Where is God when Shit Happens?

In my last blog post I told you about my father’s response to the question, “Why do you believe in God?” Despite his father being brutally murdered in 1969, my father said that he simply believed in God, because of all that He had done in his life. And before I humbly help you navigate that belief let me tell you about my amazing mother Carol. Both my parents have passed, but as you’ll see their lessons continue to lead me.

My mother was born in Richwood, West Virginia (pop 1,661). She was of Irish and Scottish decent. Her father’s family dropped the O from O’Williams when coming to America. And if my recollection is correct, her mothers family dropped the O in O’Cochran. And despite being raised in a Catholic community her family navigated to the Baptist Church.

I heard my mother curse once my entire life. It was when my dad decided to play with his new electric car windows while she had her head out the window. It was new to cars of that time period, and he got confused and nearly decapitated her! As I watched my mother in the guillotine of the Ford Granada I heard her scream, “Well shit Bill!” My sister and I looked at each other speechless, and I briefly stopped breathing! Now that I’ve shared one of the funniest memories…let me share one that still breaks my heart.

I was around 15 years old when I came home from school to find my mother in tears. She was holding what appeared to be a handkerchief. I would later find out it had been anointed with oil by the deacons of the church who had prayed over my sister. The Bible teaches about the pastor and elders (deacons) coming together and praying over someone who is sick while putting oil on their forehead (sometimes using a cloth). My sister was diagnosed with the adult form of rheumatoid arthritis at 15 years of age, but at this time she was in her early 20s and in terrible pain. She would eventually have artificial joints put in several places in her body. And it has even impacted her lungs and heart. And trust me when I say, she was the good child! I was the definition of a prodigal son.

I honestly believe that only a mother can fully understand the pain my mother was in at that time. Yes, as fathers we grieve greatly when our children suffer, but there is nothing like a mother’s love. And on that day my mom was hurting for her “baby” and even asked me to join her in praying. I can remember feeling a little angry with God at that moment. And weeks later would express that to my mother. Why would God allow my sister to suffer? I asked that with more than a little bitterness. And this is when I would get my first lesson in free will.

I have always struggled with why bad things happen to very good people. And my mother and father’s lessons on free will took about 40 years to kick in! If you scroll back to the very first blog you’ll be reminded that after being a pastor I had a huge crisis of faith. And I began to ponder three theories about God:

  • God has the power to change things but chooses not to do so.
  • God doesn’t have the power to change things, and we are all on our own.
  • There is no God

Now, this is where I need to be very clear in stating I am not a Bible scholar, or any form of authority in your life. And so here is what I arrived at after much deep thought. First, God may have gone to the extreme when giving us free will. Meaning, He is all powerful, but chooses not to exercise that power in many situations. In my opinion, He got the world spinning and it is up to us…all of us to make good choices. I am not saying He doesn’t guide and direct, but ultimately we make the choices.

The part that still upsets me is that there are people who make choices that royally screw us. Sometimes it wreaks havoc on entire cities or countries! Don’t like that theory? Me either, but there is a very “in your face” Bible verse that essentially says, Who is to say the potter doesn’t have control of the clay? In other words, God made the rules because He is the potter of this big spinning ball of clay (Tony Russell Paraphrase).

Think about it, are you divorced? Have you ever had your heart broken? Did you ever get bullied? Did you ever get unjustly fired from a job? And what about sexual or physical abuse? Who made those decisions? Not God, someone exercised their free will, and you were unjustly hurt. So, why do people like my parents go through horrific times in their life, and yet believe in God? And how can they call God “good” when such horrible things happen?

The answer to the difficult question is simply put. It is because of what God did in their life to get them through those horrific times. I think Jesus and Buddha both said, “Shit happens.” Don’t be offended, even my mother used that word. Life is full of pain. As I write this my heart feels like it is breaking in half. It isn’t the first time, and unfortunately won’t likely be the last. At the end of the day we all have two choices when “shit happens” and that is…we can blame God or we can call out to Him. Well honestly, I now do both! He is graceful.

During my divorce in 2017 I thought I was going to die from the pain. The darkness was so deep and thick there were moments I felt as though I couldn’t breathe. I will never forget the night I moved out of our home. It was shortly after my 50th birthday on January 3rd (feel free to put my birthday on your calendar).

It was winter in the Pacific Northwest with the rain rapidly pounding on the roof of my car. It was as if it was in perfect rhythm with my heart that was pounding in my chest! I sat in my car struggling to drive away from the home where I once lived. I remember literally thinking it was all a bad dream, but I never woke up.

As I started the car and began to slowly pull away the light from the windows seemed to burn a hole in my chest as I began to cry uncontrollably. The pain was unbearable. I was a broken man in many ways, but I was about to cry out to God and see Him shine a light into my darkest moment. I’ll share that moment with you in the next post, but I’m not leaving you with nothing to hold onto!

One of my favorite verses says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18). It doesn’t say He caused or even allowed you or I to be “crushed.” It doesn’t answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people.” It does say something very powerful! God will be close to us, and not only that, He will save us! My next post will demonstrate that for you as I share the protestant version of a Hail Mary! I literally said a prayer with only 4 words, but it had a powerful return!

I love you,

Tony

Please subscribe by entering your email above to the left, and consider going back and reading the first few posts to catch up. Thank you for allowing me to share my story, and I hope you’ll share this post with others.