God’s Mercy

Kevin and I went to see Life of Pi last weekend.  Several years after having read the book, it still stands out in my mind, and I’d say it’s probably on my Top Ten List of Best Books I’ve Ever Read.  The movie was a visually stunning (largely computer generated) adaptation of the book that did an excellent job of sticking to the original story.  Kevin and I both enjoyed it very much.

If you don’t know the story – and without giving too much away (read the book!  It’s really good) – here’s a synopsis: A teenage boy and his family set sail from their homeland of India, en route to Canada to start a new life.  Pi’s father owned a zoo in India, and they are bringing the menagerie with them to Canada to sell.  En route, the Japanese cargo ship on which they sail sinks, leaving Pi to survive aboard a lifeboat for many weeks, his only companion a Bengal tiger.  Pi’s story of survival is touted as “a story that will make you believe in God.”

There comes a point in the story, when Pi and the tiger have been adrift at sea for a very long time, starving and losing hope, when their lifeboat lands on a mysterious island populated by meerkats.  By day, the island is lush, overgrown with shade trees, a mysteriously fresh water pond, and plenty to eat.  By night, the island itself transforms into something sinister and carnivorous, and Pi realizes that it’s not the oasis it appears to be, and he must leave it.  So he and Richard Parker (the tiger) reboard the lifeboat and again set off to sea.

It is at this point that Pi, narrating his story, explains that he knew God was with him, he felt God’s presence and mercy, and he was thankful.


It bothered me.  Much as this sort of sentiment bothers me in “real life” – I realize that Life of Pi is a fictional story, but this is certainly something that is expressed prolifically among the Christians I know.

In the story, Pi feels God’s presence and mercy presumably because he has survived an almost unfathomably harrowing experience.  What about his family, though?  His brother and parents, as well as everyone else on the ship, were not spared.  Why would a merciful god pick and choose like that?  If this god that people believe in has the power to save people, why doesn’t he save everyone?  Why would he have allowed the ship to sink to begin with?

It’s just a big mystery, isn’t it?  God is too complex for mere mortals to understand, right?


It seems to me that this is something that is missing among believers: the rational questioning.  If you believe that God works in your life – that he actually intervenes on your behalf – then by the very same logic, you must believe that he totally screws other people over.  If it’s by the grace of God that your sister made it through that surgery, or that you found a job just when the money was running out, or that the storm missed your house, then how can you also not believe that God is a twisted fucker who does allow other people to die in surgery, or not find a job and live in poverty, or lose their homes and possessions and lives to catastrophic storms?  How can you believe that God keeps your children safe but allows other children to suffer and die under horrific circumstances?

I know I’ll get a slew of comments from believers trying to explain it all to me, but really, I’m not looking to be convinced.  I have my answer: it’s not that God is a mean, mercurial, favorite-playing son of a bitch, it’s that there is no God (it’s okay, I’ve been calling God names for years, and I haven’t been struck by lightning yet, and I won’t go to hell, because there is no hell, friends).  I just wonder if people ask themselves these questions, and if so, what answers they come up with to keep themselves believing.   I will also say that in all my years of being a believer myself, I never thought to ask such questions.  I just took it for granted that all the good was attributable to God, and the bad, well … not.  Which is super convenient, to say the least.

I loved the story, but it didn’t make me believe in God, for what it’s worth.


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32 Comments on “God’s Mercy”

  1. Holly F.
    January 8, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    When my mom died, I was 16. I was told it was simply a mystery why a mother of 4, a wonderful mother, would be taken so early. I accepted that without question because faith required it. Faith also required that the anger that consumed me be supressed.

    My family was mostly spared much damage during Hurricane Katrina. As a believer, I attributed it to the hard praying we did before and during the storm and the holy water I sprinkled around our house. The questions you posed were there but I conveniently ignored them

    When Trent was having open heart surgery, I prayed the rosary and had asked people to blanket us with prayer. He, of course, survived. Again, I ignored the question of why other children do not survive.

