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Why does a just and loving God allow good people to suffer during their earthly existence?
This question is not just theoretical for Marjorie Tidman, the author of Sifting the Dust.
In the 1990s, she was the victim of an assault in her house by an intruder who stabbed her multiple times and came close to killing her.
Dr. Tidman is a psychologist who assists trauma victims. In her book, she takes readers into the world of a psychosis she developed as a result of the attack and then accompanies them out as she analyses the experience.
She kindly answered my questions prompted by reading her book, which she has written under the pen name Marjorie Rose.
Baha’i Blog: How do you describe the content of your book in two or three sentences?
‘Sifting the Dust’ follows is a personal quest to understand the mystery of suffering. I am sifting the dust of human experience searching for the gold which might lead us to the Beloved. It is a different kind of love story.
Baha’i Blog: Who are you writing this book for?
Anyone who is searching for meaning as they struggle with their own dark times or question the degree of suffering in the world. Fear, loneliness, sorrow and anger, cast long shadows upon all of us at different times and in different ways. How do we make sense of the “darkness” in the world? How could a loving God allow such terrible things to happen?
Baha’i Blog: What prompted you to write the book, especially given that it involves you recalling traumatic events?
The question of suffering unites people of all belief systems including atheism, but it is especially problematic for those who believe in a Higher Power. The pressure to write came from an inner voice which repeatedly told me that my story might help other people.
Baha’i Blog: How has the book been received so far?
Overwhelmingly positive. One of my highest hopes is that people will feel less alone and better supported on their own spiritual path, knowing that our battles with love and fear are universal.
Baha’i Blog: Why do you think good people suffer if there is a loving God, and how did events that affected you refine your previously held views?
There is a widespread belief in the law of karma; that is, if we do good, good will return to us and vice versa. But karma fails to explain why good people suffer. In fact, their own belief in karma can magnify their suffering. The person who has been impacted by some crisis or another is now hit by a second torment: God (or the forces in the universe) is punishing them for past actions. I believe in the scientific law of cause and effect (if we put our hand in the fire we will get burnt), but I’m not convinced that karma is an overarching law which explains why good and bad things happen to people. There are other ways to understand the mystery.
A whole series of challenging events and outcomes have shaped my perspective. My understanding of the Divine Presence has been transformed time and time again, not least following the attack by an intruder. I was willing to work hard within the spiritual battlefield because I trusted that new understandings would come over time. In brief I trusted that every trial or difficulty had within it the seeds of transformation which would be nurtured by a Divine Hand, a Creator who knew and loved us better than we knew our own selves.
Baha’i Blog: How does your experience aid you to help trauma victims?
This might sound a little crazy, but my own traumatic experiences led me into a place of almost permanent contentment and fearlessness. If you face your own worst fears and survive, indeed thrive, then there really is nothing much left to fear. The gift I offer trauma victims is my confidence in their inherent capacity to work through and rise above the traumatic events and become stronger because of them. Of course the healing and recovery process takes effort, patience and time.
Baha’i Blog: Do you recommend any particular book from the Baha’i scripture that helps illuminate points you raise in your book?
The mystical writings, particularly ‘The Seven Valleys’ and ‘The Hidden Words’ of Baha’u’llah have been spiritual geography for over 40 years.
Baha’i Blog: The attack and the recovery process significantly changed the way you viewed ‘insanity’ and also ‘reality’? How so?
A sane person can suddenly be plunged into a world of madness as a result of trauma. The world I entered was wonderful, joyful and I felt safe for a while at least. I now understand its role as a temporary haven from the painful realisation that I had been attacked by a man who tried to kill me. When I came out of this “world” I took time to mentally retrace my steps into madness and out again, in order to increase my understanding of how it happened and to reduce the chance of it happening again.
Many people fear losing their mind – going mad. Any fear I may have had has been replaced by a genuine love for those who are escaping an insanely materialistic and competitive or frightening world. Those who have lost their rational mind need a lot of compassion and understanding.
Baha’i Blog: You value submission as a way to deep inner calm. In our society we value people who take charge of their own lives, not to value submission. Is there a balance between the two?
As we mature we gradually eliminate black and white thinking. We learn to resolve opposites. One of the most important puzzles to solve is the shape of personal power and its limitations. How much power do we really have in a given situation? How do we make sense of our best efforts when our plans and actions hit brick walls. How much do we acknowledge forces outside ourselves when we succeed, even triumph against the odds. The balance of power keeps changing and unfolding. Ultimately we find our true power when we search our hearts to purify our motives, maximize our efforts to promote the happiness of others, and accept that Divine Forces, far beyond our imagination and comprehension, are always working. We become liberated from the material world and egocentric thinking, to become more focused on the human condition and the needs of the time.
Baha’i Blog: How do you reconcile horrible events with the idea that things unfold in harmony with a divine plan?
I wouldn’t dare attempt to answer such a question in a few sentences. Sifting the Dust is my best attempt to capture the relationship between horrible events and the processes of spiritual transformation within individuals and within families and communities. Stories are usually more palatable than pronouncements of one set of beliefs or another. Readers are left free to draw their own conclusions, but I hope that they will laugh and cry with me, feel a bit lighter after reading the book and also have more energy for the mysterious journey ahead.
Baha’i Blog: Thanks Marjorie for taking the time to do this interview.
You can order your copy of ‘Sifting the Dust’ from the following sites:
For the paperback via The Book Depository: Sifting The Dust
For the ebook via Amazon: Sifting The Dust
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