For many reasons, I've been reluctant to comment about the terrible sexual assault case in Maryville, Mo. In fact, I wish everyone would take a deep breath and, now that a good special prosecutor has been appointed, wait quietly until the case can be reviewed by proper legal authorities to decide what, if anything, to do next.
But the young girl at the center of this story, Daisy Coleman, put her own version of what happened on a public website recently, and in her remarks she said, among much else, this: "Why would I even want to believe in a God? Why would a God even allow this to happen? I lost all faith in religion and humanity."
Those are heartbreaking, but not surprising, words.
The faith of 14-year-olds, as a rule, is generally simple and often confused. That's especially true when their experience runs up against the problem of suffering and evil. Theological explanations of suffering and evil are called theodicies, and the problem is, as I've said before, that no theodicy is exhaustive. None offers a full explanation of why, if God is good, suffering and evil have a prominent place in the world.
Pain and suffering constitute the open wound of religion, in fact.
So it's not shocking that a 14-year-old would smash into the theodicy question and decide that somehow God is to blame.
Perhaps there's nothing I or anyone else can say to Daisy right now, in the midst of all the turmoil swirling around her, to get her to reconsider her image of God as a power who should -- and does -- regularly and almost automatically intervene in human affairs to prevent evil and suffering. (Is that the God you know?)
If she thinks about it long and hard enough -- and with enough competent adult help -- she will understand that such an image of God is false and unhelpful. And she will begin to understand that God does not want humans to suffer pain and evil. In fact, God is the one who redeems us and loves us through that evil. That is the image of God offered by the great world religions, and my faith, Christianity, in particular. In the end, God intends to redeem the whole creation and make everything right. But for now we live in a broken world.
In Daisy's case, human beings made a lot of bad decisions, including Daisy herself, as she has acknowledged. The result was disastrous for many people. God did not urge teen-age girls to drink alcohol and slip out of the house late at night to party with older boys. God did not want those boys to give girls more alcohol and then exploit them sexually. God did not want Daisy to have to sit -- drunk and violated -- outside in freezing weather for hours.
People made those choices. (So no wonder she lost faith in humanity, but I hope she eventually remembers all the good that humans also do.)
In one sense I'm glad Daisy lost her religion. The religion she lost wasn't helping anyway. It was a house of bad theological cards doomed to fail. But I hope some day she can find a mature faith that understands a little better the nature of a loving God and that grasps the role humans, nature and other factors play in the reality of evil and pain.
That will be my prayer for Daisy and for all who have rejected the God who was never -- and is never -- there in the way they imagined God to be.
(If you're reading this through Facebook today, I encourage you to share it.)
* * *
GOOD METHODIST MOVEMENT ON GAY ISSUES
Momentum in the United Methodist Church is moving in the right direction on the issue of how the church deals with LGBT issues, and the church's highest court is about to face all of this. The courage of pastors and others who are choosing to stand up for gays and lesbians is slowly making a difference. Go, Methodists.
* * *
P.S.: My latest Presbyterian Outlook column now is online. To read it, click here.