Picture yourself in a hospital emergency room. A woman is hurrying down the corridor to a waiting area. She is out of breath as she enters the room, sees her friend, and rushes over to her. They are talking nervously when a doctor appears at the door and asks to see the first woman privately. Her friend knows what he will say and wonders how she will take the news that her small son had been accidentally killed that afternoon.
It all happened so quickly. The mother was in the kitchen and the son was playing in the front yard. He never left the yard when he played, and his mother had a clear view of him from the kitchen window. She just had to keep glancing up from her work to be sure he was still there. Then, in just a matter of seconds, she heard a racing automobile and a loud crash. As she looked up, she saw the front end of the car smashed into the retaining wall next to their driveway — right where her son had been playing.
The driver, an elderly man, had suffered a heart attack and lost control of the car. It veered off the road, picking up speed until it hit the wall. The whole event was a series of arbitrary, accidental, uncontrolled moments of chance. When the mother came back to the waiting room, she was deeply shaken, sobbing and confused about what to do or say. Her friend led her to a private place where they could just be together and express freely all the tangled, powerful emotions that were gushing forth. No other response was appropriate at that point.
This accidental, shocking death was a truly shattering experience for the mother, not only because of the circumstances of that day but also because of the circumstances of her past. She had been rather freewheeling, even reckless, after graduating from high school. She couldn’t seem to settle into any direction in her life, She had had several sexual affairs; so when she discovered life, drifting instead in and out of different cities and relationships. She had had several sexual affairs; so when she discovered she was pregnant, she couldn’t even be sure who the father was.
It was at that time that she became friends with the woman who came to the hospital this day. They felt comfortable together, had similar interests, and just liked being together. After a while, her friend asked if she would like to go to church with her. She didn’t pressure, just invited. It was obvious that her friend had deep religious beliefs and wanted to share what was important and meaningful to her, but she did it respectfully, sensitive to the other person’s freedom and readiness.
They had talked a lot about the pregnancy and the options before the mother. Largely because of these conversations, the mother decided against abortion and also decided to keep the baby herself and be the best parent she could be. It seemed like she was finally seeing a meaningful purpose for herself and might even be able to make up to some degree for the way she had been living the last few years.
After the baby was born, the mother did begin to attend church with her friend. Among the new acquaintances she made was a young man who seemed to like her a lot. Sensing this, she decided to tell him about her past and her son. She realized the risk she was taking in doing so and expected him to withdraw from the relationship politely. Instead, he expressed his admiration at her honesty and courage. He acknowledged with equal honesty that he could not condone sexual intercourse outside of marriage, but he agreed with her decision to keep and raise the child herself.
Their relationship continued to grow, and eventually he asked her to marry him. She could hardly believe how drastically her life had turned around. So many good, positive things had been happening. All along she had been rethinking her feelings about religion and church and God. Everything seemed tied together. Finally, she joined the church just one month before they were married. Their son became the legal child of both of them. Their married life was very happy, with no major problems — until this afternoon.
In a matter of seconds everything had been reversed. There were so many feelings churning inside the mother. Over and over again she asked the question: Why? Why was he playing right in that spot? Why did the car veer in that direction? Why did the driver have an attack just then? And why a young boy with his whole life ahead of him? It all seemed so arbitrary — or so planned. She felt victimized, powerless, angry, hurt, crushed, resistant, weak, punished, angry, guilty, violated, angry, alone, angry, exhausted, angry.
She bounced off so many feelings all at once. Her friend was sensitive enough not to attempt answering her questions or relieving her feelings. She just shared as fully as she could this deeply painful experience and let the mother say or feel whatever she wanted. She also hoped that when the husband arrived, he might be able to reassure her that everything happens for a purpose and that we don’t always understand God’s ways. She knew her friend and her husband both believed that, but as she listened to the genuine, painful question — why — she wondered if the answer would be really satisfying.
The mother’s question — why — is a natural, spontaneous response to a shocking death like her son’s. There was no forewarning, no time to prepare or begin to adjust to the implications, as in the case of the grandmother in chapter one or even in the case of a young person who is expected to die prematurely. A shocking, accidental death generates confusion and a mixture of powerful, upsetting emotions. Somehow, we feel, things shouldn’t happen this way. Something is wrong, out of control, unfair, arbitrary. And we want an explanation that will make sense, restore some kind of order, put things in perspective, help us to trust in the ultimate goodness and meaning of life. All that is packed into the little, one-word question — why?
