By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 6/22/12 in The Madera Tribune
A loud bark late one night in 1997 inspired me to ask God to send a watchdog or angel to look after my parents’ van, which I had borrowed. The windshield of my 1963 Ford Falcon leaked, and I wished to spare it the day’s rains.
I edited and paginated for The Madera Tribune newspaper at the time and its downtown offices didn’t always feel secure.
Hours later I locked the security door of the building and approached the van. City lights and clouds hid the stars, the blacktop glistened darkly, and the van growled at me.
This puzzled me.
As I reached its door, several soggy doggy faces peered at me from beneath the vehicle. I informed its furry companions that the van was mine so-to-speak, and we parted peacefully.
I suspect God has a sense of humor.
The poet and Catholic bishop John Lancaster Spalding once wrote: “Whatever comes, whatever goes, / Still throbs the heart whereby we live; / The primal joys still lighten woes, / And time which steals doth also give. / Fear not, be brave: / God can thee save.”
Fourteen months ago a morning commute from Madera to Coalinga went astray just past Five Points. I worked for the Coalinga Recorder newspaper then, and thick mud tracks from farm equipment and my own sleepiness collaborated well that day.
On a curve in the road, a tire of mine slipped off the edge of the roadway. I overcorrected and saw myself headed towards oncoming traffic. So I steered my Honda Civic DX across the road into a field of soft earth and stalks of green. My car rolled before landing upright with its roof caved in.
Shaken, I stirred. I brushed off broken glass and hunted for my cell phone. Who did I call? Not the police. My priorities may have been a bit skewed. I called my employer to let them know I wouldn’t be in. Then I left my sister the kindly comfort of an uninformative notification of my accident.
Others stopped and coaxed me out of the car. Several stayed to look after me until a law enforcement officer stopped and an ambulance arrived. The patrol officer eyed my car and said he’d seen other crashes like mine on that road but participants didn’t walk away from them; they were carried away in a less than beautifying condition.
Both Coalinga Regional Medical Center and a chiropractor confirmed my unharmed state.
Admittedly I no longer enjoy a gentle ride on a Ferris wheel. The sensations, little though they be, remind me too much of my swifter tumble. I have not even attempted a roller coaster.
But in truth I had been spared.
Life is full of such mysteries, including the reverse scenario. Why is one person hurt and another untouched? (Matthew 24:40-42) Why do some die while others live on? We all have sorrows, yet how many blessings we enjoy undeserved. Why?
It is the puzzle not only of evil but of goodness.
On the surface it seems simple enough to those who believe in a benevolent God. All the good we know ultimately comes from the creator, who is both its source and sustainer. As for evil, it is but a shortfall, a gap in the wholeness of existence, a lack, and an absence.
Moral evil arises by straying off the path of goodness. Dip even a wheel off the side and control may diminish and your car too may flip. Sin, in particular, is an intrinsically destructive act, whether of self alone or others too.
Yet beyond such abstract explanations that appeal to the mind lies the reality that confounds the heart.
For Christians, the answer to these mysteries can only be found in the contemplation of other ones: mysteries of eternity, God, and most especially of the belief that God with foolhardy love became man to suffer in the place of those deserving of death (1st Corinthians 1:22-25).
Troubled or gifted, we have all been loved beyond our wildest imaginings by God. May we Christians at least imitate him and “rejoice with those who rejoice; and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
“Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering,” wrote Pope John Paul II in “On the Christian meaning of human suffering.”
“But before all else he says: ‘Follow me! Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my cross!’”