QUESTION: My first grandchild, a boy, was born this past August and has been diagnosed with a mild form of spinal bifida. Even though supposedly this is a mild form, our tiny grandson has been subjected to more tests, pokes and prods than most of us experience in a lifetime. Seeing this little one suffer is very difficult for his parents and other family members, including both sets of grandparents. Is this a punishment from God? Why does God allow little babies to suffer?
~ Sad Grandma
Dear Sad Grandma,
From where we stand, that is as human beings, we cannot know the meaning of something so hard to bear as what you describe your grandson is going through. Our hearts hurt for this tiny child who is suffering, and all those around him who must bear his pain as well.
As human beings we do suffer. It is part of our lives.
Conversely, I hope the doctors who are helping your grandson know what they are doing and are choosing the best course of treatment and testing. I hope they are not, God forbid, just doing every test there is because of their own feelings of inadequacy or their need for increased revenue, or their lust for further knowledge. It is within the parents and your right to ask the reasoning for whatever test or procedure to be performed upon him.
One thing you can do is bring as much joy to the situation as possible. Joy is an antidote to hurting and sadness. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, tells us that, “With joy we are able to extricate ourselves from all types of suffering.” Sing to the baby, smile at him and talk to him. Anything you can do to change the mood of the child should be encouraged.
Do not look at him sadly or with pity. Do not show your face of pain to him.
If you do have confidence that your little grandson is being treated with the best medical technique available, then in spite of the difficulty he must go through, there is cause for celebration. He is one of the privileged children of the world who is able to have access to the best available medical care.
Love that baby in joy as much as possible. Laughing, song, smiles and loving talk are the best medicine of all.
Rabbi Janet Bieber
Jewish Community & Learning Center of the Foothills
Dear Sad Grandma,
First let me say I’m so sorry that your precious grandson has to endure this. I’m so glad the condition is mild in this case. Spina bifida is one of the most common birth defects with a worldwide incidence of about one in every 1,000 births. I am, of course, not privy to your specifics but I have prayed for your grandson. I expect that God will give him uncommon strength and eventual healing. It is especially difficult to see children suffer. What did a baby ever do wrong? How could he possibly deserve this? Perhaps it would be helpful to remember two things: First, your grandson has been born into a world that is free but fallen. Our first parents inherited a perfect world, free of spina bifida, hatred, death or violence. But they also did not know good from evil (you can read about this in Genesis chapters 1-3). Thanks to the devil’s encouragement, they chose that knowledge but along with it came the curse of sin and the misery of disease and suffering. The crafty old serpent had succeeded in introducing a little bit of hell into paradise!
God has seen to it that he has and will pay dearly for his hateful scheme against God’s creatures.
In the meantime, we have inherited a less than perfect world. The evidence is all around us: at gravesides, in hospitals, in divorce court, in jails and in war. We die. We get sick. We experience loss. Children suffer. And now, your grandson has spina bifida. Oh, to be back in the garden! But against this backdrop of brokenness there is hope.
That’s the second thing and it’s important! A good God limits evil in this world. He is always at work to thwart our hellish adversary by touching this world for good. He often uses people to help other people. Doctors, medicine, healing, peacemakers and justice are all tools of God to limit the effects of evil on our darkened world. Jesus said he came to earth to destroy the works of the devil. God is on the side of righteousness and his creatures by extending grace and limiting evil.
God, who loves you and your grandson, is not capricious or arbitrary in our pain. Tucked away in the often forgotten book of Lamentations is a precious promise: “He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” In other words, God is not insensitive to our suffering. He suffers right along with us. You suffer along with your grandson. Your God suffers along with you, with both of you. He loves you both. And he is able to either bring healing or to give you all the strength to endure this trial. Here’s a truth this increasingly godless world wants you to forget: Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
Rev. Jon T. Karn
Light on the Corner Church
QUESTION: Here we go again! Now our President wants to attack Syria because supposedly their government was responsible for gassing their own people. Although the administration claims they have proof, that proof hasn’t been presented to “we, the people.” Too many young American lives have been lost in Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan, not to mention Korea and Vietnam. I was in the Vietnam War and barely escaped with my life when a communications tower was attacked and blown up. I don’t want to see any more young people go through what I went through.
What is keeping our government officials from first seeking a peaceful solution? News reports of Syria showed children crying in the streets. In my opinion, an attack would further create hardship for the Syrian people. The United States has spiritual roots and we’re a powerful country. What do you think is keeping us from leading the world in alternatives to war?
~ Vietnam Vet
Dear Vietnam Vet,
I think it is the famous military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about that keeps the United States leading the world in wars rather than alternatives. Both major political parties are beholden to war profiteering corporations, particularly with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate money to influence elections. Endless wars and occupations create jobs. Elected officials fear losing jobs in their districts if they don’t support military contractors. Term limits often mean the elected official is the new kid. They are easily influenced by lobbyists who know their way around. The voices for peace and a sustainable economy not based on war and world domination don’t have the same slick representation.
Another problem is our consolidated media. There are fewer dissenting voices as news outlets merge. Corporate profits play a role in determining what gets on the air and in the newspapers. War sells more advertising than peaceful negotiations. Citizen apathy is also to blame. Low voter turnout means elections are decided by zealots on the fringes of the opinion curve.
You didn’t ask what could be done to change this situation, but I feel compelled to make some suggestions. Those who want the U.S. to become a beacon of peace and justice can write to their elected officials, send in letters to newspapers, register new voters and help them be better informed, and vote in every election, even the off-year, non-presidential ones.
Thank you for your service in the military and thank you even more for considering non-violent solutions to current issues.
Dear Vietnam Vet,
Mother Teresa was once asked to join a protest of the Vietnam War. She declined though she said if there was a demonstration for peace she would be happy to join it. As I read your letter, I can feel your sadness for the many young Americans who lost their lives in past wars, your frustration with the president for not presenting the evidence, your fear with the near brush with death when you were in Vietnam, your anger with our government in not first seeking a peaceful solution, your despair for the children in the streets of Syria, your worry for the Syrian people if we attack and your confusion of why the U.S. is not leading the world in alternatives to war. I understand how you feel. I have felt this way myself when I was younger. Most Americans are currently feeling the same way you are with this perplexing fighting in Syria. We cannot relate to either side. “We don’t have a horse in this race!” is a common thought. Yet for the United States to lead the world in alternatives to war, such as peace, we the people who make up this country will first have to change ourselves and how we feel, think and react.
There is energy in the emotions we feel. Negative emotions create more negative emotions. If you are angry because of how your dog died, I will be angry with you. Positive emotions create more positives. If you are laughing at a good joke it won’t be long before others are laughing also. Dr. David Hawkins in his book “Power vs. Force” talks at length about how positive emotions and thoughts are much more powerful than negative and their energy can actually cancel negative ones out throughout the world. The president and congress are reflections of the public who elected them; as we feel, so do they. We end up having negative answers such as war and “Let Allah sort them out!” since this is an extension of our current feelings.
We must first change ourselves and how we feel, focusing on positive emotions, in order to change our country and create peaceful alternatives. Read the book by my mentor Deepak Chopra, “Peace is the Way” for how to help our country lead the world in peace. An exercise that Deepak recommends is focusing in joyful prayer or meditation daily for five minutes with your attention on your heart and the emotions of peace, harmony, laughter and love. This will create the change you want in yourself and in this country. Then you can join Mother Teresa in demonstrating that peace is the way.