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Column Beurskens: No answer

I have been called at the death of one of my patients. Still a young man. A few months earlier he came to my office because the white of his eyes had become yellow. A malignant tumor of his gall bladder turned out to be the cause. The operation brought some temporary relief. He and his wife had kept up hope until the end, but nevertheless that had come now, seemingly brought about by an implacably and fatally ticking clockwork.

Why, what did we do wrong? His wife says with bewilderment and unbelief in her voice. I cannot be without him. His little son of ten years old tries to look as casual as possible … don’t look at me, I can handle this he seems to be saying. He sticks his hands in his pockets and leans against the wall. But in this I recognise the image of dread, as only a child can have it. And a child doesn’t have a way out in language as the big ones have. I cannot answer such a question I say. Nobody can. The only thing I know is that you din’t do anything wrong, that certainly not, and your husband didn’t do anything wrong either. And I babble on some more to show that I don’t know what to say. Even to try to give answers in such a case is wholly wrong. There are no answers. One had better shut up. Just to be busy and to do away with the awkward silence I start filling out the death certificate.

The mother Kisagotami came with her dead child in her arms to the Buddha, in despair. He sent her away to look for a mustard seed in a family where nobody ever died. A bitter balm for your soul he called her fruitless quest. The whole world is in compassion with your suffering. The Buddha didn’t give an answer either.

Every word is too much. God willed it so. He loves you, only you cannot see that now. He hits hardest the ones he loves most. Those kind of things can never be said or even thought by somebody else. There might be something in them after all, but the only ones who have a right to utter them are those who know them by experience.

Rebellion and anger are understandable, but they don’t make sense. If God doesn’t exist anger doesn’t make sense. Fate is anonymous. You cannot rebel against fate. If He does exist, He is certainly good. Consequently evil things that happen cannot be a punishment. Therefore emotions of anger may not gain the upper hand, because they lead to embitterment. They are dead alleys.
This means that innocent suffering is a mystery. But it is almost impossible for a human being not to ask questions and to look for answers in the eye of something so horrific. We cannot live with such a secret. The sense in suffering, one of the greatest questions of man. Why does God allow suffering? The theodicee as theologians call it. To Jesus also people came with the death of young people, the girl to whom he said talitha koemi and the young man in Naïn. He didn’t give an answer either. At such a tremendous event a shudder went through Him like it is said at the death of his friend Lazarus. There probably is an answer to the theodicee but that cannot be expressed in words.