I read romance novels because they are pure character, especially contemporary romances. They focus on a major decision moment, and all the obstacles in the way of making that decision. Even though the genre spells out what their answer will be, the process is what draws me. Romance novels are, in essence, all about the positive, all about how life is hard, but struggles can be overcome if you open yourself to possibility. So much of our world is focused on the negative. Sometimes it’s good to take a wander through a garden wearing rose-colored glasses.
However, that’s not why I’m writing this post. Sometimes, a book will surprise you. Sometimes it takes you a little further on a path of your own making while you enjoy the character’s journey. That’s what I call the reader 50%. What I, as a reader, bring to the book.
The book in question this time is Code Triage, which I reviewed last Wednesday. I mentioned in the review how there was one scene that threw me out of what was a wonderfully complex and real-to-life story. It took some consideration, though, to figure out why I had such a strong reaction. That’s what this post is really about.
My problem was with the concept of putting your life in God’s hands. Now those who know me well know that while organized religion often offends me, I am deeply religious. Still, I grew up on enshallah (It is the will of Allah) and a deep-rooted sense of fate. Things happen for a reason, not randomly, even if I can’t see the reason at the time, and even if I hate what happened with all my being.
So, you might wonder, as I have for years, why giving over a life to God is a tender spot for me.
Code Triage didn’t offer simple problems or simple answers to those problems. It did a wonderful job of showing the characters struggling and working through what tore them apart. There were no plastic villains in this story. Everyone had a reason, good or bad, for what they did, and almost everyone took ownership of that by the end.
And there’s the root of my problem. Taking ownership. Being an actor in this life. That’s critical. Life isn’t something that happens to you, it’s something you live. Whether you believe in a supreme being or a mystical force or nothing, whether you call it God, Allah, science, or whatever, it is not your purpose to sit back and expect everything to happen for you. At least, I don’t think so, and I never have.
Let me tell you two jokes I’ve heard:
There’s this man, and he’s down on his luck, homeless, living out of his car. He goes to church and kneels to pray. “God, please help me out. I’m desperate. I have nothing. I’m living on the street; I’m hungry; I’m tired. Please, God, I need to win the lottery.”
He leaves the church feeling lighter somehow, as though the grace of God has answered his prayer.
But the lottery time rolls around, and the man doesn’t win.
Again he goes to the church and he prays, a little more urgently, for the same thing. “God, I need to win the lottery.”
Again, he doesn’t win.
Well, at this point the man is starting to get angry. He marches into the church and scowls at the altar. “God, I told you I need to win the lottery. You’re all powerful but you can’t manage this little thing?”
The sun dims as clouds gather and the sky fills with the rumble of thunder. Frightened, the man runs outside, trying to get away. But the clouds split and he’s pinned within a column of light. He stands there, trembling, frozen.
A booming voice, so loud as to hurt the man’s ears, comes down from the sky. “Meet me half way. Buy a ticket.”
While I love to laugh at this joke, it’s also a modern day parable. Our job is not to sit back and wait for God to hand us life. It’s to live life to the fullest, giving God the opportunity to act in our life.
So the second joke goes something like this:
Floods wipe out a whole city, and a woman is perched on her roof, waters all around her, no place to go. “Please, God,” she prays. “Help me survive this disaster.” And then she settles in to wait, knowing her faith is strong, knowing her God is strong. God will provide.
A canoe comes by. “Hey, Lady,” the kid calls. “Climb in and I’ll take you to dry land.”
She smiles at the kid. “Thank you, but no. God will rescue me.”
He shakes his head, but leaves her be.
A rescue helicopter flies by and sees her sitting there. It swings in close and a ladder unfurls. A megaphone-amplified voice says, “Climb the ladder. We’ll fly you out of here.”
She stands up and waves them off. “God will provide,” she shouts to the personnel within.
A long time passes. She’s growing hungry and thirsty. Her skin is burning hot, and she’s a little dizzy. The woman doesn’t care. Her faith is strong, and God won’t let her down.
An old man comes up in a fishing boat. “Miss, climb on down and I’ll get you to safety. It may take a bit, because I’m looking for more survivors, but we’ll get there.”
She gives him her broadest smile. “You go on and find those others. I’m not in need of rescue. God loves me, and He will provide.”
The old man touches his hat in a salute and heads off to find others to rescue.
She waits and waits. Her skin radiates more heat than the sun, and the glare from the water is giving her a headache. Finally, she gets angry. “God, I’ve been faithful my whole life. I believed in you no matter what. And here you’ve left me sitting on this rooftop in a flood all day until I’m burnt to a crisp. When are you going to come and rescue me?”
A voice louder than the megaphone comes thundering down from the heavens. “I sent you a canoe. I sent you a helicopter. I sent you a fishing boat. What more do you want?”
Just as the first, it’s funny. It’s a poke at people of faith. But is it really? That’s when I realized why I had so much trouble with the concept of “God will provide.” It’s not that I lack faith. It’s not that I don’t feel a sense of something greater than us. It’s not that I deny the thought that God weeps with every bird that falls. It’s that we have free will. We have the ability to act, and to let God act through us. Whether it’s giving someone a helping hand who needs it, or accepting a helping hand when we do, that’s the reality of God in our lives. What do these have in common though? They require us to act. It’s not called an act of kindness, an act of forgiveness, an act of mercy for no reason. The key word is act.
So, are you ready to act today? What are your thoughts on this?