Friday, June 13, 2008

survivor guilt

A friend recently mused over the idea of a sort of spiritual survivor guilt. The phenomenon was first named to refer to the similar symptoms exhibited by survivors of the Shoah. Questions such as, "Why me?" "Why was I chosen?" "Why did I survive?" haunt the individual and often bring about depression.

She and I, as well as our husbands and other family members, are converts to the Catholic Church. While not one of us would count our salvation assured ("With fear and trembling I work out my salvation..."), we all count the gift of faith in Christ and his Church the greatest blessing a human being can know.

We also survey our families and friends and see the lack of that faith. All the seven deadly sins run up and down the family tree and in and out of the neighborhood homes: adultery, addictions of all sorts, rebellion against and rejection of the Church, insults to the Eucharist. All evil and all destroyers.

Now, the sin is not the sinner. The sinner can be forgiven, while the sin cannot. The sinner can be saved; the sin can never become good or vice become virtue. So, it is the sinners we weep for. We see a father or mother, brothers, sisters, dear friends all suffering immensely--and often unconsciously--because for some reason the human face of God is not their chosen desire. It is their hidden longing, but it remains hidden. Why? Why do Todd and I have the beauty of the sacraments, the passion of the Cross, the glory of the resurrection so insistently present to us? Why are our loved ones so, well, miserably uninterested? Spiritual survivor guilt.

I guess my thought is this: If we're experiencing this guilt to the point of depression, we're not really survivors yet. The experience of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit must give us--in addition to gratitude and longing for that gift in others--a deep trust in God's mercy, his desire that "all may be saved," and the mysterious rest in his plan and timing. I do fear for those in my life who have rejected him, seemingly so thoroughly. I do not fear that God has given up on them. I trust that, even in the moment of death, he will do everything perfectly and in his power to reach them. And if they still reject him ... somehow the saints will still be perfectly happy in heaven.

Spiritual survivor guilt. Interesting concept--I think its primary value is its emphasis on the fact that we are survivors. We have been saved, rescued, from the only thing worth fearing. May it bring him glory and us the conviction of our utter unworthiness!

Why is there sin and evil in the first place? The best discourse on that question is in David B. Hart's Doors of the Sea. Here is the climatic conclusion (though you really must read the entire, short book!):

“Now we are able to rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes – and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away and he that sits upon the throne will say, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was searching the words "survivor guilt Christian" when I came upon your blog. I found some comfort in your post today. God bless you today.