Wednesday, August 25, 2010

what he said

As a general rule, the God of the Old Testament is of limited help to infertiles. Or anyone really suffering, for that matter. [Nota bene: this line of thought assumes some sort of familiarity on the part of the reader with the idea that there's a "God of the Old Testament" but also always the same God. Some may not follow this line of thought; if not and you're curious, drop me an email, and I'll find an explanation from someone with better theological training than I have.]

Right? I mean, the God of the New Testament is all "take up your cross and follow Me" and "what profiteth it a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul" and "greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" and "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" and "let the dead bury their dead" and "foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" and "enter through the narrow gate" and that sort of thing. Not necessarily expecting a lot of blessings out of the earthly life, and seeing a good degree of theological value in waiting for your blessings until the next world, thankyouverymuch.

The Old Testament? Not so much. The Old Testament is all "your descendants will be as numerous as the stars" and "your wife will be like a fruitful vine inside your home; your children will be like young olive trees around your table" and "my lover is like a gazelle or a young stag" and "Thou preparest a table for me in the sight of my enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over" and "so King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom." Blessings mean material blessings. If God loves you, you get stuff - and lots of it. Including babies, by the way.

(Yes, yes, I know, this is a simplification. There's lots of Exile-related wailing in the OT, and some getting things back sixty- and a hundred-fold in the NT. If you can nitpick that well, I know you get my point.)

And yet the other day I was doing my little bit of Scripture reading, and I saw this:
On that day, says the Lord, I will gather the lame,
And I will assemble the outcasts [misfits!],
And those whom I have afflicted.
I will make of the lame a remnant,
and of those driven far off a strong nation;
And the Lord shall be king over them on Mount Zion,
from now on forever.
Micah 4:6-7 (emphasis mine). And then there was this:
Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne;
And the rest of his brethren shall return to the children of Israel.
Micah 5:2. In other words, God is going to inflict misery on people He likes - the exact people, and the only people, whom He plans to save. OT lamentations offered in Israel's own voice during the Exile era make clear that Israel was exiled, and her people suffered, because they were unfaithful and had to be punished for their sins so that they would repent and return to God. And perhaps that's what's meant here, but it's not what's said. God is just saying that for a time He's going to make certain people miserable, but then, in the end, they're going to be the chosen ones.

(I know you know where I'm going with this. Almost, but not quite. Give me a second.)

The funny thing is, those words - stuck in the middle of a lot of other symbolism about the nasty things that were happening to people in the Holy Land at the time - leapt out at me because they are totally consistent with my idea of what God does - from childhood on, no less. We belong to Him, and He gets to decide who suffers. Just because He wants to. And it doesn't mean any special sort of divine hostility - as demonstrated by the fact that the specially suffering are also going to be the specially saved. A bit like St. Therese suggesting that she was God's toy, his little ball, and He could cast the toy away if He liked. (I'm not claiming I have her good attitude about it.)

Maybe my notions in this regard stemmed from the story of Lazarus, which I distinctly remember studying in second grade. It made a big impression on me. You know - Lazarus, the poor man, starves and ails outside the rich man's door while the rich man feasts. Eventually Lazarus starves to death, and then the rich man dies too; Lazarus goes to heaven, but the rich man doesn't. It's obvious why the rich man is punished - letting someone starve to death is bad behavior. But what exactly did Lazarus do that established that he was worthy of eternal life - starve?

I remember believing, and I think being told at the time, that it made good solid sense. Maybe just because God loves the suffering - more than He loves those who aren't.

I can't claim that this perhaps deep-seated view on my part has brought me to some sort of philosophical approach to infertility. Quite the contrary - I was and am very angry with God. (I've told Him so now, too. No miracles have resulted yet that I have noticed.) But I will say this. Without being able to articulate it very well, I have thought for a long time that God chose the people He chose to allow to be infertile for a reason.

Perhaps this totally undermines the humility I'm supposed to derive from this experience, but I honestly think that most of the people I know who haven't been called to carry this cross, couldn't have carried it. I'm not saying I've carried it well. I haven't given up my faith - but I've had a bad enough attitude that I'm not sure that's saying much. But I'm not dead yet. And I think there are probably a lot of women blissfully and rather shallowly dandling babies who would have been absolutely, 100% used up and destroyed if they had had to come face to face with a life in which they didn't have them.

I can't prove this, of course. By definition I can't. And it may be only a product of my own delusion or arrogance that I think so. For one thing, suggesting that I was chosen to suffer this way because I can take it implies that my survival is attributable to my good qualities and not God's grace, which puts me on pretty shaky footing to start with. And of course Protestants say that "God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called," and while I'm not Protestant and don't have to sign onto this point of view, I sort of see their point. Moses had a stutter, or whatever.

But still. I think God also does some calling of the equipped. There are definitely people - in history, among our own acquaintance - whose substantial natural gifts were clearly handed out in anticipation of them having an opportunity to serve in an important way. And I can't help feeling a certain degree of conviction that God is going to get a little more mileage out of a gal who is giving Him a piece of her mind while going through misery than someone with a fine attitude who has only ever been asked to contend with sunny days. I know I would if I were Him.

Maybe that's part of the reason I'm not entirely sure I want a baby. I don't so much want the problem fixed - I want the problem fixed. I'm not sure either of those things is going to happen...


  1. I know that you and I belong to two different faiths, but what you are saying here makes total sense to me. I would add two more principles though that I am pretty sure are shared between our faiths in one form or another. The first being that the Lord doesn't extend any challenges to his children that they are not able to handle and the second being that we are here on earth to be tried or tested basically to prove that we are worthy of our place in heaven or something to that effect anyway. Taken what you have said and adding these two items, one could conclude that those who have a stronger soul and who can handle more are given heavier burdens to carry otherwise the test would be swayed in their favor. One must also consider the fact that each of us sees challenges in different aspects of our lives. The burdens (or crosses) that I have been asked to carry may seem extreme or unbearable to someone else who witnesses me walking through life with them, while I may look at them and think the same of one that they are handling. I believe that each of our trials is chosen by the Lord specifically with our individual spiritual needs in mind. We may not know exactly what those spiritual needs are or the outcome he is looking for, but he does. For me, I think one of my biggests tests is learning to trust that he knows what he is doing.

  2. Sometimes I wonder what is harder...patience or having "hope" that I am not sure I want. Good analysis, though. Sometimes I think I am supposed to know suffering and darkness so I will appreciate the light. When it comes, that is.

  3. Thank you Misfit. I think this is the post I needed this morning. Much appreciated...