    No big event changed my mind. I just finally stopped ignoring those questions. Finding no satisfactory answers, I decided it was all a lie. I label myself agnostic right now but that is slowly changing…

  2. TUC
    January 8, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    I think you already answered the question. He “felt” God’s presence, and some people do I suppose. I used to, but now I don’t. That is not enough to convince me there is no God, and yet I am no longer convinced that there is.

    Anyway, those that don’t feel a connection to their God, often just decide that living by that particular code works for them, and so they believe for that reason. I would answer those questions by saying that there is a place for Nature of God’s world and that most things are simply a natural consequence of something (not God doing something to, for, or against you). So I don’t see God as mean or twisted but rather as not intervening in the natural way of things.

  3. Tracy
    January 8, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    You’ve perfectly summarized the conversation that I have with my mother about once a month. Still, I do believe in God. I just don’t think he works the way that most people think he does. I’m a halfway decent Catholic in terms of going to church, but I’ve “made up” my very own little belief system as far how it all works, so that makes me a bad, bad Catholic. My way might just amount to meditation and an innately optimistic outlook, actually, or maybe deism? But it works for me.

  4. Kristen
    January 8, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    Oy…there really isn’t an easy answer or explanation for me. I have, certainly, asked a lot of those questions. When my son with Ds was dx’d with leukemia, my faith was tested and I was angry. We were good people, he was a sweet little boy…so WHY? The only thing that I always come back to is that if it weren’t for Ethan having leukemia, I would not have met some amazing people in my life that have become some of my rocks. Our experience now allows me to be helpful to others. I have been told that how we handled our experience inspired them to better their own relationships with God. And, I guess, as a Christian that’s what we are supposed to do- grow in our relationship with God. As many times as it was told to us and I hated it each and every time, it is true that everything happens for a reason, we just don’t know what that reason is unfortunately.

    • Lisa
      January 8, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

      Couldn’t god have brought those people into your life via a different avenue, Kristen, that didn’t mean your little boy suffering? And I’m sorry, but I just don’t at all believe that everything happens for a reason. Most things happen for no reason at all, except the reasons we choose to attach to them in our quest to make sense of thing. Little girls being sold into sexual slavery? Babies with Ds rotting in institutions in Eastern Europe? What possible reason? Saying it’s beyond our understanding is a cop out.

  5. Sue
    January 9, 2013 at 12:39 am #

    I have wondered these same things. I actually find it comforting to know that there’s no ‘reason’ behind any of this–it is what it is and you’re play the hand you’re dealt. The faster that humankind realizes that there isn’t any supreme being that’s going to swoop in and save us from ourselves, the faster we can get to solving real problems like climate change and war. The horrors throughout history and even now that have been committed in the name of god and religion…it’s disgusting.

  6. Kacey
    January 9, 2013 at 1:47 am #

    I loved this. That is all : )

  7. K. Wilde
    January 9, 2013 at 3:22 am #

    Lisa, this life is Act Two of a three act play. We are born with no memory of our life with God and the promises and plans we made there. This life is filled with opposition in everything; good and bad, bitterness and joy, etc. This life or Act Two has two purposes: 1. to be born i.e. get a a body and 2. a testing ground to see if we will live up to the knowledge and light given to us. In other words, will we do the right thing and if we don’t change and try again. Will be become kind people. We each were born with the ability and opportunity to choose right from wrong. This is agency. A lot of bad things happen to people because people make poor or sometimes evil choices that impact others’ lives sometimes horrificly. God honors our agency or right to choose good or wrong so much that those who choose so wrongly to inflict terrible things on others, will be held accountable in the next phase of life or Act Three if you will. Sometimes terrible things happen like accidents just because we are in a mortal world and this is not an ideal place. That is for the next life. One thing I do know is that this life does have a plan for each person however long on this earth. Each injustice will be made up, each sin or hurtful thing not repented for will have a consequence. I know that trusting in the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made in the Garden of Gethsamane and on the cross does heal wounds of hurt and bitterness and sorrow. Not only did Jesus suffer for our sins there, but He took upon Himself the injustices, the unfairness, the hurt feelings over what a sister or a friend said, the pain from illness or surgery, the pain of not being able to bear children or breastfeed, everything on His shoulders that night. And when the story is all told, when the we can see all three acts of the play, we will see that all these things had a purpose. I’m not writing to convince you, but you did ask what one who believes says to your questions. Sometimes God’s answer is “you have to go through this hard thing, but i will help you through it.” This I know.

