Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Big Question

Couldn't resist looking at this article about how various faiths are responding to the inevitable questioning of a benevolent God in the face of the tragedy in Asia.

As the rabbi from Portland points out, smaller personal tragedies probably do more to cause us to question God than the biggest impersonal ones. Indeed, on the religious level, "why are there over 100,000 dead in Asia" probably has the same answer as a huge personal question like "why is my nephew autistic" or even something much less important like "why do I have nasty food allergies."

I've never, ever had an issue with answering those questions with "I don't know." I guess I'm just hard-wired that way. So I feel great distaste for the first four or five clergymen they interview in the article. They all seem to say we've caused the tsunami. They are arrogant enough to assume they understand God's motivations for things, which is troubling. But I see an even greater evil to that perspective. Think about the loved ones of tsunami victims in these guys' congregations. In addition to their shattering grief over the loss of loved ones, they have to feel guilty because they are partially to blame for the disaster. I can't get over how any man of God would do that to someone.

The personal tragedy I associate with questioning God came when many innocent kids were killed in the horrible shooting at my alma mater high school. I don't want to pretend I went through anything like my teachers went through that afternoon, but that tragedy was nonetheless very difficult for me. I had a marvelous priest then. The day after the killings, I set up an appointment, went to see him, and bawled about how frustrated I was that I couldn't pray. His response: "Then don't. The rest of us will take care of that for you. It'll come back to you soon enough." What a stud. If he were still my priest, I might not have switched religions.

Still, in spite of my inability to pray for a few days, something did happen almost immediately after I learned of the killings. It didn't take too many tears before I knew--KNEW--three things:

1. That I would never understand why this happened,
2. That it was perfectly okay not to understand, and
3. Everyone in the country and world would dedicate the next several months to convincing me of their reason why it happened--a reason that always stems from a political/religious agenda.

Looks like that's happening again.

"Why did God do this to us?" is an understandable question, of course, and one that is perfectly natural for any victim of a tragedy to go through. For the rest of us, however, I don't think it's a productive question, because (newsflash!) unanswerable questions don't tend to get answered. The question to ask, always, is what we can do to love each other in the current circumstance. Thank God there are real men of God like the Portland rabbi to take us past the static questioning and into active love.


Nathan Frampton said...
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TeacherRefPoet said...

Dude, I'll visit your blog if you acknowledge mine exists as more than a billboard for yours.

Shannin said...

I guess I believe that God didn't "do this" to us. Mother Nature is her own powerful force, and there are scientific reasons for things like wildfires, earthquakes and hurricanes. I don't think we see God in natural tragedies but in the human response -- the outpouring of prayers, rescue efforts, aid, etc.