May 21 – A Shared Day of Pain with John and Maggy Dobbs

May 21, 2001 and May 21, 2008 have something in common, and I remember that today, May 21, 2016. Those are the days on which our children died–my son Joshua and John & Maggy Dobbs’ son John Robert. The memories are painful and today we will each remember, commemorate, and reflect.

I pray for peace for John & Maggy today, but I know it will come with great difficulty. They will remember in their own way. I will remember today in my own way.

In memory of Joshua Mark Hicks and John Robert Dobbs, I am republishing a post from May 24, 2008 which expresses my own protest, pain, and disillusionment after I learned of John Robert’s accident. It still rings true for me, though I have revised it a bit.

May the God of peace and comfort be with you all–the world is much too broken to live in it alone. Romans 15:13

John Mark Hicks

Defending God

When a cyclone kills over 130,000 in Myanmar and an earthquake snuffs out the lives of 80,000 more in China, I have little interest in defending or justifying God.

When my son (Joshua Mark Hicks) dies of a genetic disorder after watching him slowly degenerate over ten years and I learn of the tragic death of a friend’s son (John Robert Dobbs)–both dying on the same date, May 21–I have little interest in defending or justifying God.

How could I possibly defend any of that? I suppose I could remove God from responsibility by disconnecting God from creation but I would then still have a God who decided to be a Deist. That’s no comfort–it renders God malevolent or at least disinterested. Or, I could argue that God has so limited God’s own self that God becomes impotent in the face of evil, especially particular evils over which the people of God have prayed. But that cuts the heart out of prayer in so many ways. I would prefer to say God is involved and decides to permit (even cause–though I would have no way of knowing which is the case in any particular event) suffering. I would prefer to hold God responsible for the world God created and how the world proceeds.

I’m tired of defending God. Does God really need my feeble, finite, and fallible defensive arguments? Perhaps some need to hear a defense–maybe it would help, but I also know it is woefully inadequate at many levels. God does not need my defense as much as God needs to encounter people in their existential crises. My arguments will not make the difference; only God’s presence will.

I know the theodices and I have attempted them myself (see my old “rational” attempt which is on my General Articles page; I have also uploaded the companion piece on the Providence of God). A free-will theodicy does not help me with earthquakes, genetics and cyclones; it certainly does not explain why God does not answer the prayers of people with compassionate protection from such. A soul-making theodicy does not explain the quantity and quality of suffering in the world; suffering sometimes breaks souls rather than making them. There are other theodicies and combinations, but I find them all existentially inadequate (which is an academic understatement!) and rationally unsatisfying.

At the same time, I am not the measure of the universe and God cannot fit inside my brain. I must rest in the reality that the reality of suffering is something beyond my rational abilities to justify God, but that does not mean God does not have reasons. It only means I don’t know them, and human finitude, fallibillity, and egos are to limiting to know them or even understand them.

My theodic rationalizations have all shipwrecked on the rocks of experience in a hurting and painful world. My theodic mode of encounter with God in the midst of suffering is now protest.

Does God have a good reason for the pervasive and seemingly gratutious nature of suffering in the world? I hope God does–I even believe God does, but I don’t know what the reasons are nor do I know anyone who does. My hope is not the conclusion of a well-reasoned, solid inductive/deductive argument but is rather the desparate cry of the sufferer who trusts that the Creator has good intentions and purposes for creation and within creation.

Lament is not exactly a theodicy, but it is my response to suffering. It contains my complaint that God is not doing more (Psalm 74:11), my questions about “how long?” (Psalm 13:1), my demand to have my “Why?” questions answered (Psalm 44:24), and my disillusionment with God’s handling of the world (Job 7:9ff; 21; 23-24). It is what I feel; it is my only “rational” response to suffering.

I realize that I am a lowly creature whose limitations should relativize my protest (as when God came to Job), though this does not minimize it. On the contrary, God commended Job’s honesty and his willingness to speak “right” to God (Job 42:7-12).