    • Lisa
      January 9, 2013 at 5:43 am #

      Wow, sounds like you have it all figured out! That must be such a relief to you.

      • K. Wilde
        January 9, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

        It does give meaning to the madness – this time last year, our son with Down syndrome was given very little chance to live with a complex heart defect – a more complex on than the typical AV canal defect in kids with Ds. Modern medicine worked, but I would still believe even if my son had died. I was prepared either way and I obviously hoped for my son’s surgery to work. It didn’t make the sorrow or the worry for the future any less. The point is that I hoped I could get through it with the knowledge that it 1. wasn’t a punishment 2. it just happened and 3. I would be supported by a Heavenly Father and Savior who understood no matter what happened. Life still has to happen.

        And at this time last year, I also found your blog. And your writing about Finn gave me great hope and something to real to look forward to in the future with my own son. I could imagine now how the future might look. Through your blog, it looked pretty good. I appreciated your candor about how hard it is at times and I like your gift with words in describing the beautiful moments as well – like your previous post on Scarlett. Your blog described a real life and I found it good. Thank you. 🙂

      • Lisa
        January 9, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

        Thank you.

  8. Laura
    January 9, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Hi Lisa,

    I think your blog is wonderful – saying it how it is – a breath of fresh air!

    This very question about God existence came up in my Catholic family recently. Sunday mass last week was dedicated to those who had died and my Mom’s name was one of those listed. There were frowns when I told my siblings and Dad that we (my husband and 3 small kids) would not be attending as basically we don’t believe anymore and my deceased Mom is not present for me in that cold church or the cemetary. Our family’s been through a lot recently with death and cancer and other tough stuff and really I didn’t feel God’s prescence there at all during any of it.

    I used to worry terribly as a child about going to hell and about all the souls stuck in purgatory. Crazy! But this is the scary non-sensical stuff that was taught to us in school. I don’t worry about heaven or hell anymore and am just aware of living as good a life as possible because when you’re dead – that’s it!

    I recommend the documentary Religulous.

    I used to work in a legal office that handled cases for people who had been abused by priests/nuns in orphanages/schools as children. I have typed some truly horrific accounts of what happened. I have no more time for the Catholic church.

    Things definitely don’t happen for a reason – they just happen – good and bad.

    I still really want to see that film.

    Keep up the brilliant work Lisa. 🙂

    • Lisa
      January 9, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

      Thank you, Laura!

    • Holly F.
      January 9, 2013 at 3:48 pm #


      As a former Catholic (and daughter of a Catholic Deacon) I just wanted to commiserate with you.

      I had the exact same fears as a child. It is scary what the Catholic guilt will do to you. Almost cult like.

  9. Becca
    January 9, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    I’m with Kacey. Loved this. I had a conversation with some dear high school friends of mine recently about this. Somehow we are and have always been of like mind, although religion (or lack of) had absolutely *no* bearing on our friendships (I suspect that much of our town/region has similar views, actually). It made me feel like I’m not actually crazy for feeling this way, as I often do when surrounded by people both IRL and on FB who are so wrapped up in the myths that were created to keep people in-line back in the day. Much like the ancient Greeks and Romans, having the gods overseeing everything made people behave in a certain way that was desirable to whomever was in power at the time. While we know that those gods were myths, likewise, I believe that the Bible was written with much the same in mind at a time when order was needed. I think it’s got some great stories, and certainly lays the groundwork for good behavior, kindness towards others, etc., all the things that are important for people to be *good* people, and I’m down with that, but I don’t think I need to have the fear of something (hell, etc.) to steer me in the direction of being a good person myself. And I *certainly* don’t feel the need to come up with tenuous justifications for why bad things happen to good people. There is no justification for any of that other than that there are truly evil people out there. God and the devil have nothing to do with it.