The question usually occurs at two levels. One pertains to the particular circumstances of the death: time, place, cause, conditions. The mother asks: Why was he playing there? Why did the car come then? Why did the driver have an attack? No matter how the details of the accident might be analyzed and assembled, they just cannot result in a satisfying, intelligible explanation. There are so many variables, so many minor changes that could have been made and the whole accident would have been avoided.
Confronted by such an experience, we face again the extremely fragile, almost accidental, quality of life itself. At any given moment a person’s life can end. We all know that, and yet we are so quickly shocked when our vulnerability is realized. It is as if what could happen never really will. Part of the reason why we ordinarily think this way is that we want to get on with life and can’t be preoccupied by what might go wrong. So for practical purposes, we act as if the possibility of a shocking, accidental death is merely hypothetical or too remote to be concerned with. Another reason why we think this way is that we really do believe there is an ultimate power in control of things and that this power is a loving, caring, creating God who is trustworthy.
This conviction leads to the second level of the question: Why then do shocking, accidental deaths occur? At this level, it is a question of responsibility. Who or what is responsible for things happening as they do? Who is in charge? A shocking death like the one we are discussing calls into question our understanding of God and how God relates to us. Going back to the previous chapter, we recall that a typical theology of death tends to depict God as being at our service, protecting and guiding us to fulfillment. This impression is strengthened by our understanding of God’s perfection. God knows all things and can do all things.
With this mindset, a person who experiences a shocking death, like the mother, faces a real crisis of understanding. If God is all-knowing and powerful and loves us, why does God let things like her son’s death happen? Why couldn’t God have altered just one of those minor variables and avoided the whole tragedy? This is the problem of theodicy again. How do we make sense of a loving, trustworthy God when things like this happen? To answer that question is the task of theology.
Theology typically responds to this question by trying to speak clearly about God and honestly about ourselves. In speaking clearly about God, theology wants to dispel false understandings and affirm true understandings. The two most prevalent false understandings are that God doesn’t really care and that God punishes us for our wrongs.
It is understandable that someone like the mother who experiences her son’s traumatic death would be prompted to feel that God simply doesn’t care about her or her son. God is either uninterested or distracted or too centered on divine fulfillment to be concerned with a single, momentary event. People who genuinely believe in God would hardly adopt this attitude in the blunt form just described. And yet, even for believers, the overwhelming impact of a shocking death can generate such feelings.
This becomes evident in people’s behavior more than in their words. After an event like her son’s death, the mother could begin to act in a very passive or neutral way toward church, religion, God. The pattern is not hostility, anger, resistance to God. It is more like indifference, signaling that if God doesn’t care about me, I won’t care about God. God just drops out of her attention. This is a form of passive-aggressive behavior, “getting at” God by disregarding, devaluing the place of God in her life.
Persons may go through a phase like this in their attempt to arrive at a more integral understanding of God. Of course, a person may remain indifferent, closed to any explanation of God’s positive role in her experience. This is obviously more serious than just going through a phase and would call for more careful counseling or sensitive approach. Nonetheless, a person always has the freedom to choose how to relate to God, and no one else, with however much theological or pastoral truth, can negate that freedom.
Even though theology can recognize this as an inaccurate and inappropriate understanding of God, it may be necessary to give the mother the freedom to back off, to distance herself for a while from direct, active engagement with God. There is no need to rush in and try to change her feelings right away. She probably feels that she has been pushed around enough right now and may even see her indifference as a way of reclaiming some power and control. At least, her feelings may tell her, you can withdraw, and that is something you can choose.
If the mother were to go through a phase like this, it might very well lead to a second inappropriate understanding of God – that God punishes us for our sins. This is inappropriate even though it has often been cited in Christian tradition and is found even in Scripture. The accurate point in this is that our sins are not indifferent, neutral events. They do have repercussions, on ourselves and on others. The inaccurate point is that God decides when and where and how we are going to pay for our sins. This whole matter will be taken up in more detail in chapters five and six. For now, it is important to realize that theology does not typically see God as punishing us.
