Virtual Voices

None of our beeswax

Faith & Inspiration

My children have this game they like to play: They wait until we are flying down the highway with the wind blowing and their mother and I trying to have a conversation and they begin to ask questions from the far back of the minivan. The result is much like what you'd get if you situated the old folks who are hearing impaired on opposite sides of a dance floor and asked them to talk about kids these days, or the price of gas.

"Dad! Can I have a motorbike when I'm 13?"

"We'll see!"

"When they're free???"

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"I said 'we'll see'!"

"But they're not free!"

"We'll talk about it later!"

"What?!?"

"Stop talking!"

"WHAT?!?"

And so on. If our military tried this on Muslim terrorists I am sure the ACLU would take issue with it. And I'm not sure I'd disagree with them. With the aim of preserving what remains of our sanity, my new strategy is simply to answer every question "No" while we are driving.

Which brings me to my point. I've noticed that when I tell them no without explaining my reasons, my children make up their own reasons. Recently I told them we couldn't go to McDonald's. My oldest explained to his brothers that this was because they hadn't gotten their chores done in time. The truth was simply that I am sick of McDonald's. But I noticed in his behavior something I have done often, which is to attribute motives to God. When something doesn't go my way, I develop a story about why God has "done" that to me. He wants to teach me something. He's punishing me. He has something even more wonderful in store.

Notice how all of those narratives put me at the center of things. Maybe I didn't get what I wanted simply because God wanted someone else to have it. Or maybe---here's a blow both to my pride and my lingering Calvinist leanings---I really did have a chance at it, but the person who got it instead simply worked harder for it, or just got lucky.

What I'm pondering more and more these days is that there are things we are not meant to know. The early Church fathers used the "not" form to approach God in their speech: inexpressible, incomparable, unfathomable, and so on. There's wisdom in that, and in cultivating within us a humility that doesn't try to deduce God's will from events.

I once heard someone ask a very wise man of God, "How can we counsel those who have just experienced some horrible, inexplicable tragedy, like the loss of a child?" His answer was that we should weep with them, grieve with them, and not be quick to try and discern purposes. Sometimes the answer is simply that it is not for us to know.

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