  10. Lisa
    January 9, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    I do enjoy your pictures and stories. But it is posts like this that make me feel like (The Whole God) issue is like a beaten horse. We all know how you feel, don’t you think it is time to tap into something else?

    • Lisa
      January 9, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

      So I should stop writing about my thoughts on God because you’re tired and bored with it? There is a simple solution: don’t read my blog. I write about the things that are important to ME. Besides, the whole subject of God is a tired one, and I don’t see believers “tapping into something else” as you say.

  11. soundtek
    January 9, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    Lisa, I would still encourage you to read “Evolving in Monkey Town” by Rachel Held Evans…. I think it might give a different perspective on some issues like this and maybe, we, as Christians, dont have all the answers…. Im not trying to convert you or anything, I just think you would enjoy the book as it about this type of thing exactly – asking the hard questions, but Rachel is a much better writer than I am… I just think you would enjoy it and it may give you a different idea of what some of us believe (b/c I have very different views and opinions than most of the other people I know that call themselves christian)

  12. CJ
    January 9, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    I have to comment just because I love watching commentors try to convince you….and watching you verbally and intellectually top them with every reply!

    • Lisa
      January 9, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

      You flatter me, CJ 🙂

  13. Lisa
    January 9, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    “Believers”, all believers don’t push their thoughts on others about GOD.. You seem to have a very BIG Umbrella when it comes to people who believe in God. I have learned not to put certain people under a BIG Umbrella when it comes to a lot of issues, many in which you touch on.

    I have changed my thoughts through reading your blog and others about Down Syndrome. I was scared when I was younger by a young man who had Down Syndrome. He used to walk over to the my home where I grew up and knock at our door all hours of the day and night (and would yell for someone to let him in). I would have to call his parents and let them know where he was. From the age of 10 to 14 I was afraid to go outside. A fear that has lasted me years and through meeting other teenagers with Down Syndrome, I have grown in many ways.

    All I am saying is I have learned to not place certain people under the same umbrella through reading blogs about this.

    • Lisa
      January 9, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

      Well, I don’t think I’m pushing my beliefs on anyone. I’m writing on my blog, and people are free to choose not to read it. I see my blog as basically my little corner of the internet, and if people want to come and visit my corner, I’m generally honored by that, but I don’t cater to anyone who might visit.

      And I don’t believe that I place all Christians under the same big umbrella. I know that beliefs and philosophies vary widely even among Christians. I’m generally talking to the Christians I’m surrounded by.

  14. Molly Guthrey
    January 9, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    I only have questions, no answers, but what about the experiences of those who have had experiences like Dr. Mary Neal? http://drmaryneal.com/ I just finished her book. Also, “Expecting Adam” by Martha Beck.

    • Lisa
      January 9, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

      I actually hated Expecting Adam. A friend recommended it to me after Finn was born, so I read it and it just wasn’t my cup of tea. All the supernatural stuff didn’t convince me of anything except that Martha Beck is/was delusional – or just someone who taps into an active imagination for the sake of a good story.

      As far as Dr. Mary Neal – Not familiar with her, but clicked on the link you left and see that she wrote a book about her near death experience. I think these types of experiences can be largely explained by science.

      • Molly Guthrey
        January 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

        The shocking thing about Dr. Mary Neal is that she was pinned underwater for 16 minutes … so she actually did die, but then CPR revived her. It’s amazing that she could be brought back to life.

  15. Erin
    January 9, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

    I am actually a “shit happens” and “opiate of the masses” kind of gal myself, but I hesitate to put that out there unless I know that I am in like minded company. You make me wonder why that is the case when none of my Christian friends seem to take my feelings into consideration whenever they offer up their take on things.

