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Dec 30 2013

Why is it God’s Plan When Someone Dies?

Sometimes you need a response to something.

When I first wrote a response to this question on Reddit there were no responses. It was an empty thread. I know he asks for a religious viewpoint so I am going to cage this in a disclaimer.

If you do not wish to read the viewpoint of an atheist, then ignore this. This is not meant to convert you, this is not meant to lead you astray from your path. It is just words of comfort and words that come from another viewpoint.

I say nephew, but it was my cousin’s 6 month old son. We are like brothers.

His name was Brian and he was such a happy baby, so full of life. He was recently diagnosed with really bad acid reflux. My cousin and his girlfriend worked hard and left him with their sitter with specific instructions to keep an eye on him after he ate because of the acid reflux. More so just to make sure he wasn’t fussy and kept everything “down” okay. She fed him and then laid him down for bed. We don’t know if she used his pillow to keep him on his side or not, but after an hour she went to check on him and he was ice cold to the touch. She called 911 but it was too late. They don’t believe she neglected him but the police are still investigating it as a homicide which we are told is “standard procedure” in cases like this. He was my cousin’s 4th child and he was and is a great father. His girlfriend was the same and this was her only child. They named Brian after her brother who had died several years ago. :(

I’ve never been a religious person, but in my life and with family members and friends dying I keep hearing the same things. “God has a plan” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”. What is his plan for Brian? Or for Brian’s brothers and sister? A lifetime of sadness that they will never see him again? What’s God’s plan for Brian’s mother and father? To know the pain of losing a child after they had barely welcomed him into the world? I just don’t understand how anyone can say that their God would ever allow something like this to happen. Where is Brian’s free will? What is this master plan that God has for our family? Someone please tell me why a caring and loving god would do this to an infant and his family?

I don’t believe in the gods. I don’t have any gods that I hold sacred. To me they do not exist. This may not be a viewpoint you wish to hear but no one else has said anything or provided you with a word of comfort from their standpoint, so I will.

I am sorry for your loss. I wish there was something anyone could do to help prevent this. It may sound stupid but a lot of what I do is driven by the wish to stop people from hurting. I work as a medic in a third world nation for charity. I get paid in smiles.

The truth is that there is no great plan, human suffering is often at the hands of impersonal things. The volcano cares not for Pompeii, the Tsunami for Japan and the Typhoon for the Philippines. Your nephew’s acid reflux was not the machinations of a personal god. People suffer for reasons but there is no grand schemes by celestial engineers to guarantee this.

The reality is there is no great plan for humanity, we are effectively alone. A smart ape that’s made it’s way to the pinnacle of tool usage and has gained the ability to be introspective. We dearly wish there was a plan. In a world filled with impersonal forces that causes us both harm and benefit we personalise these forces. Hence the first gods were gods of nature. Wind, Lightning, Thunder. These were powerful forces that we could not control. We had to think of them as under the control of a much more powerful being rather than something natural because we desperately sought purpose and control. I think it’s why we portray the gods as father figures. Men with beards who guide us through our lives and protect us from that which harms us.

There was no plan for Brian Sr. or Jr. Just a variety of causes. Of instances and incidents that shaped the outcome. But we have to think that there is a greater purpose or we would break at the cruelty of it all. How else are we to gain strength if not for the knowledge that Brian must be in a better place and that such cruelty is for a better purpose that we do not understand? That the pain and suffering of his family are for a greater good! That all the pain you are enduring is for something better.

Because the alternative is that there are no gods and that we are truly alone and that there is no grand purpose. And that is a scary thing to realise.

Or the even more terrifying thought that there are gods and that they are not good or moral. That we are playthings for cruel and capricious gods who think nothing of planning the deaths of children for whatever benefit they may gain.

I deal with suffering. I see it everyday. I work in rural medicine in India. I know everyone and everything must die one day and my work has shown me both how incredibly tough human life is and at the same time how fragile.

Everybody dies, the best I can do is make sure that it’s not today. I often lose that challenge. And each loss hurts. Every death you see weighs on your mind and your psyche. Your soul if you will. I know many people turned to a god to explain this. I couldn’t see any rationale for that. The pain we feel at the loss of a loved one is natural because they did mean something to us.

But what hurts more is not hurting. To not shed the tears you want to shed and standing up and seeing the next person who wants your help. To realise that the death of one person doesn’t mean anything to someone else who doesn’t know. To leave the wailing family to stop another family from crying. I am buried by such sadness because of my choices in life. Because someone has to. I cannot look at an old man or an  old woman without remembering some case. I cannot see children laughing without being reminded of children dying.

So this brings me to my ultimate question. Someone please explain why they can believe in a God that allows innocent infants to die like this. Please, it won’t make the last 24+ hours any easier but I want to know. As someone who has been desperate for some sort of faith at points in my life, why would I ever follow or believe in someone or some thing that would allow this to happen? I am not trying to troll or be disrespectful, but I am genuinely asking for a reason. So that maybe this can help me or the rest of our family with this terrible thing.

