Miserere Nobis

What does one say to a dear friend whose son was born three months early and, after struggling for six weeks, dies?

What does one say to one’s aunt when her daughter, at age forty-five, has died unexpectedly from a massive heart attack?

I’ve found myself in both those positions in the span of three short days. Those are the moments that language shows its inadequacy and faith is strained.

An atheist has a simple answer: it’s nature. There’s no need to justify why it could happen because, outside the normal laws of nature (and their impact on clogged arteries and premature babies), there is no why. It simply happens.

It’s something I’ve always found comforting about atheism.

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4 thoughts on “Miserere Nobis

  1. Jared Olar says:

    Hmmm. Comforting to whom? The bereaved person, or the one who is at a loss to say anything that could be of any comfort?

    We wonder “why” because we instinctively recognise the value of the individual human person — but death, especially “untimely” death, seems to call that value into question and makes us doubt it.

    In times like these, usually the best thing, I think, is to say nothing at all. Just to say, “I’m so sorry,” to give a hug, and cry with them.

    I’ll remember your aunt and your cousin’s soul, and your friend and his baby boy, in prayer tonight. God grant them rest and peace. God grant us all peace.

  2. The Itch says:

    The father of the child is an atheist. He is devastated, but he doesn’t ask, “Why did God allow this?” The mother is Catholic: this is a real faith crisis for her.

    You’re right about what to say, though. My aunt about choked the breath out of me with her hug and all I could say was, “I’m so very sorry for your loss.”

  3. bryce1618 says:

    I’m not going to pretend to have an emotionally appealing answer, heck, maybe not even an intuitive answer. But I suppose I may as well offer what I’ve got;

    As a religious theist, I see no reason that “death happens” isn’t equally adequate.

    There’s a lot of things that just are, and no matter how much we would like to be able to conquer these things, we find that the further we climb up these mountains, the further we see that the mountain goes, simply impassable. Both the atheist and the theist believe in a something that is, at least, a “just is.” For the atheist, it might be the universe that “just is,” and for the theist, it is God that “just is.”

    In a universe that “just is,” there will be things that “just are” “just because” the universe “just is.” The universe exists; I happen to exist; death exists; evolution occurred; light just goes so fast. These things are for all appearances arbitrary, and if there is anything that is frightening to someone trying to find the meaning of it, the answer “it just is” is far from satisfying.

    The theist, on the other hand, believes that the universe is not what is “the just is,” though he will probably grant that God decided to create “just because” just because he would is unable to give any further reason based on what can be figured out this side of time. While the particular “just is'” for the atheist becomes “God just decided to’s” for the theist, in both worldview it is impossible to deny that there aren’t “just is’.”

    If both can grant that there can be “just is'” why must this be any more a problem for the theist than the atheist? The atheist’s answer is that it is simply meaningless, an accidental by-product of the existence of the universe in its own arbitrary manner. The theist’s answer doesn’t need to be any more profound, because it will eventually be reduced to a “God just decided to,” no matter the particular reasoning God might’ve had for letting someone die at a young age or in some tragic way that appears otherwise meaningless and beneficial to no one.

    If, in the theistic view, the foundations are no more satisfying than atheism when you try and search for the foundations of these foundations, then it shouldn’t seem that it can be relegated to mystery no more mysterious than the mysteries atheism is committed to.

    So, apparently inexplicable death is no worse a commitment than apparently inexplicable existence. The decision of whether to accept that death is inexplicable or existence itself is inexplicable would have to be decided for other reasons.

    Now, on the positive side, theism does at least offer hope of reunion via salvation such that this apparently meaningless death isn’t worth holding against God.

    That’s all I could say; I won’t delve into any more hypotheticals.

    You might also want to check out Alexander Pruss’ post on death and the problem of evil; http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.com/2010/01/death-and-problem-of-evil.html

  4. Chris Rodriguez says:

    One of the particularly curious things about Christianity and Catholicism specifically is the notion of suffering. In Christ we find a God whom is both more Divine and more human than any other god in encountered in the literature of humankind. The world has always been transfixed by Him, he is the most controversial figure that ever lived. No other God suffered as Christ did, embracing fully the darkness humanity experiences so much so that the He is even called the “Man of Suffering” who spoke the words “Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?” There comes a time in each of our lives when we too speak those words. For some of us, there will be many times we speak these words. It is mysterious and yet we must know too, that Christ was in the darkness as we are. When we are tempted to ask God why…why so much evil, pain, doubt, confusion, darkness? I believe He answers us, “yes, I have been there too, the night is always darkest before the rising of the sun, I will wait with you in the darkness, until a new day.” Christ descended into the darkness, but the darkness could not overcome Him, rather he overcame the darkness, even death. Is that not the hope of Christianity? That in the end we are not nothing: accidents upon the idiotic face of matter. Rather, we are loved unimaginably, each of us loving Him and knowing Him in a unique way that no other creature can.

    Ironically, Lent now begins, where we are mindful of the transitory nature of this life, its brevity, its fragility. Christ did not promise a paradise on earth, not yet anyway, he told us to seek the higher life in Him, the rest would follow.

    Christ did not promise that life would be easy, only that He would be with us.

    Just some of my thoughts,

    Chris

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