August 19, 2010

Send Annie the Carbon

In a 1975 essay about a trip to an Ecuadorian jungle, american Annie Dillard wrote about eating a sumptuous outdoor meal of fresh fish, stew, and “bananas fried in chunks and served on a tray: they were sweet and full of flavor.” The meal was depicted in the context of a tiny deer, within sight of the diners, entangled in a rope trap until it was to be someone’s dinner. “Trying to paw itself free of the rope,” she wrote, “the deer had scratched its own neck with its hooves. The raw underside of its neck showed red stripes and some bruises bleeding inside the muscles.” Annie looked at it once or twice, and continued eating stew and bananas.

Back home, on her bathroom mirror, she had pasted a photo clipped from a newspaper of Alan McDonald, a Miami man who had just been badly burned on the face—for the second time! “He had been burned before,” she wrote, “thirteen years previously, by flaming gasoline. For years he had been having his body restored and his face remade in dozens of operations.”

“Why,” Alan McDonald groaned from his hospital bed, “does God hate me?”

2010 1527 page31Many powerfully logical reasons exist for belief in God. Even after what Ellen White called the “threefold curse” (the curse after Adam’s fall, after Cain’s sin, and after the Flood), nature reveals evidence, not only of God, but of His love. There’s too much beauty, too much design, too much suited for the pleasure of humans for humans to innocently ignore it. Which is why, no doubt, Paul wrote about those who, having seen the power of God in creation, will be “without excuse” on judgment day (Rom. 1:20).

But then there’s that ogre of evil, of suffering, of tiny deer tormented in traps, of Alan McDonalds burned badly (twice!). So, in regard to the question of God’s love, we always have to reload.

And what are we armed with but the great controversy motif, the cosmic struggle between Christ and Satan, between good and evil? “The world turns and the world changes,” wrote T. S. Eliot. “But one thing does not change./In all of my years, one thing does not change./However you disguise it, this thing does not change:/The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.”

The great controversy, though, can’t explain every instance of evil. To explain it would be to justify it, and we never want to do that. The great controversy can reveal the grand issues behind evil; the motif tells us little, if anything, about each instance of it. The closest to any answer is the cross, where the Lord Himself “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4). All the pain, all the sorrow that we experience only as individuals—and never more than as individuals—Christ experienced corporately, at once, forever revealing that no one has suffered from sin, from evil, more than our Lord Himself. It’s not an answer to every specific woe; it’s only the assurance that God has felt each instance of it.

Still, for us now, seeing through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12), so much remains unknown and unexplained that all we can do, in raw naked faith, is grasp the cross. Because without it we have only men with twice-burned faces, deer tormented in traps, and so much worse. None of it will ever make sense; evil never can, but at least we can live with the hope that it will, somehow, be made right.

Talking about Alan McDonald, Annie Dillard wrote: “I read the whole clipping again every morning. This is Big Time here, every minute of it. Will someone please explain to Alan McDonald in his dignity, to the deer at Provendica in his dignity, what is going on? And mail me the carbon.”

The Lord will do better than that. He’s going to restore the original—and then some: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4, KJV).

Otherwise all “the former things” will pass away anyway with nothing to show for it, and nothing to make it right. 


Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. This article was published August 12, 2010.