Dear God,*

I hate you. It's not that you allow innocent people to suffer, like the children who are victims of murder or sexual abuse. I know you have answers for all of that: you don't will these sorts of things to happen; you do send help in the guise of adults who defend the children, and so forth. No, rather, it's that your promises to us are lies.

Listen to yourself: you say that you love us and want us to be saved, whatever that means. Moreover, you insist that it's wholly up to you whether we are saved, but still you expect us to have faith and hope in you. So which comes first, eh? The faith and hope, or the grace? Because, of course, there is nothing that we can do to earn or effect your grace, so there doesn't really seem to be any point in trying to have faith or hope, since that would be somehow to do something to be saved (i.e. lifted up out of the misery of not loving you). But, on the other hand, you have also been quite clear that if we don't have faith or hope in you, we're damned. So there: damned if we do, damned if we don't. Some bargain.

This letter would have had a lot more bite to it if I had been able to write it when I woke up this morning. As it is, I've been mulling it over for several hours now, and the rage is subsiding. But I dare say it will come back. You know what I wrote yesterday, about how I wished I were an atheist. How would you like that, eh? I'll just stop believing in you. What are you going to do about it? My friends who are atheists seem to get along just fine without faith: they have families and homes and jobs; they can write and get published; they even win at fencing tournaments--all without you. Maybe they have more hope than I do and so don't lose heart, but hope in what? Not your twisted promises, that's for sure.

Here's how I understand it. Grace is a gift; it comes when it comes; there is nothing we pathetic creatures can do to earn it because we've already separated ourselves so utterly from you through our sin. And yet, somehow, without grace, we're still supposed to have the strength to hope for it, despite the fact that we can't do anything else without your help. You could send us the grace to have the strength to hope, but you won't, because we have to feel sorry first--which, again, we can't, because without your grace, there is no way that we have the strength even to make that first move towards you. So whose fault is it that we don't have hope? Ours? But we can't have it, not on our own. Yours? But you won't give it to us, unless , that is, we admit that we need you, which, again, we would need grace to be able to do.

You say that I am confusing the worldly success of my atheist friends with salvation. Okay, fine. Your kingdom is not of this world. But you made this world! We worship you as the Creator! We're supposed to be grateful all the time for being alive in it. Again, another trick. You made this world for us to live in, but we're supposed to reject it. Or if not reject it (I know, I know, I'm not a Cathar), then not make it the point of our lives. My atheist friends may have lots of worldly accomplishments and possessions, but, really, deep down inside they're suffering. Right. Like the fencers who win at tournaments with terrible form are suffering. That's a big consolation when they compliment me on how clean my actions are when, yet again, I've come in last.

Don't you get it?! I've been trying. I try to have faith; I try to have hope. I practice; I come to work every day and sit in front of this stupid computer hoping for something to say. And then you go and help people who don't even believe in you. Like that's supposed to console me? Oh, I'm trying too hard to control everything, am I? You will come to me when you damned well please and there is nothing that I can do to coerce you, Mr. Maker of Heaven and Earth. But what about that thing about having faith and hope? Isn't that something I'm supposed to control? Why, when I lose hope, don't you help me if you're so concerned about me? Why was I sitting in tears this morning wishing I were dead if in fact you love me so God-damned much?

Now I'm being selfish, I know. Or, worse, self-pitying. You've done plenty of things for me in my life, except, of course, you've done them for others, too, without their having to go through the whole agony-of-faith thing. It's not that I'm not grateful for my life; I really am. Nor is it that I can't see the many, many blessings you have showered upon me. One of the things that I started to do while I was thinking about this letter was counting all of the wonderful things that I have in my life that you've given me that I know I have done nothing to earn and couldn't even if I tried. But if you can give me all those--my home, my books, all our furniture and things; my career; my family; our health--why leave me sitting there? Why abandon me all the time when I want so desperately to believe?

You could do it, you know; give me that little nudge, so that I don't end up in despair and tears. Yes, this is about fencing practice last night, but that's just a metaphor for everything else in my life right now. My anxiety about being recognized for my work; wishing that I could publish more; wishing that what I had to say actually meant something to someone other than myself (even, sometimes, to myself): all of these things should not be my goal, I know. But it's hard, it's so hard to have hope when it seems like there is nothing in the future to look forward to. "That's it," I hear you saying. "You've had your success; don't expect to achieve anything more. What, aren't you grateful? You've already had much more success than most people get. Get over it. I, God, will decide what you get and you've had yours. Stop whining. Oh, but have hope anyway."