And yet it is understandable how we might think so. The mother, for example, had lived a rather uncommitted and sexually permissive life when she was younger. She had a child outside of marriage and undoubtedly hurt others by her decisions and conduct. She might have felt that her present efforts to live a good life were not sufficient, that God required more of her to make up for her past. Only God knows how much harm our sins cause; only God knows what a just and suitable punishment would be. Except that, in cases like this, the presumed punishment seems far worse than any wrong that was done. Besides, why should innocent people (like the son and the father) also suffer? Are past wrongs undone by increasing (or introducing) present suffering? This is hardly the way a loving, just, caring God would act. Something more than punishment must be involved,
That “something more” is the true understanding of God that theology tries to express. But it is hard to do so concretely because we usually don’t know what it is that God is up to when a shocking, accidental death occurs. And so, theology typically affirms that we simply don’t know God’s ways well enough to offer specific answers. We believe in God, but we do not always understand how God works in relation to us. All we can do is reaffirm our trust and hope in God, ask our questions without expecting or requiring an answer, and await the final day when we shall be able to understand more fully. In short, theology encourages us to appropriate the example of Job and, despite our pain and loss, hold fast to God.
This typical emphasis is not without some further suggestion about how God enters into such experiences. Generally theology tries to see how God helps us to grow as persons and as believers through events like a young son’s death. It is not as if God sets out to have the boy killed so the mother and father can mature. It is rather that when the accident occurs, God can help us learn from it and grow through it. What God has to do (or not do) with the accident itself is beyond theology’s competence to say.
Thus, typical theology tries to put a shocking death experience in the best possible light vis-à-vis God. In doing so, theology does not wish to deny or minimize the anxiety of the questions or the real depth of the pain that is experienced. It is concerned to dispel misinterpretations of God (as an uncaring or punishing deity) and is willing to stand with no clear and finally satisfying explanation on the side of a God who loves us and cares for us and relates to us in ways we do not fully grasp. In this way, a typical theology of death attempts to speak as clearly as it can about God.
At the same time theology wishes to speak honestly about us. This has to do with our own responsibility for the kind of death described in this chapter. When faced with the question of why does death occur like this (or at all for that matter), a typical theology responds by declaring that the origin of death is sin. Death is one of the effects of sin. This has sometimes been interpreted to mean that if there were no sin, we would not have died in the sense of our bodily system disintegrating. Rather we would have simply passed from this state of life to the next, perhaps as naturally and easily as we pass from infancy to childhood or adolescence to adulthood. Most of the time, however, theology intends something else in saying that death is the result of sin.
A typical theology of death asserts that sin is responsible for the anxiety, the fear, the unwillingness to face death. It is not the fact of death but our feeling about death that has changed because of sin. Why is this? Sin refers to a disruption in our relationship with God. We are responsible for that disruption and don’t know for sure what it will lead to. Especially we don’t know what it will lead to after we die. Will we still be with God? Will we be cut off? Will we live at all?
These are “unnatural” questions, i.e., they are not part of what we would be thinking about if we were living as God intends. We should be looking forward to our growth into divine life, to each transitional phase that brings us closer, more intimately into union with God. Instead, we are uncertain, mistrusting, fearful. We attach too much importance to the here and now because that may be all we’re going to get. We start to compare ourselves with others and judge them as more or less worthy than we of a good life. We see others as competitors or threats to whatever happiness we can claim. Our lives become all jumbled, and we push consideration of death and immortality aside, as if by doing so we can avoid facing these negative feelings. All that is the result of sin; death in this sense is the result of sin.
A typical theology of death further explains this influence of sin in a twofold way. The first is original sin. The precise meaning of original sin has been continually discussed. At the present time, theologians using an evolutionary explanation of human creation and development refer to original sin as the origin of our sinful history. This means that for as long as memory can recall, our human experience has been influenced by sin. However it all began, whatever actually occurred at the beginning, the result has been a sinful history.
This original and continuing sinfulness has an enduring, social effect. It partly determines the world or environment into which every person is born. The degree of determination will vary from one situation to another. Not everyone is affected in exactly the same way by original sin; a lot depends on the actual environment in which one is born and lives and what offsetting, counteracting forces of goodness and grace are operative. This variety in the effects of original sin is somewhat different from the classic, metaphysical view of original sin.
Nonetheless, the effect of original sin is one of the “givens” that every person must contend with. The sinful given is often imbedded in unjust or dehumanizing social structures, in prejudicial attitudes, in traditions of hostility or conflict or control. From this point of view original sin might more accurately be described as social sin or, in biblical terms, the sin of the world. It is a recognition that the wrong that our ancestors have committed from the beginning continues on and partially shapes the world in which we live today.
