To a certain extent, ritual plays a part in every life. We all adhere to our own ceremonies to mark the important occasions that come along. It can be something as extravagant as a neighbor of mine plans every Thanksgiving, when his home becomes a meeting place for family scattered to all corners of the country. Or it can be as small as the shot of whiskey a friend of mine takes at 4:12 in the afternoon each July 27, in remembrance of his father’s passing.
My own ritual—smaller than either of those I mentioned, yet to me no less significant—revolves around cleaning out my desk before the start of every novel. It is no mammoth undertaking, usually requiring no more than an hour’s time and involving no more than shelving books and filing papers. But I like to start fresh with each story I write, and nothing says fresh more than an empty slab of oak upon which to write.
As I cleaned and filed and shelved this morning, I came upon a tattered manila envelope at the bottom of a stack of papers. ANSWERS had been written diagonally across the front in red permanent ink, in a hand I can scarcely recognize now. The inside bulged with notes and scraps; newspaper clippings; magazine articles; letters written to me and copies of letters I’d written to others. Some were dated as recent as last year. The oldest had 4 Oct. 89 scrawled along the top.
I spread them out before me, reading each one until I remembered, trying to place the where and why of myself—what it had been that led me to include those stories there, in my envelope. I am not to the point that I can say I have lived many years upon this earth, have accumulated many things along the way, and yet I have always counted that envelope among my most important possessions. Because, what you see, what rests in there are all the questions I wish to ask God when I am able to see Him face to face. They are the things I wish to know.
I will stop short of calling that envelope EVIDENCE FOR PROSECUTION, though I admit it was very nearly labeled that instead of ANSWERS. And whom was I determined to prosecute, way back in the very dawn of my adulthood? God, of course. And for the single reason that I did not approve of the way He did things.
Laugh at that all you will. Take a look inside my envelope, though. You may change your mind.
You’ll see an obituary for a high school classmate of mine, who was killed in a freak accident not two years after our graduation—a bright, funny, loving boy, full of life until he wasn’t.
You’ll find a story of a missionary tortured and killed.
A small girl who wandered from home and became lost in the woods, never to be found.
A single mother of three, dying of inoperable cancer.
Accounts of oppression, disease, and injustice. Diary entries of heartbreak and doubt. Themes of death and evil. Tales that over the years forced me to wonder what you or anyone else have wondered at one time or another—
How can a good and loving God allow such things?
At a certain point, I understood there would be no answers to that question on this side of life. People have been questioning the origins of evil and it’s place with God for thousands of years, and we are not too far down the road to answering it. So I’ve kept all my questions here, in this envelope.
How exactly I would get that file to heaven with me was something I never quite figured out. In the past few years, I’ve devoted less and less time to pondering that problem. Not because evil no longer bothers me—it does, perhaps more now than ever—but because of the very likely possibility that I won’t care much about my questions in heaven. I’ll be too full of joy. I’ll be too busy spending time with all those who passed on before me, and preparing for those yet to arrive.
I still don’t understand a great many things in life. I suppose I always won’t. I don’t know why there must be cancer, and why that cancer must take so many innocent people. I don’t know why there is evil, or why there seems to be so much more of it than good.
I don’t know why God does the things He does, or allows what He allows.
But I can do one thing. I can approach those questions now as though they were parts of a story, one I would write just as God writes His own upon all of creation. And I would say—not as a pastor or theologian or philosopher, but as a storyteller—that it is far more beautiful a thing to be redeemed than be innocent. It is far more amazing for fight for peace in a fallen world than to maintain peace in a perfect one.
And it is far more noble to spend your life in search of something than have nothing to search for at all.