© Copyright 2015 by Brendan O'Brien
I long for God to see me fall on my knees in worship, to hear my silent yearnings for strength and faith and self-confidence as I face the struggles of everyday life. I long for Him to know the smile that plays at my lips as I reflect on the blessing of living, to feel the air that fills my lungs as I praise His name. I wish for Him to wipe away the tear that wells in my eye as I fathom the pain He endured to save me from sin. But mostly, I long for Him to know the doubt that has now risen from my certainty and threatens to replace my belief.
All my life, I have been made to accept simple answers to the questions that have plagued my mind. I was made to feel awed by the Creator’s willingness to know the Created. I was made to feel the overwhelming order and beauty of existence, thanking Him in times of joy and pain alike. And through it all, I have sat listening to silence and staring at empty places.
Now, from the deepest recesses of my mind, a sudden clarity has emerged. A patch of blue in a sky long-obscured by clouds. A gentle rain has stamped out the flames and left nothing but smoke and mist in their wake. Through the electrochemical carnage and haze that characterizes the human brain seep the last vestiges of a beauty which had been spared by logic and which now cannot escape my feeling. And then it passes, leaving my mind set ablaze by a thought now tearing at the seams of who I am.
You were made to worship God, they told me. An eloquent decree to quiet the questions of my restless mind, making me see others as manifestations of heaven and mere instruments to get there, guiding my life for the better part of my memory. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I can no longer see the Almighty as infallible if there is any goodness to be found in this world. If my future is known, then it can be known and my “choice” is an illusion. At this, I lose all responsibility for my behavior and all meaning in the present.
But I cannot allow the meaning I have etched into my life to slip into a blind submissiveness to an invisible being. He has always been there because I wanted him to be. If the kingdom of God is within me, how could I possibly not come to the aid of another in need? How could I possibly fret over the incoherence and inconvenience of the events of my life? But if I was made in His image and likeness, why should I so quickly defer to Him for miracles and strength and salvation? If He offers eternal life, any praise of Him is inherently selfish. And hallowed be thy name, the demand for praise makes Him unworthy of it.
Beneath His watchful eye, people are being slaughtered and starved and forgotten. In the omnipotence of this Supreme Being, our hands have been tied and our paths have been walked. If He knows my mind, my prayers are preordained. If not, I would be far better speaking to my fellow human being who has hands to lend and ears to listen. Any word not spoken or feeling not shared remains contained to my impossibly vulnerable being. Any thought unexpressed goes unknown to the world. Or perhaps the actions belie our intentions. Perhaps we are left grasping at thin air as our friend falls from the ledge. Perhaps we deceive others with warm gestures and delude ourselves with rationalizations, giving up the power in our hands in order to glorify His.
His, the hand that squeezes and causes lands to crumble. His, the hand that sprinkles food across the globe, leaving millions to starve. And I am expected to see the child burnt at the stake or crippled by preventable disease as marks of man’s brutality? Oh my God, you demand your word be embraced despite its exclusion of women from its history or its murder of those who love who you do not. You lead peoples from slavery to man into slavery to you, the only difference being that your face goes unseen.
The tears you cry on the world’s behalf leave your people to drown, with only Noah to repopulate the globe. As though virtue can be inherited just as your slaughter of Egyptian first-borns claims of wickedness. When you sit idly by as wars are waged by armies with differing conceptions of what you desire, who are we to claim your love will ever cease? When the only finger you lift for the genocide of millions in Germany and Serbia and Sierra Leone and Rwanda and Burundi and Sudan is the one instructing us to kneel, who are we to claim to know better?
We are the ones who feel the pain of rejection and doubt and hunger and gunshots. We are those whose thirst goes unquenched upon encountering an empty well; whose hearts break upon learning our love is not enough; whose life works are destroyed by fire; whose deepest prayers find no open ear. I am the one who feels the dagger that pierces and the embrace that lifts. And the embrace is not yours. It has never been, though I felt it anyway. I have come to a fork in this twisted road in which I find my path independent of the one designed. In fact, were it to be the same, I would not take it.
The predestined path now offers no charm, no shallow comfort for me. The meaning I have steadily injected into my life for as long as I can remember has become distinct from the meaning offered by parables and prayers. As I lift my eyes and feel my breaths deepen, I reflect on my past. It is merely November of my final year in high school but I feel that I have undergone trials that my writings cannot portray. I formulate written words, purging my mind of thoughts strung one by one into ideas signifying nothing to anyone but me. And a shrill cry punctuates the unbowed focus on the words flowing from brain to page. Brendan, dinner’s ready!
And despite the higher needs I now strive to meet, I fear questions to which no answer will suffice. For months, my penned thoughts offer the only hint of change. I refuse the body of Christ in Mass but feign sickness upon being asked why. My head bows at the dinner table, an inability to look my parents in the eye that instead passes for devotion. I offer prayers but with no destination. I look back upon the beach and see but one set of footsteps and they are mine.
I gained far more comfort from one conversation with my closest friend than all the unanswered prayers spent apologizing and begging for you to be there. I do not have to die to know my actions meant something. I reject your hand on my shoulder or arms carrying me through times of suffering, for I have faith that in this moment of absolute desperation in which I feel my back pressing against the wall and my feet planted on nothing but air, I will find a hand outstretched to me. A hand stretching from a human heart, one imperfect, flawed, and real.
I reject your perfect love and unfailing mercy, because true love is necessarily limited and yours can never be. I would rather care, my preference being to risk hurting, to make myself vulnerable to being diminished and failing and dying; to meet life, in all its feigned glory and decadent armor; to have my beliefs defied, emotions trampled, expectations unmet—my very existence called into question—and to accept such an encounter as real, than to surrender to the eternal life you offer.
Give us this day our daily bread and I would rather starve. I would rather find my own bread and share this with the outstretched hands of a stranger than accept that which you offer. Lord God, I simply cannot reconcile your existence with my own, and so my faith will not reside in you. Yet, I am not without faith. I confess my faith not in your absence but in the strength and beauty and harmony of the inherent uncertainty of the world. I believe in a world without God. On Earth, just as it is in heaven.