It is spring, according to the calendar, and Mother Nature seems to agree – at least here, anyway. In this part of Arizona, winter often doesn’t arrive until after Christmas, and spring usually lasts about a week or so. Spring means daytime temperatures in the 70s and nights in the 40s. Of course, many plants and flowers (often weeds) bloom year-round, like the bougainvillea and occasionally the roses. Still, the orange blossoms usually pop out around the time of J.S. Bach’s birthday and the spring equinox. That seems to be when even year-round allergies crest in a king tide of sneezing, nose-running, and eye-watering. Of course, different parts of the country experience pollen earlier or later, depending on longitude and climate.
Lent also occurs in-part during spring, which to me seems a bit backward. Lent is supposed to be a time of reflection (which it shares with the wintertime Advent), remorse, and repentance. Somehow it’s easier to be those things in winter when the earth is more barren, days are shorter, and nights (and cold spells) seem interminable. In spring, flowers beg us to be happy and grateful for longer days and warmer temperatures. It’s hard not to feel lighter and less gloomy in spring.
Today, I’ve been focusing on my allergies as a Lenten penance. They are the year-round kind but have been raging in the past couple of weeks. I’ve been having a sneeze-fest and have already gone through one box of Kleenex in the past few days. My nose feels like it’s been scraped with sandpaper and is slightly reminiscent of Rudolph in color. In my reflection today, I wondered why God made people allergic to things in nature that were pronounced “good” at their creation. Were Adam and Eve allergic to anything? Were allergies part of Job’s tribulation? Did King Saul suffer from migraines caused by allergies?
Maybe it does not sound serious enough, to reflect on something like allergies, but it leads me to a question plaguing humankind since the beginning. If God made everything, did that include allergies, plagues, war, hatred, suffering, and almost everything that negatively impacts people? I don’t hold God responsible for my having cancer, but it’s hard not to wonder when I hear of a small, innocent child suffering from the potentially life-ending disease. I hear of fatalities caused by automobile accidents, but I don’t blame God. I would guess that 99% of those accidents were caused by some kind of human failure, either from faulty parts, faulty decisions, or false senses of entitlement or immortality.
Acts of nature in the form of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis are things I can’t lay in God’s lap either. People have a large part to play in climate change, which accounts for things like global warming, catastrophic fires, droughts, and floods. Ancient people blamed God (or their own gods) for catastrophes because they had no idea of why these things happened, so they found a solution to answer their questions and help them understand the world they lived in.
Many still believe God is responsible for everything, good and bad. Even though we know many diseases are preventable or treatable with antibiotics or various treatments, we still wonder why God would allow such things as strokes, cancer, death in disasters, children being shot while sleeping in their beds, or people dying too young or too quickly. We wonder why aches and pains increase as we age and why some older adults are so grumpy and full of talk of nothing but their aches, pains, illnesses, or medications. Sometimes it would be good to be like children – crying when something hurts but forgetting about it once the pain eases and someone hands them a popsicle or a lollipop. It’s easier to distract children from things than elders.
So what is God’s role in all this, and how far can we say God is responsible for things that hurt us, damage us, or make us miserable? All this started with thinking about allergies and was God responsible for those. I can’t say I have come to any great insight or even a simple solution other than allergies are what they are. Sometimes I can see a reason for disasters, such as earthquakes causing tsunamis or dam failures, or weather systems causing flooding, major wind storms, and the like.
God’s role is to be present to those in need. God inspires helpers who, even at risk to themselves, rush in when others run out. God listens to prayers and supplications, sending grace and often comfort in times of need. God’s visibility is dependent on eyes to see those who help others, like first responders or simply bystanders who lend a hand to someone in need. We are God’s hands and feet on earth. Just as God made Adam and Eve stewards of the Garden, we are the inheritors and caregivers of all around us.
Compared to lots of folks, I have little to complain about. Just spending some time thinking of what others are facing, I feel rather petty about complaining about allergies and a sore nose. I have learned over the years that it is much healthier to tell God what’s on my mind, lay it in God’s lap, and leave it there unless I experience an insight or revelation of how to resolve whatever it is. And God inspired someone to discover anti-allergenics to help with sneezes, runny noses, and watery eyes. All I have to do is get some.
God must have similar resolutions for other things we haven’t found yet. It may take a couple of centuries, or it may come tomorrow, and it just takes patience and trust.
Pardon me while I get another box of Kleenex.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.