Learning from Job and the Psalmists, I continue to lament–I continue because I have divine permission to do so! Of all “people,” I must be honest with God, right? I recognize that my feeble laments cannot grasp the transcendent glory of the one who created the world and I realize that were God to speak God would say to me something of what he said to Job. But until God speaks….until God comforts…until God transforms the world, I will continue to speak, lament, and protest.

But that response is itself insufficient. I protest, but I must also act.

As one who believes the story of Jesus, I trust that God intends to redeem, heal, and renew the world. As a disciple of Jesus, I am committed to imitate his compassion for the hurting, participate in the healing, and sacrifice for redemption. I am, however, at this point an impatient disciple.

Does this mean that there are no comforting “words” for the sufferer? No, I think the story itself is a comfort; we have a story to tell but we must tell it without rationalizing or minimizing creation’s pain. We have a story to tell about God, Israel, and Jesus.

God loves us despite the seeming evidence to the contrary. God listens to our protests despite our anger and disillusionment. God empathizes with our suffering through the incarnation despite our sense that no one has suffered like we have. God reigns over his world despite the seeming chaos. God will defeat suffering and renew creation despite its current tragic reality. The story carries hope in its bosom and it is with hope that we grieve.

My love-hate relationship with God continues…I love (trust) him despite my unbelief. God, I believe-I trust; help my unbelief–heal my doubts. Give light to my eyes in the midst of the darkness.

May God have mercy.

23 Responses to “May 21 – A Shared Day of Pain with John and Maggy Dobbs”

  1.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    May God’s peace and presence be with you today. We never forget.

    – Rex

  2.   Tim Archer Says:

    Father, I pray you surround your hurting children with comfort today, comfort that none of the rest of us know how to give. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

    John Mark, I pray for peace for you as well. I can’t imagine losing one of my children. I can only ask God to give you what I can’t.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    I too pray God’s shalom upon you and JD. I have fond memories of Joshua. I never knew the depth of your pain, I couldnt … and still don’t, but I do understand (a little) of that “love-hate” relationship stuff. I will be praying for you today.

  4.   Donna Says:

    I am sorry for your loss. Ironic that they died on the same day…and that you and John found each other.

    God bless you all.

  5.   Lucille Says:

    God Bless you, John.

    You’re in my prayers.

  6.   Howard Holmes Says:

    Suffering seems to be a part of the world. It seems to be only a bit player. I have never met an unhappy person. I have never met one whose life is not full and wonderful. Suffering comes in moments, bit parts that are always adequated compensated.

    God has made the world as wonderful as it could possibly be made. This is one reason I cannot accept the idea of a place that is better. Death is as much a part of that world as is life. God doesn’t answer prayer and take away suffering because the world would then be less than perfect; he already made it as best he could. When it was formed, it was good. Suffering is a wonderful part of it. It was not without pain when formed; the Adam & Eve story is a myth. Pain in child birth, enmity between man and woman, hatred of snakes and rainbows all pre-dated Genesis. So did living less than three score and ten.

    We can rightfully, occasionally lament what might have been, but we also mostly just appreciate what is. This is true of us all. I know your life is full of joy and peace. I know it is as full as it can possibly be. Neither of us asks for anything more.

    Have a good one.

  7.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    You know my life is full of joy and peace? My, Howard, I think you assume too much. I don’t think suffering is a wonderful part of life; it may be a necessary part of life as it is in the present. But I would not call it wonderful. Our perspectives are radically different on this one.

    •   Howard Holmes Says:

      If you are claiming your life is not full of joy and peace, I would be surprised. Then again, all “learning” is a surprise. Our perspectives ARE radically different if you do not consider you life essentially and mostly full of joy and peace.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Howard, I am really amazed that you believe it is appropriate to tell me in what my life consists or expect my life to be a certain way. I experience this as incredibly presumptive and insensitive. You write these words on the day I memorialize the death of my son. I am the one who is surprised.

