When I was at Moody Bible Institute, I used to hear students talk about how they couldn’t understand folks’ problems with “the problem of evil.” “Just have more faith.” “It’s just an excuse to rebel against God.” I will say that there are different versions of the problem of evil–the purely logical/mental one and then that deep, down anguish that comes from experiencing evil. To a girl coming face to face with the depth of brokenness in my own childhood, their naivete was almost obscene–but maybe those students were inexperienced or perhaps running from the reality of their own lives. Who knows?
The past several years as I’ve tried to come to grips with being chronically ill, I’ve found myself coming back to God’s sovereignty, His love, the pattern He’s working–one that I’m often too close to see. One of the books that always brings me back to myself is The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. If you haven’t read it yet (or her other books), you should check it out!
The series revolves around Eugenides, the royal Thief of Eddis. Eddis is a mountainous country smack dab between two other countries: Attolia and Sounis. The Medes are a larger country who are trying to absorb these three countries into their empire. The Queen of Attolia opens with Eugenides in Attolia on a fact-finding mission: has Attolia allied herself with the Medes? Unbeknownst to Queen Attolia, Eugenides has been in love with her for many years, ever since he saw her dancing in a garden alone and watched her go from being a lonely, shadow princess to a queen, apparently with a heart of stone. While in Attolia, however, the Queen somehow discovers his presence and captures him. She enacts the traditional punishment upon the Thief, cutting off his right hand. Eugenides is then returned to Eddis. Eddis promptly goes to war with Attolia (and eventually with Sounis). The Medes continue to press Queen Attolia for a treaty, providing a gift of gold to fund her war while busily subverting her barons. Eddis is about to lose the war when Eugenides devises a daring plan–he can steal Queen Attolia and marry her, thus providing Attolia with a stable, friendly-to-Eddis government. He steals Queen Attolia, but the Mede ambassador somehow hears of his plan and is able to retrieve the queen. The Mede also captures Eugenides and kills the last of Attolia’s loyal barons. Attolia is forced to either ally herself with the Medes or with the Eddisians. She chooses to marry Eugenides, and together the Eddisians and the Attolians drive the Medes from the continent. Marriage preparations are underway when Attolia informs Eugenides that she wants no involvement of the Eddisian gods in their ceremony because they were the ones who betrayed his location to her and to the Mede ambassador. Eugenides sets up an impromptu altar to the gods and demands to know why:
“You betrayed me,” he shouted, his voice muffled by his arms. He remembered the Mede who had appeared on the mountainside without any explanation. “Twice,” he wailed. “You betrayed me twice. What are the Medes, that you support them? Am I not your supplicant? Have I not sacrificed at your altars all my life?…Have I offended the gods?” he asked in despair before rage burned the despair away. “And if I have offended the gods,” he yelled, almost unable to hear his own words, “then why didn’t I fall? It is the curse of thieves and their right to fall to their deaths, not–not–” He folded his arms across his chest, tucking the crippled one under and curling over it, unable to go on.
“Who are you to speak of rights to the gods?” the voice asked, gentle still.
The room was dark around Eugenides, and the darkness pressed him until he couldn’t breathe, until he was aware of nothing but the pressure. He was nothing, the smallest particle of dust surrounded by a myriad of other particles of dust, and put all together, they were…nothing but dust. Alone, separated from the others, in the eye of the gods he may have been, but he remained, still, dust. He struggled to inhale and whispered, “Have I offended the gods?”
“No,” said the voice.
“Then why?” he sobbed, clutching his arm tighter, though the blisters under the cuff were individual pains as sharp as knives. “Why?”
…”Little Thief,” [the goddess] said, “what would you give to have your hand back?”
Eugenides almost lifted his head.
“Oh, no,” said the goddess. “It is beyond my power and that of the Great Goddess as well. What’s done is done, even with the gods. But if the hand could be restored, what would you give? Your eyesight?” The voice paused, and Eugenides remembered begging Galen, the physician, to let him die before he was blind. “Your freedom?” The goddess went on. “Your sanity? Think, Eugenides, before you question the gods. You have much still to lose.”
Softly Eugenides asked, “Why did my gods betray me?”
“Have they?” asked the goddess as softly.
“To Attolia, to the Mede…” Eugenides stuttered.
“Would you have your hand back, Eugenides? And lose Attolia? And see Attolia lost to the Mede?”
Eugenides’s eyes were open. In front of his face the floor was littered with tiny bits of glass that glittered in the candlelight.
“You have your answer, Little Thief.” And she was gone.
I love this passage! You have to read the whole series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings) to see how the tapestry of events plays out–the gods use Eugenides to save Eddis, Attolia, and even Sounis; Eugenides and Attolia end up with a happy marriage; and the whole chain of events is triggered by the cutting off of his hand.
Whenever I find myself starting to feel betrayed by God I come back to this. Did God want me to go through suffering and to be hurt by others’ (and my own) sin? No, He designed the world to be perfect, without pain and without sin (see Genesis 1-3). One day He will return it to that condition (Revelation 21:1-5). In the meantime, He has allowed difficult things for my good (Romans 8:28). What would I trade to have my health back? Would I give up writing? What about those people who have told me God used my book, Tales from a Spacious Place, to change their lives? Would I trade the good He’s worked in their lives? Would I trade the growth He’s worked in my life through my illness?
No. Those are things I’m not willing to give up, despite the anguish of being here. I have my answer: God hasn’t betrayed me; He’s brought me out into a spacious place.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. ~ Psa 18:16-19 NIV