Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Theodicy For Dummies

I really, really hate being busted. But I have to bust myself.

In my other online discussionary endeavors, I tend to be an enthusiastic rah-rah cheerleader for the Lutheran viewpoint that our relationship with God is not a kind of cosmic transaction where we submit “X” number of good-works points to get God to love us (or at least not hate us); that it’s not a multiple-choice test where our job is to think enough of the right things about God to get a passing grade on some presumed divine test; that it’s not about whipping ourselves up into a tent-meeting come-to-Jaysus frenzy of emotion; that it’s really all about faith – about a trust relationship with God, that God draws us into.

It makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about, do’n’t it.

But when the rubber meets the road, as they say…well, let’s just say that my trust relationship sometimes swings upon the thinnest of threads.

I was up much of the night this past weekend with Cody, my dog, who suffers from the type of heart failure common to old dogs and old humans alike. He was wheezing uncontrollably; his cocktail of heart medicines, which usually keeps his condition under control and has extended his life far past the expectations of his vet, didn’t seem to be kicking in. And he was obviously in distress; he’d breathe a few normal breaths, and then I could feel his little body tense up in anticipation of another round of hacking. So I sat with him on the sofa; held him very tightly in a sitting position, which seemed to help a little; talked to him in a low voice; gave him extra increments of medicine in hopes that I’d reach some tipping point of effectiveness.

And I prayed. Now, if you have a 15-year-old dog with a heart ailment, every good day with him is a gift. I know that. And I’m ready, when the time comes, to let him go on what my Anishnabe neighbors call the long walk. But sitting with him as he struggled in obvious discomfort, praying for whatever outcome that would be the best for everyone, even if that meant that Cody would have to leave us…I seriously began to doubt that, in Dan Erlander’s words, God loves us and means us well. It didn’t seem that God was on my side here, or even on the job. Or maybe our sad little household tableau in the living room was like one of those self-contained glass biospheres that some hands-off Deity was observing with mild interest: "Hmmm…We note now that the Homo sapiens is experiencing apparent cross-species empathy with the aging Canis domesticus. Hmmm..."

Do something. Why don’t you do something. He doesn’t understand what’s wrong with him. He’s just a scared little dog who can't breathe. Why are you torturing him like this? If he’s going to die, why don’t you let him die now, instead of letting him suffer? And if he’s going to get better, why are you letting him suffer?

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, and in the context of the much more intense suffering that goes on in the lives of all sentient beings and especially those of us with the rationality to think about suffering in general and our own in particular – this tale of early morning veterinary woes is almost like a parody: Theodicy For Dummies, starring Cody the Dog. (Who, by the way, finally fell asleep, and who is feeling much better, thank you.) But it was pretty real to me. And in the morning, after the crisis had passed and I’d had time to think about it all, one of the things that had struck me was my easy willingness to abandon my own professed beliefs about God – to demote God from a loving God who may be Deus absconditus in our human perception but who is nonetheless always working behind the scenes to make all things well, to an impersonal force of nature, or an incompetent cosmic bureaucrat – or, worst of all, to an enemy; an oppressor.

My other observation -- after marinating in my disappointment at myself for awhile -- was that if I’d completely lost my faith, I wouldn’t have been bothering to talk to God at all, even to rail at God. A thin thread is still a thread.


Songbird said...


John said...

And maybe God did something for Cody long ago by placing him in your care.

Anonymous said...

It's always a test of faith for me when I experience an animal's suffering (especially my own dog). Human suffering, I can usuaully explain away, but an animal doesn't have the luxury of rationalizing. I'm glad you found an answer.

Rev Scott said...

One of the most profound moments of seminary was in a psalms lecture. The professor was talking about Psalm 130: "Out of the depths I cry to you..." The prof's comment was this: "Only someone who believes God is listening would cry out for help."