“If God is good, why do bad things happen?”
It’s a weird question to ask a writer. Considering how many characters I’ve left to ridiculous, if not downright brutal situations, I wonder if a lot of people don’t stop and wonder if we, too, are simply part of a larger story.
These are the things that, as a writer, and as a religious person, only make sense to me together. They’re the two most important things in my life—faith and writing—and each informs the other. By looking at the world as just another story, one with billions of side characters and only one primary main character (oneself), then it does something interesting, in my opinion: it helps you take the world less seriously. I think, as someone of faith, what others of faith often do is think that we are somehow too special for tragedy to happen to. That something must be wrong for tragedy to happen, that it’s a mistake of some kind, or some sign of “evil forces” at hand (and with Satanic Panic once again flowing strong, it becomes easy to deflect our own wrongdoings as humans on some supernatural Other, rather than take responsibility for the dark side of human nature).
But the truth is that we’re not that special, and as a Christian, that’s one of the weirdest things to understand—but as a writer, it’s only natural. I love my characters, of course, but they are not all I am, and even if I see them as people, real people, they’re still abstract from me—and their actions are not my fault, nor are the consequences of them. They’re only spawned into existence because I want to tell their story. The bad that happens to them, just like the good, comes from the point I want to make, yes, but also their own actions (character driven stories are my favorite, after all). And I have so many characters, so many stories to share.
Knowing that, it’s easy to realize that likewise, we’re not here for any special purpose, nor are we here for any special reason; that’s what being a writer has taught me in relation to faith. We’re here exactly for the same reason any of my characters are here: because their story compels me, and I want to tell it. We could’ve been anyone else, been anywhere else, but we’re here, living whatever story we’re living, and learning from nearly 8 billion other stories at the same time. It’s the biggest story ever written, with a thousand parts to its series, the most intricate world-building we’ll ever find, and it’s still going on.
Of course, there are many who don’t believe in a higher power at all, and who might argue that we’re not a story, we’re real—this is real life—and therefore bad things just shouldn’t happen. To that, I respond: “how can you say there’s no story?” Everything that’s ever happened in this world has told us a story; history itself is a story. And nearly every bad thing that’s ever happened, happened because of mankind, anyway—either our direct actions, or indirect actions that made whatever issues we’re facing that much worse. Whether we’re religious or not, the fact is, we have free will—and if we don’t want bad things to happen, maybe we shouldn’t do bad things. But then, that’s the struggle, isn’t it? That’s the story: the constant battle to do the right thing, and to know what right even is (as surely, many of our worst villains in history were perfectly self assured of their actions).
Though at the end of the day, all I know is that, despite the characters that have been left to the dust in my books—suffering things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy—I still consider myself good. And as a religious person specifically, I still think God as good, because by being a writer, I understand more what’s going on in this world—His world—and His story. Our cards are already dealt to us, our fates already plotted (even if we don’t know what they’ll entail). But just as I know what’s to happen and my characters don’t, yet they struggle through the world anyway, so too do we struggle. I also know that, that no matter what anyone believes, how we live our life, and how we impact the world, is all up to us.
So why blame anyone for that but ourselves?