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May 17, 2021 - Nonsense

In the Michigan Quarterly Review (Vol. L. No. 1, Winter 2011), Miah Arnold wrote an article, “You Owe Me,” about being a teacher of poetry and prose to dying children at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

“The children I write with die,” she begins, “no matter how much I love them, no matter how creative they are, no matter how many poems they have written, or how much they want to live.”

Almost every line is a zinger. Considering the topic, kids and the cancer that kills them, how could her prose be anything but? In the context of these suffering and dying children, one line was so powerful: “I was, like everybody else, trying to make sense of what is nonsensical.”

Nonsensical. That is, none of it makes sense. It cannot be rationally explained. There’s no good reason for it. And yet isn’t it better that evil (and children dying of cancer is evil) be nonsensical and not rational, logical, or explicable? Otherwise, what? Good, logical and harmonious reasons exist why these kids lose limbs, suffer the trauma of chemo, endure horrific pain, sit in the hospital for years, and then die? Please—if there were good reasons, who wouldn’t be afraid to know them.

The reason that so many evil things don’t seem to make sense is because they don’t make sense. They shouldn’t make sense. Again, if they made sense there would be a kind of justification for them, and that’s the last thing we want—justification for evil.

Instead, we have the theological idea of theodicy, the justification of God in the face of evil. God, at the cross, in the person of Jesus, suffering in ways worse than any of us ever could. “Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). We know only our own griefs, only our own sorrows; Jesus, at the cross, carried them all.

We’ll never make sense of evil; we never should. We have, instead, the cross, and the vision of God, and of His love, that it gives us even amid the nonsensical.

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