I don't understand it. I used to have hope. I had such dreams and such confidence in myself. Well, most of the time. I've always gotten frustrated with my writing, but at least in the past I had hope that one day it would get easier and that I would get better at it. Now, I recognize I do write much better than I did in the past, but I've lost hope that I will ever write much better than I do now--and it's still not good enough. Again, I know, the bar keeps rising. When you're ten years old, writing a whole page is an accomplishment. At thirteen, where my son is now, writing five seems like an epic. Then, when you're in college, ten is still a real stretch, while your first years in graduate school, you can't even imagine how you will manage to write more than thirty. Then the dissertation, then the first book, then the second: every one impossible until you do it--and then the bar rises again. Now you're comparing yourself not just to those who have written dissertations or first books, but authors whom more than a few hundred colleagues actually read. And you realize you still are nowhere near close to writing something as good as that and, in fact, may never be.

It all seems so obvious now that, yes, I write about it. But having made the diagnosis, I'm nowhere near the answer. I need hope, but I've lost it and I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe what I had before wasn't really hope, but just sheer stubbornness and I'm tired. My husband says that to carry on without hope is what is really admirable, by which he means, doing what we do despite the fact that it will make no difference whatsoever that we did it in fifty or a hundred or a thousand years, or maybe even tomorrow. What is hope? It seems to me it is a gift from God (that's you, right?), otherwise I can't quite explain it. If you, God, don't exist, what do we have to hope for other than not to die horribly at the hands of others or in some accident or from a long, painful disease? The evidence of life makes it clear that we don't always get what we wish for, even when we work very hard. Peace of mind? Again, that seems to me to sound like hope. I'm not really into Stoic resignation, except, of course, without hope, that seems the only answer: accept that we can't control anything but our reactions to what happens to us. Which, it seems to me, brings us right back to grace: something else that we can't control, but just have to accept that you will give to us--or not.

It's stupid to blame you, God, I know, when this is my own failing. But you promised! You promised that hope was worth having and to help us when it fails. Except you didn't: the hope part is up to us. Or is it? Of course, having been writing now for well over an hour, I do feel better. Is that your doing? Do you dare give me hope when I was in such despair? Because I know the despair will come back; I can't possibly be cured just like that. It just seems so cruel to keep abandoning me if you're going to come back anyway. I thought the whole point was that I could never really learn to stand on my own two feet; I'll always need you. So why is it so hard to tell that you're there?

Comments

  1. Hello! I've been a lurker for a little while, I guess since the March NAC in Atlanta, though we also have mutual friends in the MD division. I'm an ex-Catholic raised by a Latin-Mass family (FSSP specifically) and I found this post quite interesting!

    Regarding the vicious circle of no faith without grace but no grace without faith, my Baltimore Catechism may be getting a bit rusty (particularly since I didn't and don't believe a word of it) but I think the Catholic resolution to the dilemma is that God offers grace to us all, but it's up to us to choose whether to accept it, isn't that so? Though perhaps that simply defers the same vicious circle: What is it that would then determine whether we accept "H"is grace? Our free will, I suppose, yet we're all creatures of nature and nurture and what feels to us like free will isn't always as much so as it seems. Reminds me of the story of how God "hardened Pharaoh's heart." Perhaps one could argue Pharaoh rejected God's grace, blah blah, but it doesn't sound as though the poor wretch had much say in the matter! :-)

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  2. Welcome! I'm glad to hear you've been enjoying the blog!

    Re: faith and grace, yes, that's the rub! The Catholics solve it one way (God offers but we have to make the move to accept it), the Protestants another (we can't even make the move without grace), but they're really arguing two sides of the same thing. I grew up Protestant, so maybe I feel more stuck than I would if I had grown up Catholic, but I'm not sure. There's always the difficulty of the evil that we do not intend but do anyway. There is a way out--but only with God's help. And round, and round and round we go.

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