    Anyway, when my husband was watching a football game the other day, a player who had done particularly well gave “all the glory” to God, and I made a sarcastic comment about God’s hand in football. My husband said, “No, we need guys like him to believe in God.” Apparently he was a thug before finding religion. My husband has a point… Religion definitely has value in our society (like its sister opiate-reality TV).

  16. Sue
    January 9, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    Why are religious conversations in the US always confined to Christian vs. non-believer? According to my favorite source Wikipedia, Christians make up 34% of religious people in the world, muslims 21%, and then hindus, buddhists, and other religions are 30% leaving about 15% “non-religious.” So all told, Christians, despite being the majority religion in this country (73% according to Wikipedia), are in the minority when you look world wide (35% vs. 65% other things). I’ve always wondered, how do Christians know they have the ‘right’ religion? I’d love to hear from Buddhists and Hindus out there about their faith! And wasn’t Pi Indian? Wasn’t he Hindu? I read the book a long time ago…

    • Lisa
      January 9, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

      Sue, I write from the perspective of Christian vs. Non-believer probably because having been a Christian formerly, that’s what I know, and also, Christianity is the predominant belief system I’m surrounded by in my community.

      Pi was, interestingly, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim 😉

      • K. Wilde
        January 9, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

        That is the best part of the book when his parents find out he’s converted to all three religions at the same time.

  17. Maureen
    January 10, 2013 at 4:23 am #

    I was raised by parents who took me to church every Sunday and sent me to Catholic school for 12 years (they would’ve sent me there for Kindergarten too but Catholic schools didn’t have Kindergarten in 1970). I was a good kid, always did my homework without being told, never missed a day of school in all 13 years, never got into alcohol or drugs, etc. I guess I did believe somewhat in religion when I was growing up; I thought if I did the right things and behaved myself that ‘God’ would look out for me. I have a brother and a sister and I’m not saying I was perfect but they got into tons more trouble than I ever did and now as adults, I’m the one that has had way more garbage dumped into my life. Their adulthood has been smooth sailing compared to mine. Their kids are healthy and they’ve been fortunate money-wise. I have multiple kids with disabilities and have been through alot financially. My oldest gave me grief for years and this past summer he left home without even telling me where he was moving (he’s 22 now). I haven’t heard one word from him and don’t really expect to either. I’m heartbroken over it but have come to accept that heartbreak is a part of my life. At this point let’s just say all I’m hoping for is that I never turn on the news and see his name associated with shooting up a school full of kids. I tried getting help for him for years but between him being over 18 and the lack of mental health help in this country, it proved to be a futile process.

    I don’t mean to make your post about me but I just wanted to say that I can relate to what you’re saying. I’d like to believe in a higher power but it’s incredibly hard to do that when so much tough stuff seems to find me so easily. Even my father, who was a religious man and did believe in a higher power, used to tell me that he’d often think how ironic it was that life has been so hard yet life has been relatively easy for my brother and sister. It’s hard to believe in God when good mothers do what’s best for the baby during pregnancy and wind up having a baby with a disability but yet women that drink and do drugs during pregnancy have babies without disabilities. It’s hard when I come across shows about women that didn’t even know they were pregnant, partied most of the 9 months, and are then handed healthy babies. My youngest is very delayed and looks so sweet and innocent – it’s tough to look at him without wondering why a ‘God’ would make a little child’s life so hard. He looks very much like my husband did as a little boy. It’s usually a joy to see a child look like their parent but in my child’s case, that joy is bittersweet – I can see how he would’ve been my husband’s ‘mini-me’ – if only…

    So, yeah, I hear what you’re saying loud and clear and agree with you.

  18. Nancy
    January 12, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    Lisa, I find it rather interesting that for someone who adamantly believes that there is no God, you spend a lot of time pondering religion. I have written on your blog before and I know you don’t especially care for my words but I feel that I must share. What continues to bring me to your blog is the fact that I went through an entire pregnancy believing that my oldest daughter would be a Downs Syndrome child. For some reason, I am drawn the struggles you have experienced with your son..

