Recently I read a news item about major shortages in Haiti. While it’s hardly an uncommon situation, as this poorest of nations has endured seemingly endless hardships for decades, usually caused by corrupt governments or dictatorships, this particular event struck me as a nightmare. In brief, a hospital was running out of oxygen and would soon need to decide whether to supply the young or the aged; in essence, who would live and who would die. It turned out that they got a temporary reprieve when a short-term supply was found, but the problem was likely to return. So why am I mentioning yet another heart-rending event over which we have little influence? Please read on.
The above scenario could have happened in pretty much any country or decade. But what struck me is that we are often in this life faced with situations, moral dilemmas if you will, where there is no obviously clear or good answer. Moreover, it seems that the more sophisticated and/or complex our societies become, the more varied, and often the more difficult, the choices thrust upon us. Combine this with our busy and demanding lives, and we can find ourselves yearning for simple answers to complicated questions. A hearkening back to the “good old days”, if indeed they ever existed, where the bad choices were dressed in black hats and the good in white hats. But as the Rolling Stones once sang: “You can’t always get what you want”.
Perhaps because it is currently dominating the media, there is little better example of challenging choices than as we evaluate candidates for government. Of course if you’re a “single issue voter”, that is you select a candidate based on one issue, for example, taxation, abortion, or immigration, maybe your choice is easier. But if you look across any party’s platform it can be a challenge to find a candidate that totally reflects your values. For example, someone may be self-proclaimed as Pro-Life but also supporting capital punishment. Hmmm…..
In one European country I heard about, abortion and euthanasia are available, but at the same time, so is a strong safety net that cares for the poor, the aged and the sick. It isn’t obviously clear, to me anyway, how as a voter you reconcile these apparent dichotomies, assuming your values are partially formed by The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5); and especially if the alternative political candidates offer no better choices.
While I suspect God didn’t purposely set about trying to drive us crazy with difficult decisions, God often (always?) uses the trials in our lives as a path to growth; a call to enter into a deeper relationship with Him. Unfortunately often our response to ambiguity or uncertainty is one of upset or even anger. You can see some of this emotion in our own Church as Pope Francis endeavors to make the Church more loving and welcoming to those on life’s margins. And while we might like to have a clear or formulaic answer to life’s many uncertainties, not only would it impede our growth, but also shrink God into an arbiter of rules versus the almighty “creator of all things visible and invisible”.
So how to proceed? Jesus calls us to resist the temptation, as He himself was tempted, to look for an easy way out. As adult Christians, our faith is meant for us to live in hope and act out of love; to wrestle with these situations until the way forward becomes clear. God has a unique path for each of us. It doesn’t mean we necessarily get to pick it, but it is up to us to learn what it is, listening to God’s call through prayer and self-sacrifice. Then perhaps as we pray the Our Father, we will truly mean it when we say “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done”.