Imagine you’re some unfortunate chap scraping out a living as a shoemaker in some remote Sorbian village in the center of Europe. You’ve been hearing about mass deaths in far-off Vienna, and your priest has been darkly hinting of a coming End of Days. Doctors have their leeches ready, ever prepared to use the latest alchemy to treat illness. Someone says it’s the Jews poisoning wells; others say it’s the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; you say your prayers and hope for God’s protection.
As it happens, the plague comes to your house and kills your entire family: six children and your wife. You alone are left alive, to grieve and mourn and ask of God, Why me? No answer comes back from the sky. No answer comes from within you; there are hundreds of voices in your head and you can’t decipher any of them. Slowly, one thought rises above the others and sticks in your throat like a rose-twig: God did this to you and others like you because you are a sinner. You might not know what sins condemned you in God’s eyes, but that’s not for you to know. Meanwhile, your neighbor, also a sole survivor of his family, has come to a different conclusion: he believes that he was specially chosen by God to re-establish a lawful, God-fearing community.
You both go to the same church, where, a year later, a new priest is invested. He warns of a new scheme by the Jews to steal the first-born child of every Christian household so they can perform their obscene blood-thirsty rituals on babies. Everyone in your Sorbian valley believes that Jews are responsible for the plague, for didn’t the plague pass over the Jewish quarter? Surely! No Jews died, is what you hear from every tongue. How can you let them live in your midst, these killers of Christ? So you and others go out one fine April day, determined to exterminate the Jews who, so you’ve been told, are all set to poison your crops. After setting fire to a Jewish settlement (which curiously is rather empty of people, fancy that!) and crucifying resisters, you settle down again in your Sorbian village, content that you’re doing the will of God at last. You’re so hoping not to sin again, because the consequences last time were so devastating.
Nearly 700 years later, imagine your brother has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. A man who is larger than life, who loves his family with an all-encompassing dedication, is struck down within months to life in a wheelchair. There is no etiology, there is no cure. There is no God to ease the pain, no God to answer questions, no God to blame nor reward you. Someone tells you how God works in ways we can’t understand his wonders to perform, and you hit this someone in the face with a frying pan.
No, I do not want eternal life with a God that would kill my family by plague; I do not want eternal life with a God that would visit such a horrific illness on the best of men; I cannot tolerate anyone speaking of this God as if it actually existed. To do so is to belittle our suffering here on Earth, and I want everyone to know it is real, it is painful, and it is indelible.