ll read the news and I’ll know that I’m thrust back in the same lost and dying world that I’ve been in for 33 years, the same world that embittered my father and justifiably molded our collective skepticism and doubt and negativity. But the knowledge that there’s a beautiful takeover at work in the world gives me something that my father’s worldview was lacking, something that makes all the difference and gives me the strength to get out of bed and participate in His reconciling work: the hope that all of this is heading somewhere.
And for this son of a pessimist, that’ll do.