Sunday, May 6, 2012


With tax season not far behind us, this title might evoke expectations of something related to Schedule A of the 1040 Form.
      Or it might sound like I'm going to give criteria for what makes something qualify as a gift.
      But actually I want to qualify something I said in my previous blog, “Everything Is a Gift”.
     There I wrote that I could (delicately) share with someone who was ill or struggling financially that their situation could be seen as a gift. Of course, not everyone would be open to that idea, and I'd would have to be careful with the wording and tone.
     But I wouldn't say it to someone who had just undergone a tragedy.
     You couldn't walk up to someone who'd just lost a child in a car accident and declare that to be a gift. Nor to someone who'd just found out they had terminal cancer. That would be as bad—or worse—as stating that it was God's will.
     That doesn't mean that my assertion that everything is a gift is false, anymore than it is false to say that whatever happens is God's will. Both statements just need explanation. And when you're reeling from a tragedy, you can't be bothered with conundrums that need explanation.
     To say that whatever happens is God's will definitely needs a paragraph following it, otherwise it makes God sound arbitrary, insensitive, or just downright evil. There is a difference between God's perfect will and His permissive will. God's perfect will is that we all do what is right and are happy and holy. However, His will also includes our having free will, without which we could not return His love anymore than a robot could. Having free will in a fallen world means that sometimes people will choose to do wrong and they and/or others will be hurt as a consequence. Also, in order for us to be eternally happy, to go to heaven, we must be one with Jesus, and that means we too must get there through the Cross. So sometimes God permits bad things to happen to us, to achieve some greater good—especially salvation or a growth in holiness for us or someone else.
     To give a perhaps simplistic example, it is my perfect will that my children do their chores and that we do fun things together as a family. However, it is also my will that they learn to be responsible and to obey rightful authority. So if we have an opportunity to go on an outing and the kids know they have to do their chores by a certain time, if they don't get them done, then—even though I'd rather they all participate—I will permit them to suffer the consequence and stay home. Or if my child is very ill and the doctor needs to do something painful in order to cure that child, I will permit him to “hurt” her to save her.
     Or if I were running joyously through a meadow and someone suddenly tackled me, I wouldn't be all that pleased. But if I found out that three feet ahead of me was the edge of a cliff and my life had just been saved, my attitude would naturally change. Sometimes God needs to allow something drastic to happen so that something worse does not.
     Similarly, the idea that something tragic is a “gift” can't be stated in isolation. Indeed, it is so startling as to be offensive. Of course, the tragedy itself is not a gift. Christianity doesn't hold that suffering itself is good, only that God is so great that He can bring good out of anything. (After all, He turned the worst thing that ever happened in human history—the murder of God—into the best thing that ever happened.) Within even tragic situations, God is there and He has gifts for us, though we may not recognize them for years or perhaps even until the next life.
     Such ideas can be shared successfully with someone who's experienced a tragedy only when the time is right, when the person is searching and open to hearing complex answers requiring explanation.
     God must offer a gift even in the worst situation, or how else could St. Paul say, "Give thanks in all circumstances"?

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