Because I work in a psychiatric hospital I am frequently asked, “Why did God do this to me?” Similarly, many patients will say, “God hates me!” They ask this question or believe that God hates them because they have mental illness and they often experience rejection in churches and other faith communities. They live under the stigma of major mental illness and struggle to make sense out of their own suffering.
This week’s passage in Romans is one that I often share with a patient who is questioning God’s benevolence. The opening verses give me hope. When I sit with someone who has committed a horrible crime as a result of psychosis or delusions, I try to remember that the words of my prayers do not have to be perfect. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
The next verse is one that I find very helpful in talking with individuals who believe that trauma or tragedy is something that God has done to them. The idea that all things work together for good for those who love God allows me to gently challenge the idea that God makes bad things happen. I can honestly say to the person who is suffering with PTSD related to childhood trauma that God did not make the abuse happen. Just the opposite. Things happen in this world that God did not and would not choose. Human beings daily make choices that God really wishes we would not. As a result of some of those choices, innocent people get terribly hurt. However, with God something good can come out of even the worst tragedy. So keep fighting for health and recovery and you may be surprised at what good God can bring about.
Similarly, a person overwhelmed with feelings of guilt or shame who believes that God hates them or has condemned them to suffering, needs to hear words of hope. How much more hopeful than to hear that only Christ is in a position to condemn anyone and condemnation is not what happens. Instead, Christ intercedes for us and we are forgiven because nothing separates us from from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing can remove Christ’s love from us. Nothing, not even mental illness. The news doesn’t get better than this for those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit.
In other words, the news doesn’t get better than this for any of us. So when we are overwhelmed with life and the events in the world, our prayers do not have to be perfect; the Holy Spirit will intercede for us with sighs too deep for words. This includes our prayers for Palestine and Israel, Ukraine, immigrant children, our loved ones stricken with illness… anything we cannot articulate well. God knows our hearts and will hear our prayers. So, too, when we are faced with tragedy, trauma, and despair. God does not make these things happen, but with God something good will come from the pain. This doesn’t make everything all right, but it does give hope for the future. And reminds us that when all is said and done, there is nothing than can remove Christ’s love from us.
Now what are we going to do to honor this love that we have been so freely given?
RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 27, 2014
Genesis 29:15-28 with Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or
1 Kings 3:5-12 with Psalm 128 or Psalm 119:129-136
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52