But this is not all. In addition to original sin, there is personal sin. Personal sin refers to the wrongs that are generated by one’s own deliberate choices here and now. This is the concrete, recurring, existential dimension of sin that goes along with the historical, environmental, generic dimension of original sin. The two feed each other. We are inclined to commit personal sin because we live in a sinful environment, and the sinful environment is reinforced and extended by our personal sin. It is not always clear how to separate these two influences in order to determine personal responsibility and to work against sinful conditioning.
In the present discussion, it is not necessary to separate them. The point is that death in its negative aspect is the result of sin, both original and personal. Ultimately we are responsible for the death that disturbs us. We are the answer to the question — why? Each death, the grandmother’s, the boy’s, insofar as it confronts us with pain, loss, ambiguity, suffering, etc., is the result of a whole history of human sin. These events are what sin is and feels like and looks like when its full implications are unraveled.
But where is God in all of this? Does God have no responsibility whatsoever? Is God excused from all implication in our negative experience? And what consolation or help or support can theology offer those who suffer?
If we go back to the explanation of God’s perfection outlined in chapter one, we may see some further implications that shed a slightly different light on a tragic experience like the son’s accidental death. The main point of that explanation was that God’s perfection is limited by the actual events to which God relates. Although God experiences each event (and all events together) to the fullest degree possible, this does not mean that God can intervene directly to make any event turn out one way or the other. But neither is God entirely passive, simply waiting until things happen in order to relate to them in a sort of after-the-fact reaction.
What is God’s active role in shaping events? God relates to everything fully. In the case of the son’s death, God knows everything that makes that event the actual occurrence it turns out to be. God also feels everything that everyone affected by the event feels. God absorbs the event and everything/everyone connected with it as fully as possible, i.e., as fully as that actual event allows because that’s all the fullness there is.
When this event occurs, it also finalizes all the possible ways that event could have turned out. Until the very end, it could have gone any number of ways. God, of course, knew all the ways it could have gone, but not even God knew ahead of time which way it would go until it went that way. That is what it means to say God’s knowledge is perfect, relative to actual events. God’s knowledge was indefinite as long as the event was indefinite. God’s knowledge was definite (and perfect) as soon as the event was definite, complete.
In the process, God was not merely standing by, waiting to see what would happen. God never stands by with us because God is always in relation to us. God was actively, fully involved in every moment and every occasion that made up the total event of the accident. What sort of activity is this? In every instant, because God perfectly knows what has just happened, God sees all the possible results that could follow. And because God is all-good and desires only the best for us, God sees which of these possible results would be best. If there are, say, ten possible results, God sees them all and sees them in their priority from most beneficial to least beneficial for us.
This ordering of possibilities is part of God’s perfection. We, too, glimpse the possibilities that any experience generates, but we usually see only some of them and we may not rank them accurately. Still we do exercise a certain degree of perfection in our ability to foresee and value. But what we do partially, God does completely. Now because we can and do envision new possibilities, God uses this capacity of ours to communicate to us God’s own perfect vision of those same (and perhaps additional) possibilities.
Thus, God is constantly involved in every moment, relating fully to our actual experience, drawing from it all the next possibilities for us, ranking them and communicating them to us through our own capacity to do the same thing. How we receive what God offers is influenced by two factors: our limitation and our freedom. As limited persons we do not always see everything or the best things. We are often dominated by the impact of the previous experience and tend to repeat it rather than scan really new possibilities. We feel pulled in several directions and grow tired and inattentive. And, of course, we are affected by sin. Any or all of these limiting factors may make it difficult for us to perceive our situation as God does, to harmonize our sense of what the next best possibility is with God’s perfect knowledge of what it is.
In addition to our limitations, we are free. Perhaps we do coincide with God’s vision; we do sense just as God does what is best. That doesn’t mean we will enact it. We are free to do something else, to settle for less, to pursue another possibility. And until we act on our freedom, nothing is definite, nothing is actual. God will not overcome our limitations or usurp our freedom because God relates to us as we actually are — and that is something only we can decide. God does everything possible to enable us with our limitations and freedom to reach the fullest possible experience in every event, but God cannot experience for us, in our place. What actually happens is what we make happen.
Getting back to the accident, it is conceivable that God could see in those few seconds all that could happen. If the driver had a heart attack and could not control the car, that was the actual situation. God could see all the possibilities that situation allowed for. There were probably very few that could be influenced by free choice. The car was basically controlled by physical and mechanical forces. It was going where it was going, and God couldn’t do any more than the natural situation allowed.
