‘How can a loving God allow this to happen?’ Alex is an aid worker who lives in the Sri Lankan city of Batticaloa where 2600 people lost their lives and ten of thousands were left homeless when the tsunami hit the land. “This disaster has shaken my faith”, the 60 year old man said.
He was not the only one. As a UK newspaper was quick to remark, the Tsunami managed to destroy not only the lives and the homes of many; it destroyed also the faith of an enormous number of people all over the world.
It is never easy to find meaning to a tragedy. The randomness of the destruction and the twists of fate that separated the living from the dead in this particular tragedy left many perplexed. Many found it hard to reconcile their faith with this terrible loss of lives.
“My wife is a Hindu devotee and lights oil lamps to the Hindu gods 24 hours a day”, says Mr. Manangarajah, another Sri Lankan, “I however have carried 37 bodies on my back. I have big doubts.”
Suffering is always an enigma. “Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence,” wrote John Paul. “It is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense ‘destined’ to go beyond himself.” Many times the only reasonable response is humble acceptance. Emotional energies are better spent in worship than in questioning. There is no way we humans can ever fathom the mind of God.
John Paul called this calamity “the most difficult and painful of tests” but he immediately added “God has not abandoned his people”.
Obviously this is a word of God. Perhaps God is not indifferent to the horrific crimes being done in many places against humanity. Thailand is infamous for its sex trade which many times involves small children. The trafficking of human organs is a crime which cries out to heaven.
However we have to tread careful. When the tower of Siloam fell and killed eighteen bystanders, some bystanders approached Jesus and asked him the obvious question ‘why did this tower fell on these people and not on others?’
His answer, as always, was surprising. The reason was not that “they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem”. No, through this event, God is speaking to all of you, he affirms! “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Instead of asking ‘why did it happen?’ better to ask ‘what am I going to make out of it?’ Better focus on the lesson than on the question!
To understand all these doubts, it is important to realize that we live in a basically atheistic milieu. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) is not a familiar name for many. But this German-Swiss philosopher is one of the most influential modern thinkers. His analysis of the root motives and values that underline traditional Western religion, morality, and philosophy affected generations of theologians, philosophers, psychologists, poets, novelists, and media reporters.
Even though he had mental problems and was revered by Adolph Hitler for his dislike of democracy and his heroic ideal of the Übermensch (Superman), he had an ominous impact on our way of thinking. He fulminated against Christianity and announced the death of God.
His reasoning on suffering and God is flawed and yet it is so seducing! If God, he argues, was able to prevent this disaster and did not, then He is a bad god. If God was not able to prevent this disaster, then he is a very weak god… Either way, god is at fault
The only way one can get out of this impasse is to realize that God is always bigger. He cannot fit in these two centimeters of our mind. God has promised never to give up on us. God’s goal is not to pamper us physically, but to perfect us spiritually. His ways are not our ways, they are always better!
This story was very popular once on the internet. It is simple yet powerful.
“I have in my hands two boxes which God gave me to hold. He said, “Put all your sorrows in the black, and all your joys in the gold.”
I heeded His words, and in the two boxes both my joys and sorrows I stored. But though the gold became heavier each day the black was as light as before
With curiosity, I opened the black. I wanted to find out why. And I saw, in the base of the box, a hole which my sorrows had fallen out by
I showed the hole to God, and mused aloud, “I wonder where my sorrows could be.” He smiled a gentle smile at me.” “My child, they’re all here with me.”
I asked, “God, why give me the boxes, why the gold, and the black with the hole?” “My child, the gold is for you to count your blessings, the black is for you to let go.”
Yes, the only way through suffering is to accept it and trust in His goodness and in His ability to transform it into good. When asked a few years ago if he might consider resigning, John Paul reportedly asked, in reply, “Did Christ come down from the cross?”
Worth pondering, no?
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.