From Chapter 16, “Fog” in Where the Colors Blend:
It is the beginning of the service, and I am sitting in the back row of the amphitheater alone. A video appears on a screen featuring two people: Norberto—a middle-aged man, handsome, and fit with brownish-blond hair—and a precious blonde little girl who is sitting on his knee. This, I figure, is Anahi. She cannot be more than two years old.
I cannot stop looking at her.
I wonder if she knows.
I wonder if she understands, even vaguely, the tragedy she survived that foggy morning, when she lost her mother and brother in a fatal car accident in Paraguay.
I feel warm streaks on my cheeks as I gaze at the innocent, fortunate girl sitting on the knee of her scarred, unfortunate father. As up-and-down as my emotions might be from day to day, I do not know the last time I cried. Anger and angst, I am familiar with; crying, I am not. But in this moment, I am crying. Crushed. Despondent. Heartbroken for this poor man—this missionary from Paraguay—whom I love, though I have never even met him.
But then my mood changes.
My sadness turns to anger.
A righteous wrath consumes me, not in the name of God, but against God. I was taught that God is sovereign—always in control—that He knows the number of days in each of our lives; that He has a plan, not to forsake us, but to give us a hope and a future. Believing that God has a plan has been a comforting thing for me in my own life when it involves a breakup with a girl or deciding what I should do with my life or encountering any type of resistance while writing a book. And oftentimes it seems to be true that God works all things for the good of those who love Him. But, no, I do not think this theology works here.
As I look into Norberto’s empty eyes on the screen, as he gives an update from the Kurrle family in Paraguay to those in attendance at the softball tournament, it is as if whatever remains of a faith I had left is pulled out from under me like a rug. It is as if I discover that all of my doubts about Christianity are no longer doubts: they are revelations of truth. I am forced to reckon with the fact that if Norberto’s car wreck was indeed ordained—or even allowed—by God, then that God I worship is a psychopath! If I had a daughter and saw a grown man approach her in a store, and if I sat back and watched and I allowed him to take her away, then, yes, that would make me a psychopath. If I planned for this man to take my daughter, that’s even worse.
I recently heard a conservative evangelical clergyman explain away the sudden death of a child in his congregation by suggesting that perhaps God knew that there would be greater pain later on in the child’s life, that perhaps the child would have had a long, torturous bout with cancer or something like that, and that, in this sense, a painless death in a car accident is a gift from God.
You know what I have to say about that?
I say screw that. And if this book were not being published in the Christian market, I’d use an even stronger word.
That theology is not only total crap but also abusive. If that were the case, if God were this involved in our lives, then God could just as easily take away the cancer. It’s cruel. Unjust. How can I continue to be a part of religion that worships a psychopath who would destroy the life of this man? A man who committed his life to serving God? Norberto is a missionary, for Christ’s sake!
As I watch the video, I have never been more convinced that this whole Christianity thing is a sham. Could it be that Christianity is just a way for insecure people to bring comfort to themselves and meaning to their lives? Could it be that Christianity is just a way for people to explain away their fears and their problems and convince themselves that there’s a heaven so that they don’t have to deal with anything on earth? When religion is a crutch, you never have to deal with anything.
As Norberto speaks in the video, everyone’s eyes are glued to the screen. I keep thinking about Julie, Norberto’s wife.
I keep thinking about Timothy, their only son.
I keep looking at that beautiful little girl on Norberto’s lap.
I keep staring deep into Norberto’s empty eyes.
My God, no one should have to endure what he is going through. Now, half of his family is gone.
And today, it is just the two of them.
Norberto and Anahi.
In a way, the little soul on his knee is all he has left.
“I wonder why God took Julie and Timmy when they were doing His work,” Norberto says, looking away from the camera, with a pain in his eyes that makes you feel—for a moment—that you, too, have lost your dearest loved ones. “But,” he continues, looking up, “I also know there’s still work to do.”
I keep repeating the words in my head.
There’s still work to do. There’s still work to do.
How can he claim such a thing?
How does he refuse to give up?
How does he have any semblance of a faith?
When you see someone give everything, the cause he or she believes in becomes extraordinarily real, as if you can touch it or something. And for a second, though I cannot explain it, I feel as if God is sitting right next to me. And I feel as if Norberto’s empty eyes are also the hopeless, empty, grieving eyes of Jesus.
Praise for Where the Colors Blend
“This is an uncommonly wonderful read, written in uncommon perspective, for the common in us all; our humanity!”
—Wm. Paul Young, New York Times bestselling author of The Shack
“What becomes of a millennial crippled by an overdose of religion? Copeland walks us through his disillusionment, loneliness, love, doubt, frustration, and anger with God over unexplainable evil. Thanks to seeing the vibrant faith and lives of missionaries, enthusiastically absorbed in family softball and service, he comes to a deeper awakening—to mystery, to life fully given, and joyfully lived.”
—Br. Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O., Poet, Author of In Praise of the Useless Life and Unquiet Vigil
“While some would never dare claim to be ‘one’ with God for fear of sounding ‘new age’ or something worse, there is a rising generation of young people, like Stephen, heralding the scandalous (and historic, mind you) truth that the transcendent God united himself with the fullness of our humanity in the person of Jesus so that we might become ‘partakers’ of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) … Where the Colors Blend paints a painfully beautiful picture of the real Jesus—the One who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. One who stopped at nothing until He became ‘one’ with the object of His affection.”
—Dave Hickman, M.Div. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Author of Closer Than Close: Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ
“Where the Colors Blend invites the reader into the grand story of God. Stephen’s thought-provoking, raw words of soul/spirit seeking invite the reader to thirst for overflowing streams of God, not sips; to strain to hear/feel the heartbeat of God, not settle for whispers; to see the face of God, not grab erratically for glimpses soon forgotten; to grasp the life of God, not skirt the boundary of His presence; to ponder the depths of God’s redemptive work in the stories of others and how those stories intersect and impact our individual stories. Stephen’s writing masterfully draws us into his spiritual journey and, by so doing, invites the reader to take her own bold steps of discovery.”
—Christine M. Browning, Ph.D., LPC/MHSP, NCC, Associate Professor of Counseling, Milligan College
About the Author
Stephen Copeland is a writer and storyteller. He is a former staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum Magazine, a national faith-based sports magazine, and his articles have also been published in Christianity Today. He has co-authored nearly a dozen books and is a Daggy Scholar and member of the International Thomas Merton Society. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in journalism and Bible from Grace College. Stephen resides in Nashville, TN.