I recently had occasion to visit with a good friend and former neighbor who I had not seen in about a year. The visit was unavoidably short, and unexpectedly intense. His wife, still in her sixties, has been suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s for several years. After caring for her at home, mostly by himself, my friend had finally been compelled to place her in a care facility. He visits her twice a day and remains in some sense her principal caregiver, still bathing and dressing her. He frankly admits that this struggle has taken a toll on his Catholic faith. We used to attend the same church, but he is no longer a churchgoer. In fact, in our brief conversation, he said he could not reconcile his wife’s extreme condition, and their shared plight, with a loving and just God. He confessed that he could no longer in all honesty say the Creed. “God the Father? Really?” he rolled his eyes. “The Virgin Mary?” He had become convinced that traditional religion is “irrational.” In these declarations, I detected an understandable note of grief for his wife, whereas in the past he had often been stoic. He still clings, he said, to a belief in a “spiritual reality” that somehow exists beyond the material world.
I didn’t have any answers for my friend that day, and the conundrum of why a loving and just God allows such suffering and evil to exist—and, often, seemingly to prevail—is as inexplicable now as it was for Job and for the crucified Christ. Indeed, the crucified Christ is God’s “answer,” but it is about as paradoxical an answer as can be imagined.
As will quickly become apparent, I am no philosopher or theologian, but I have thought quite a bit about the rationality, if not the reasonableness, of Christian faith. My answer to my friend’s question touches on something seemingly mundane, an appreciation for sports that we both share. Why do people universally respond to such games? On their face, the games we play or watch are at least as “irrational” as the practices, stories, and creeds of religion. What is “rational” about an activity that requires you to propel a ball across a field using only your feet and head and never your hands? For that matter, why would anyone, let alone an adult, bounce a ball down a court with the maniacal determination to toss or stuff it into a basket suspended ten feet above the ground? And don’t even try to explain or justify rugby to me. That seems like irrational behavior on steroids.