On the other hand, there were more options available with the son and the mother. Supposedly, God could see that it would be best for the boy not to be killed, and undoubtedly God wanted to communicate this possibility to both. But surely the boy was most attuned to the possibilities of continuing to play and the mother was most attuned to the possibilities of continuing her kitchen work (or answering the phone, or taking a break, or planning the evening menu). Neither one would be remotely attuned to the possibility of the boy’s being imminently killed. This is what limitation means. It affects everyone, including God. There is only so much God can do in relation to our actual condition.
The limitations described above are no one’s fault. They are the result of an extensive pattern of events and choices that go together to form this one, single event. That cluster sets the actual limits with which God works. Mingled into the whole are some elements that might be identified as sinful or the result of sin: a possible negligence by the mother in letting her son play outside because an accident like this could happen; the heart attack occurring because the man stubbornly refused to get a checkup after experiencing chest pains — or being unable to get health care because he was poor and could not afford it. Whatever the explanation — mere human limitation or sinful results of our freedom — the actual conditions finally determined which of all the possible outcomes of that moment would be realized. Throughout, God was actively engaged, fully relating to what was real and wanting to lead into the next best possibility for all involved.
That same desire continues after the event, of course. God remains just as actively involved, relating completely to this tragic experience and seeing the next best possibility and communicating it. What God sees and how effectively it can be received by the mother will again be conditioned by both human limitation and freedom. God never tires of relating to us in this way because God’s impetus is for the fullest mutual experience of relating that actual circumstances allow. As depicted here, God is supremely realistic but also steadily creative. God abides by reality but seeks the most creative possibility that reality provides. God experiences everything that we do more fully than we possibly can, and this applies to good experiences and bad. Out of that fullness God draws new possibilities, for us to be sure, but also for God because God is in relation to us and wants that relationship to be as satisfying as reality allows.
In this view, we have a large say in determining what reality allows. Our say comes with our freedom. By choosing to blend our vision with God’s, to attend to God’s direction of our life experience, we can condition ourselves and our environment to move more easily into the kinds of experiences that God sees are best for us all. What this means positively will be pointed out as we go along in later sections of this book. At this point, it may be appropriate to say just a word about our freedom to choose not to blend our vision with God’s and so to orient ourselves and our environment in a different way. In other words, to sin.
A thoroughly relational view of God, such as the one presented in chapters one and two, understands God to be fully involved in every experience without controlling or directing or interfering in the actual construction of experience. The actual construction of experience is a matter of human decision. These decisions are not usually fully conscious, carefully reflected upon choices. Most of the time our decisions come from feelings or impulses or habit or pressure or just a sense of what would be good to do. Nonetheless, we are responsible for our decisions. This is an extremely important responsibility because most of what happens is beyond the influence of our free choice and action, For example, there was very little anyone’s free choice could have done about the runaway car once it was out of control.
Consequently, the area where our freedom is operative and influential is all the more important because it is a peculiar, special area. Within that area a great deal of the real value and experience of human life is located. This is especially true in the realm of relationships with others. It is already an exercise of our freedom whether we pay attention to the exercise of our freedom and what the quality of our relationships/experiences is as a result. In general, this quality moves on two interconnected levels.
One is the level of our own experience. This means how consciously, how openly, how intently, how deliberately we choose what we do. Obviously, we can’t be fully present to every single moment of our experience, but we should be generally alert to our situation, its possibilities, and the sheer feeling of freedom that comes with choosing to do what we do — even if it is something we do habitually (like eating dinner or returning a phone call or worshiping on Sunday). The same is true for something that seems insignificant, like grocery shopping or sending a thank-you card or taking a day off. Everything we do has more value if we do it deliberately, if we consciously choose to do it rather than any number of other things.
Why does this have more value? For two reasons. First of all, it makes the act more human. Free choice is a rare gift, entrusted almost exclusively in this world to human persons. To act unfreely, i.e., out of mere habit or control or pressure, is to generate a less than fully human experience. A second reason is that by attending to our options and really choosing freely what we decide to do, we are more alert to all the possible options in every situation. Often this is not very significant, but when a special occasion comes along, a crisis, an opportunity to act in a really important and decisive way, we will be more or less ready to actualize the best possibility In that situation if we have been exercising our freedom attentively all along.