Good and blameless people punished by loss and we have to think that it’s for a greater good or else have to realise that there is no great good in the end. Which is why questioning as you do would net you the “God moves in Mysterious Ways” response. As a child we cannot fathom the actions of our fathers and most of us grow up with good fathers. As an adult we cannot fathom the actions of our gods and the gods claim they are good. People don’t doubt that message. For many such a message brings great hope and helps them deal with the loss of a loved one.

We have to believe that there is a purpose lest we realise that there was none. That nothing we do matters.

And since our loved ones matter, there MUST be a great purpose and there MUST be a great plan.

I think it’s a simplistic view. Of course people matter. We matter to each other. You may  not matter as much to me as my girlfriend (Hera) or my family and vice versa but you do matter to them. The relationships we make in life. Friends, Family, Lovers all give our lives meaning. They matter because they form part of our lives. All those relationships may just be our biochemistry working rather than divinely ordained but that doesn’t mean they are worthless. It just means that our relationships are something we cannot take for granted.

That they are something to be worked on and something to be fought for and that we live for those we love and cherish. That heaven is what you make of it and that the great grand plan for life is entirely up to you. You are the architect, you are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.

What hurts is the loss of someone from that great grand plan, what hurts is that you have lost someone who would have been a big part of your life. When we speak of those we love who have died, we speak of them as a story. We speak of them as if they were alive. Our lives may just be stories to tell each other after we are gone but that’s not a bad thing. We are sad that the story ended so soon.

What hurts the most is the loss of all those stories, of all those experiences that Brian never experienced. Of pain and pleasure, of love and loss. All those little things that shapes us never got to shape Brian and that’s what hurts the most. What hurts us the most is that Brian’s life was a future that never happened. So many days that should have been that never were and so much of those experiences that we all had the pleasure of having that will never be. Of bicycle rides, of scrapes, of first love and the last love, of colour and sound. Of life. It’s why it hurts more, it’s not a story that had to end but a story that never even went past the first chapter.

It’s why we can understand your loss. We have lost too. It’s why we can work to stop more losses for all.

And lastly, hug your kids. Every day. NEVER take for granted that you will see them later. I came home today and hugged my kids and told them I loved them so much that they probably are tired of it. But they also don’t know what’s happened yet. And then this song is for Brian :(

I cannot have children. The woman I love and the woman I wish to spend the rest of my life with cannot have them without a serious risk to her health or that of the baby.

But I can understand you because human beings are capable of empathy. We can understand your pain and rail against the injustice of it all. And part of that pain is sharing our coping mechanisms. For some it’s fighting to make sure no one else suffers in the same way again.

For others it’s placing their faith in the gods they believe. What brings you peace is your way and none of us have the right to tell you the right way. In fact I don’t even think there is a right way.

There may be no grand purpose for humanity, there may be no afterlife, but that pain and suffering you feel right now for the loss of Brian is very real. And that is because in our small scale and in our tiny and insignificant way our loved ones matter. As of now, Brian may  as well be the most important person in all of existence because of what he means to you. And that’s what matters.

I am sorry for your loss and I know many people do not wish to hear from atheists. Our worldview is often alien and painful to understand.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    carlie

    That was beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to compose such an extensive and heartfelt response to that person.

  2. 2
    wtfwhateverd00d

    I am relieved to discover you have not suffered this loss.

    I think your title is link bait and exploitive and encourage you to change it so that you can make your point without climbing on the backs of a child and family suffering real loss right now.

  3. 3
    wtfwhateverd00d

    Thank you. My thoughts go to everyone involved.

    As a parent I get real chills when I read of deaths and injuries to children. I can only imagine what it is like being a doctor and seeing that everyday.

  4. 4
    Avicenna

    It amuses me that the MRA brigade have shown up to whinge on Reddit about this.

  5. 5
    Holms

    I am relieved to discover you have not suffered this loss.

    The fuck are you talking about? The title says ‘someone’s loss’, which is about as unspecific as it gets. How did you get ‘Avicenna is talking about himself’ out of that?

    I think your title is link bait and exploitive and encourage you to change it so that you can make your point without climbing on the backs of a child and family suffering real loss right now.

    Absolute bullshit. You aren’t objecting to any piggybacking, because it is plain that there is no such thing transpiring in this post. Again, note the fact that the title completely fails to reference or even hint at this being Avicenna’s loss. It is plain that you are only adopting this pretense so as to enable you to be snide and condescending towards an FTBer.

    Anything for some snark points, right?

  6. 6
    Orion Silvertree

    Holms, the original title of this article said, in the paraphrastic words of the original Reddit poster, “My 6-month-old nephew passed away.” Regular readers who feel a personal connection to Avicenna received a shock.

    WTFwhateverD00d’s comment encouraging Avicenna to change the title was more sharply worded than strictly necessary, but it was a valid point, and Avicenna recognized that. From the timestamps on the comments, it seems clear that you first read the article after Avicenna amended the title.

  7. 7
    Holms

    Ahhh that explains it.

  1. 8
    Why Are You Still An Atheist? » A Million Gods

    […] When I wrote a piece on grieving as an atheist and how and why we think people die a Christian wrote… […]

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