I bought my friend, Jenna, a unicorn today.
She didn’t ask for it. I just saw it in the store and bought it for her. And in the end, i’m not sure she really noticed too much or even cared. It wasn’t a real unicorn, after all. It was just a helium balloon. But, I wish it was real.
I wish it was real (are there “real” unicorns?) because I think real unicorns are magic. And Jenna needs some magic right now. I wish it was real because I think real unicorns could fly away to imaginary land and leave the problems of this world behind. And Jenna has too many problems in this world. But, most of all, I wish it was a real unicorn because I imagine that real unicorns ride very fast and a girl deserves a pony ride on her 5th birthday. And instead, Jenna is lying in a hospital bed fighting cancer.
More than anything, I wish it was a real unicorn . . .
But, I don’t believe in unicorns.
And some days, like today, I find it hard to believe in God, too. Now, I know I’m a pastor or whatever and supposed to be rock solid on that conviction. But today, I wonder how a little innocent girl could experience such physical evil. I wonder why God would allow her to spend more of her birthdays in a hospital than out of it. I wonder why people pray (for years) for this girl and yet the doctor always has more bad news.
Five years old. Cancer for the third time. In a hospital bed again for another birthday. Treatment options limited. Hope weakening.
Now, I’ve got all sort of theological reasons for bad things happening to good people. You see, I obviously don’t think Jenna deserves cancer. And I don’t believe God gave Jenna cancer. I think someone is responsible, but it’s God’s enemy not God. I even believe that God wants Jenna to be healed and that He hurts seeing her there on her birthday too. I realize there is a war going on in this world and that what God wants isn’t always what happens, at least not yet (why else would Jesus have to pray that God’s will would be done here on earth as it is in heaven?”). I understand the consequences of free-will and of the devastating meddling of the enemy.
But as much logical sense as the theological reasons make, at this moment they make very little difference to Jenna or to her family or to me. All I know is Jenna is sick and five year-old girls shouldn’t live in hospitals.
I assume this is how Habakkuk felt when he yelled at God about the misery, violence and evil he saw in his day. In fact, rather than give God the silent treatment (which I’m tempted to do today), Habakkuk climbs the highest tower in the city–apparently to be as close to the face of God as possible–and expresses his displeasure in what I like to imagine as a very antagonistic tone.
And remarkably, God doesn’t strike Habukkuk dead for the protest. In fact, God responds and answers him. Habukkuk has asked “why” and “how long” and God replies with what some have said is the theme of the whole Bible. And yet, it isn’t what you’d expect.
The great answer of human suffering by God: “But the righteous will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)
He doesn’t answer why. He doesn’t give any idea about how long the suffering will last. He simply says three Hebrew words: righteous live faith.
And really, maybe that is all I need to hear today anyway. Even if I heard the rationale of why, I’m not sure it would help. Even if I knew the future of this little girl, I’m not sure what I’d do with that info. Maybe all I need to know is that even surrounded by evil, those who want to be right with God will experience real and full life if they just trust the deeper answers to God even when things don’t make sense. Maybe I don’t need to know why so much as I need to know what to do, how to be and how to live in the face of it.
Is that a perfect answer? No. Is it the magical unicorn that makes me feel ok and whisks a beautiful girl off to better times? No. It still comes with a lot of questions. I may still find myself at times on barely-speaking terms with God or yelling from a high tower. But, it’s practical. It tells me how to live, even when I don’t know what to think. And maybe that is what I need most. I need to know how to go on and live in the midst of what has gone so wrong.
Right now, I’m a conflicted, angry, cynical preacher. Following Christ hasn’t made everything nice and tidy for me. But as clueless and helpless as I feel on days like this, I will choose to trust God. Not because I’m naive, I don’t think, but because only He tells me how to act and live, regardless of why Jenna sits in a hospital. And that is what I really need to know.
In the end, I know there’s no magic unicorns. But, I’d like to think that bringing a balloon to a little girl this morning brought her a bit of magic anyway. And in that sense, maybe the way I live really does bring life into the midst of evil. Maybe the righteous really do live by faith.