      •   Howard Holmes Says:

        I have twice suggested your life is full of joy and peace. Yes, it is my presumption and my belief. It is not ill founded since, as I said, I have not found anyone’s life to be not so. I could be wrong. I assume since you have not claimed that I was wrong, I must have been correct. All you did in your response was to call me names.

        I write this on this day because this is the day you raised the subject of suffering and God’s purposes, etc. By stating my belief about your life, I was merely stating an opinion and asking for your to either agree or disagree. I meant nothing personal by discussing this on this day…again, you raised the subject, not me. I thought it appropriate to discuss the topics you raised.

        Possibly, judging by other posts, it was only your intent that I commiserate with your suffering. I guess since we are being personal, I’ll risk being kicked off your website by writing my real opinion. On a “sensitive” level, I thought it insensitive to cheapen the first anniversary of the Dobbs death by asking us to feel sorry for you as well as if your suffering eight years later was analogous.

        I guess you can now kick me off your site. I am probably just too honest for the team.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Howard, you are entitled to your opinions. But they may be wrong, nes pas? As I may be wrong in how I experience you, but I told you honestly how I experienced you.

        Discussing the topic was not the problem with your post. It was your presumption about how I feel and what my life is like.

        John Dobbs, my good friend, and I have shared this day as we did last year at this time. We remember both our sons.

        I shall now let it be.

        Peace to you, Howard.

  8.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, all, for the well-wishes. I just came from sitting at the cemetery for an hour as I prayed and journaled. Grief is an ongoing process but it is increasingly comforted. Blessings, John Mark

  9.   karen Says:

    Mr. Hicks, I had stated in a previous post that you did not have faith. You have proven such with your statement. You “trust…despite…your unbelief”?

    humans only act as they believe – not as they don’t.

  10.   Todd Says:

    John my peace be with you on this day you remember your son. I loved reading our thoughts and I truly think I would feel the same had I walked in your shoes. Dont listen to these people who are posting things that obviously are’nt coming from a place of love but a place of judgement and accusation. I think you know who the Bible calls the accuser. To me it seems he’s at work here.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Thanks, Todd. I am at peace, my friend. Blessings, John Mark

    •   karen Says:

      todd, the bible calls satan the accuser. at any time you call anyone a name, you accuse…hence.

      •   Todd Says:

        I just made an observation about a few people’s actions being accusing and judgemental. No name calling that I see in that. Since Satan is an entity to himself I wouldnt call someone “Satan”. That wouldnt make sense to me so I woldnt do that. I think you are taking something I said too far

  11.   Royce Says:

    Jesus IS the resurrection and the life. The story of your sons is not over (as you well know).

    God’s peace be yours until the Day dawns.


  12.   Charlie Says:

    John – I have no experience upon which to base how I would respond to such a deep and personal loss. I remember last year learning of John Robert’s death and bursting into tears as I went to inform my wife but that pain for John & Maggy was,I imagine, not even a measurable fraction of what you & they felt and feel as you encounter the reality of this loss in your daily lives. .

    Your honest confession of where you are in your journey of faith living with the reality of death and suffering in God’s world is just that “a journey of faith” — May His spirit grant you increasing measures of peace in turmoil, faith in periods of doubt and joy in the midst of pain — That seems to me to be the real promise of trusting in God’s goodness and love.

    God Bless

    God Bless

  13.   Terrell Lee Says:

    I’m just returning from a vacation site 20 years after my son (then 4) was struck by a car at that same site. The emotions (fear, anger, gratitude, etc.) still run deep though my son survived and is quite healthy today.

    May God continue to give his peace to you, my friend and brother.

  14.   J D Says:

    John, I’m way behind in my reader, but thanks for including me in your ruminations. I identify with everything you wrote. Love you.

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