To keep me from becoming Pollyanna-ish in my thinking, I occasionally will set apart some time to “put my thoughts around” those hard issues that threaten us to the core of our being. If our inner selves are awake, we know the tragic is always lounging off-stage awaiting its cue. Individuals and societies are ever just a heartbeat from calamitous trial — think tsunami for starters, or possibly a doctor’s diagnosis.

Annie Dillard, early in her book “For the Time Being,” in which she “evokes no less than the terrifying grandeur of all that remains tantalizingly troubling beyond our understanding,” acknowledges that the world is glorious and exalting as ever. Abruptly, however, she then hauls herself about and writes, “but for credibility’s sake let’s start with the bad news,” after which she guides her pen in writing about those aspects of human experience in which God seems to have absented himself from our lives. 

WHEN YOU HIKE into the Grand Canyon, before you get too far along the trail, you come to a no-nonsense sign that says graphically what life is: “DANGER! Those without a gallon of water each, TURN BACK NOW!” In that desert place, life depends upon something as thin as a canteen strap. It is an apt metaphor for our lives. There is a dangerous and uncertain side to this business of living in the world. At all times our lives are vulnerable.

Dillard puts it this way: “You cannot mend the chromosome, quell the earthquake, or stanch the flood. You cannot atone for dead tyrants’ murders, and you alone cannot stop living tyrants.” In this world we have our lives in counterpoint rhythm — a combination of gain and loss, fulfillment and frustration, sickness and health, faith and doubt. Why the world requires us to live in this way we cannot know. 

WHAT CONFOUNDS US relative to this world’s suffering is the apparent absence of God in those times when our lives descend into disorder — when everything that was nailed down comes loose. It would be easy could we deny that God exists. Some choose to do so. Others babble about the omnipotence of God, thus putting blame upon God for the troubles of the world, assuming God creates evil events to bring us to his side in things.

I am less inclined to make any kind of judgment here, for I doubt that anyone can obtain inside knowledge regarding what, how and where God chooses to be or not to be in the world. Rather, I think of Moses ascending to meet God in the dark cloud that enshrouded Mount Sinai. It is, I think, sufficient metaphor for how God is with us in life. It seems that you and I must ever “meet” God within this dark cloud of our not understanding God’s ways with us. I am persuaded that it shall always be difficult for us to receive the Apostle Paul’s aphorism, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him.” 

WHAT FINALLY DRIVES my thinking is the fact of my being! I am here. The universe is here. Why is there something and not “nothing”? Dillard writes, “(T)en years ago there were two galaxies for everyone alive. Lately, since we loosed the Hubble space telescope, we have revised our figures. There are maybe nine galaxies for each of us — eighty billion galaxies. Each galaxy harbors at least one hundred billion suns.”

Change of venue: Jacob wakes from his dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder between heaven and earth, looks about in astonishment at the world and proclaims, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of God.” Just so! I do not know who or what God is; nor is my imagination able to envision God. What I do know is that the universe and world are daily calling out “Hosanna! Hosanna! Glory to God in the highest!” This is where I begin and end my sally toward understanding what happens to me in the world. I must finally whirl with Job who said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” 

OUR WORK IS to receive the world as it is. We are required to live with the mystery of God’s ways. Paradox and ambiguity are ever aspects of our believing. We may discover that when we are being hard-pressed by unhappy events, there is also a conspiring and concurring of inner and outer happenings enabling us to become more than we were.

Surely, we may find in the cross of Jesus a power offered us for coping with the vicissitudes of our lives. Jesus did not sidestep the tragic but died in history for the salvation of the world. Jesus’ cross assures us that God participates powerfully in our lives even where they descend to the depths of the catastrophic. God, in the context of a world he created, appears to be taking us beyond a “protection-from-danger religion” and “happy-ending religion” to live a “trust-in-God-come-hell-and-high-water” faith!

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is minister of visitation at First Parish Church in Saco.