    I should tell you that I am a strong Christian, as a matter of fact, I just started back to work (after 15 years as stay at home mom to my girls) as a part time preschool director at a Lutheran church. This church is in an extremely crime ridden and poor neighborhood very much unlike the middle to upper income neighborhood that I live in.

    As I often speak with unbelieving parents, I hear the same words that you speak. Where is God in this mess of a world?
    First of all, God made the world perfect but humans had a mind of their own (really nothing has changed). He knew that they would choose sin and they did (in the garden). He told us in the Bible that His perfect world would no longer be perfect. There woud be sin, and sadness, destruction and pain. In the Bible, God speaks of His incredible sadness. He knew that there would now be non believers.. He did create humans with free will you see. We are not robots. Soooooo (making a long story short) he sent HIS one and only son for us. He allowed his son to suffer a horrible death. This was his proof to us that he understood. He knew what he created and what he created CHOSE sin and unbelief. He allowed his SON to die on the cross to show that he understood pain and suffering and that this world was never meant to be our eternal home. We were never meant to hold on to this earth with all of our might. We choose Him, we choose salvation.

    I find it interesting that there are people who believe that God somehow promises HIS believers a “rose garden” so they call themselves a Christian and wait to see what God will do for them. When He doesn’t give them exactly what they want, they figure He must not exist.

    He told us in the Bible (that basically) this world will suck but heaven is our real home, not here. People somehow believe that God owes them something (more than he has already
    given) and that even though they repeatedly “shun” him, He should somehow prove His existence to them. Our worldly views believe this- we are spoiled. Most Americans feel that we are owed things. Well, he already gave the most important gift, His Son, I am thinking that this was more than enough.

    I believe in God from the depths of my heart. My life isn’t perfect-far from it. I have suffered death, sickness, disappointment, hurt, and infertility in my life. I don’t believe that I am deserving of anything and regardless of whether my life is going perfect or not, I will stay firm in my faith. I am not a fair-weathered Christian. God can count on me regardless of whether I think that life is fair or not. I devote my life to serving Him even if that means taking a job that many would not. But I can tell you that because I have a close relationship with God and I trust him completely, every single trial and tribulation has resulted in full acceptance (as God can change your heart and mind) and favorable outcomes. I realize that this is life on this earth. Do I know that my God will take care of me? Oh yes he will. Would I be devasted to lose one of my children or husband to death tomorrow? Devastated. Do I know that I will see them in heaven? Oh yes, I will. The end result of all earthly suffering for believers is heaven. God knows your heart. He knows if you are sincere.

    I believe (know) that when you choose God and I mean fully submit and trust in him, He will bring goodness into your life. Will Satin try to attack you, will he plant seeds of disbelief in your heart? Yes he will. Why would Satin need to attack the non-believer? He has you exactly where he wants you. He desires eternal damnation.

    I would not ask you to go from being a self proclaimed atheist to a believer but I ask that you begin by at least looking at things somewhat logically. Is evolution really that easy to fully accept? Seriously? I just ask that you start with accepting, that if you look at things logically, all of this is just too much for the human brain to comprehend. One thing that I know for sure is that no science book gives me the following words….Blessed are those who believe what they cannot see. God left us His words, the bible, and short of knowing how it all began He gives us everything we need right there.

  19. jessica
    May 27, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

    Can I say I love you? Oh man, this blog made me laugh out loud harder than I have in a very long time. I totally agree with you 100%!!! The other problem I have with religious people is they say thing like god has a better place for us when he dies… um, hello, the place we live in was pretty perfect till we humans ruined it. And they use gods will as an excuse to not take responsibility for their actions… oh we destroyed a planet, god will send us to heaven and what ever happens to our planets was done by god! Nope sorry.

    Religion seriously needs to go away. It causes so much evil in thew world. So scary.

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