So one level of free choice pertains to our own experience and the enhanced quality of that experience if we have been freely, consciously, deliberately generating it. The other level, which Is connected with this, is the contribution of our experience to others. Because we are all related, what one person experiences spills over into the environment that others share. The impact may seem slight for any given experience, but over a period of time the impact increases. And, of course, there are certain experiences, like the mother’s experience of her son’s death, that have a large and immediate impact.
The connecting point is that what our intrinsic, internal, personal experience of freedom is, that is also what feeds into and shapes the larger environment around us. Thus, if the mother chooses to accept this shocking event and reaffirm genuinely her belief and trust in a loving God, that experience, which is initially hers, becomes ours as it is actualized through her words, behavior, feelings, presence, etc.
The unifying factor in all this is God. It is God who relates fully to each of us and to everything that constitutes our experience. Nothing is lost on God, whereas we only pick up partially what others are experiencing, and we often choose selectively what to attend to within that partial range. Through God everything is always preserved and made available to us because God is always in relation to us, to all of us and to everything that constitutes us.
This view has several implications, like our influence on each other, the value of support and intercessory prayer, the public responsibility we have for our most private actions, the interdependence of each other’s fulfillment, etc. These will be explored more fully in subsequent chapters. The main point here is that we are responsible for the quality of experience that constitutes our lives. God is constantly present to us, sharing and offering us from our experience new possibilities for new experience. We are more or less in touch with this activity of God on our behalf. The less in touch we are, the more likely we are to choose a course of action that will result in less than the best future that our actual past makes possible. Eventually such choices could result in a real failure or crisis or even tragedy for ourselves or for others.
The worst situation, in one sense, is when our neglect or refusal to identify with God’s direction hurts another. We may not see how it hurts another, the outcome may not be immediate or it may not be directly caused by our action. But the connection is there, and the influence is operative and the responsibility is heightened. In a thoroughly relational world, there are no purely private acts and there is no merely intrinsic wrong. At its deepest level, the son’s accidental death is an unavoidable reminder that we are all tied together and the wrongs/sins that abide in our world exact their price. If the price seems unfair or arbitrary or excessive, that is a stark declaration of how responsible we are for our freedom.
When a person like the mother experiences a shocking death, a great many reactions take place. One of these is the mother’s feeling toward God, expressed by the dramatic, unanswerable question: Why? The foregoing theological reflection does not really give an answer to the question but does try to understand the question and interpret it more deeply. In trying to communicate both the understanding and the interpretation to the mother, it would be well to focus on her feelings.
This is where God is too. Everything she feels, God feels and more. The best way to convey this, of course, is to feel with her, or to let her feel with, at, toward us. Words aren’t as important in this situation as a genuine presence, open to her and willing to receive whatever she needs to express. In that response, she may also be able to feel the God who actually is with her and let go of the God who is not actually anywhere (the indifferent or punishing God).
Her question — why — is also in a sense God’s question because God is once again forced to deal with the result of a complex, interwoven history of human failure and sin. Why could not more people have been more attentive, more caring, more deliberate, more concerned for others, more free, more responsible and thus prevented the boy’s death? Whatever frustration or anger or helplessness she Is feeling, God is feeling too. And so it is all right for her to feel it all because it won’t match the depth or extent of God’s feeling.
At the same time, her why is interpreted by God in terms of seeing what can be brought out of this situation. What new possibility for life, for experience, for free choice, for affirmation does this actual event allow for? It may be harder to help the mother move in this direction. Her emotions are strong and deep; her energy is flat; her desire is low. And it almost sounds as offensive as an outsider saying, in effect, look on the bright side. Once again, words won’t work,
Feeling might — a genuine feeling, freely chosen, that God can interpret this event in the best possible way and will offer that interpretation as a possibility for the mother’s own experience. It is a possibility that can offset the accumulation of previous decisions that combined to result in this death. The stakes are high, as always. The mother can adhere to her pain and anger and loss, or she can place all that and all those (including herself perhaps) responsible for it in the flow of God’s new movement. She can either keep her son dead or let his death open up a new possibility for experiencing life.
The mother’s choice will be significantly influenced by those around her. Their felt interpretation fills her environment. By their way of being with her, they either make it more likely or less likely that she will choose life. We are all ultimately responsible for one another; and God keeps relating to all of us, in every aspect, all the time.
Robert L. Kinast teaches pastoral theology at the Catholic University of America. Ordained a roman Catholic priest in 1968, he served for nine years in pastoral ministry in Atlanta, Georgia, while earning a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Emory University. Published by the Crossroad Publishing Company, 370 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.