Rosemary and I waited patiently for the obstetrician’s results. We were both hopeful and excited about our new baby. The last time we visited, we could see that the little fetus was alive and healthy. We discussed in anticipation how we would raise, educate and discipline the child. We even discussed teaching the child our religious beliefs, customs and traditions, but agreed to love and accept our child no matter what religion they chose to follow. Rosemary did not seem to mind if the child decided to not even follow any religion at all.
I still believed in God, although I had to confess that I knew nothing about Him or what, if anything, He wanted from me. Even after so much of my Christian Faith had dissolved, I still considered myself a Christian. I had been a Christian my entire life, and I did not know what else to call myself. I found nothing objectionable with belief in itself, and I still considered Faith to be a kind of virtue that could not be matched with unbelief. When I was a Fundamentalist, I used to claim that religion was just a term for man’s feeble attempts of reaching out to God. But I was not religious. I let God reach down to me. After losing so much of my own Faith, I reverted back to a slightly modified version of that same Fundamentalist definition of religion. The Bible, I now thought, was one record of man’s feeble, but earnest, attempt at reaching out to God and trying to understand Him. The same could be said for other religions and their Holy books and beliefs. We were all trying to reach out to God, in our own way. My study and criticism had given me the more educated view that our religions would always fall short of allowing us to fully understand the mind of God, much less have a relationship with Him.
The truth was that I missed believing in God. I wanted to believe. I missed believing in God because I wanted to believe. I missed the companionship of people who believed the same things I did. I missed contemplating about eternal and weighty matters that were bigger than this world. I missed having even the illusion of aligning myself with a moral plumb line. I still believed in sin, because I could steel feel the grip of guilt that sin put on my thoughts and actions.
I had been a Christian my whole life, and even after losing Faith I could not shake my Christian convictions overnight. I wanted to believe, and I clung desperately with my fingernails to the thinnest sliver of ledge was left of Christianity. I wanted to believe, until a disaster finally pushed me over the edge.
I was 45 years old, Rosemary was 36, and for the first time in our lives, we were thrilled to be bringing a child into the world. I felt like I had gotten a bit of a late start in life. After all, I was old enough to start thinking of having grandchildren, and here I was waiting for my first child! I figured that I may have gotten a late start, waiting to start university at 32, marrying at 40, now having a first child at 45, but I had spent all that extra time in preparation. I was well educated, earning a large paycheck, had a wonderful marriage, and I felt age and experience had given me a level of maturity that I certainly did not have in my 20s or even 30s. Rosemary and I felt ready to raise the next generation. We figured two children would be ideal. We even had names picked out. We had figured out a clever way of naming the child after her grandparents and my grandparents, no matter what the child’s gender would have been.
We could see Rosemary’s womb on the sonogram. The obstetrician immediately gave us the bad news.
He left the examining room to give Rosemary and me a little time alone together. It took a silent moment or two for the shock to sink in, but when we realized what had just happened, we collapsed into each other’s arms. We held each other and wept bitter tears. I was more stunned than the first time this had happened. That bloody, painful and frightening miscarriage in our bathroom was bad enough, but we both thought this time would be different. We thought this time, the baby would survive. We were just in this examining room a month earlier, and we saw the sonogram on the computer monitor! The little baby was alive and healthy! Now, just a few weeks later, and for no apparent reason …
No, the religious person would think. There is always a reason. As bad as it seems, there is a reason - even for this. We cannot know the mind of the Almighty, the religious person would think. Some lesson or some greater good must come from this tragedy. Maybe the death of the child will somehow alter future events to bring Rosemary and me closer together in love and marriage. Maybe this child is not the one that the Almighty had ultimately planned for the two of us. For all we know, some little boy is being born, just this very instant, into a family who does not want him. Maybe the little boy was somehow saved from the abortion clinic, and was being preserved for us to adopt him. Who can fathom the mind and providence of the Almighty?
I was once the person who would have struggled to find meaning in tragedy. I once thought that Hurricane Andrew struck southern
in order to allow Christian missionaries to descend on the needy, provide
comfort and proclaim the Gospel in the name of Jesus Christ. There is transcendent meaning and purpose in
everything, I had once believed.
I did find comfort soon after the death of our little child. I was grieving bitterly, but for me it passed surprisingly quickly. I found my comfort precisely where I am accused I could never find it. I found comfort in non-belief. I did not have to struggle to imagine some higher purpose. I did not have to imagine that the Almighty performed some abortion on our healthy child, just to teach us a lesson, bring us closer together, or to secretly prepare us for an adoptive child. I did not have to wonder at the mystery of a Deity who would perform some cruelty toward us and toward our tiny child, just for some imagined and unknowable greater good. I had no Faith to defend, and I did not have to struggle to use a Faith to imagine a reason in my hour of grieving. No, I just grieved until I was finished grieving.
If there was some higher meaning to all this, it was the discovery that I did not need my old beliefs to find peace in tragedy. Faith demanded that I struggle to find meaning where there was none. This struggle vanished after I lost Faith. I discovered that Faith did not give that transcendent meaning that I had been promised. Faith was a cancerous tumor that promised peace which passeth all understanding, but actually delivered nothing but false hope. Not only had I lost Faith, but the moment of salvation came when I discovered that I did not need Faith. Faith is a coping mechanism where one is not needed.
Is there a god? Does God love me? Does He care for me and want the best for me? Even after so much of my Faith had eroded, I still held out hope that this God was still out there somewhere, and Faith in Him, whoever He was, was still somehow virtuous. But after a tragedy like this, I could see that questions like these were moot. I finally understood that if this creature named God, Yahweh, Jesus, the Almighty, actually existed, this creature did not give a rip one way or another about me. Or Rosemary. Or anybody else who lived on this earth. I was not angry at God for the tragedy; I just found that it was pointless to try to turn to Him when I should have needed Him the most. He had vanished. He was a phantom, an illusion, a projection of my own hopes and fears. The religious person struggles to find meaning through Faith, whether it be through traditional religion or personal piety. But I discovered that through my own lack of Faith, I had killed God. The deity named Jesus was no different from one of the old Greek deities who could only survive through the prayers and devotion of their pagan worshippers. The only thing keeping the modern God alive in any form was my faith. But I had no faith. I finally understood that God and Faith are pretty much the same thing, and when I kill one the other dies right along with it.
My comfort came in understanding that there is no higher purpose in tragedy, suffering and death. Rosemary and I are animals. We live with all other animals on a spinning rock, orbiting an enormous nuclear reactor. We are at the mercy of our dynamic earth, and the profane laws that she abides by. I once had to use my religious Faith to find comfort, meaning and purpose in earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes. If I still had Faith, I would have to use it to find comfort in the death of our little child.
But no more. I believed the comforting words of the obstetrician, “there is nobody to blame. You did all the right things, but sometimes this just – happens.”
And that is all there was to it. Things just happen. God never was and never has been. But even with that, the detritus of God wanted to cling to my life like a parasite. If I need to kill a parasite then I have to stop feeding it. God is Dead. There is relief in those words. I grieved with Rosemary. Then I could simply let the pain go. I was finally free.