Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 15, 2001
What is God's role in human tragedy?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
In times of crisis, like the tragedy that occurred in the U.S., we say: "How could God allow something like this to happen?" People are asking this question and I heard it on TV but I did not hear a satisfactory answer.
I would like to reflect a little on God's relationship to our suffering. My response will necessarily be less than complete. I believe it is understandable that this question comes to our lips for we tend to see God made in the image of humans, a God of justice who punishes and rewards. But according to Sacred Scripture, our God is a God of immeasurable love and compassion who wants only our good.
When we read the Old Testament, we see clearly the compassion of God for the suffering of humanity. God sees and knows what the Hebrews suffer: "I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt . . . so I know well what they are suffering" (Exodus 3:7).
God suffers with them: "I groan like a woman in labour, I suffocate, I stifle" (Isaiah 42:14). And in Jeremiah, God consoles Rachel for the loss of her son Ephraim: "My womb trembles for him; I will truly shower motherly compassion on him" (31:20). These are but a few texts that reveal God as love.
In the New Testament, we see the evidence of God's compassion in a most vivid way. In his ministry, Jesus consoles, touches, heals. Jesus reaches out to all, the most rejected and the poor but also to the rich and the establishment.
Jesus doesn't tell the people to bear their sufferings or that the sufferings are God's will for them, On the contrary, he alleviates the suffering. Jesus feels the pain of humanity: he weeps over Jerusalem; he laments that he would have protected the people as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, if they only had let him do so.
God stands with us against suffering and evil. God is with us and suffers with us. When we speak of God suffering, we use an analogy from human experience. Suffering in humans threatens our integrity but such is not the case with God.
God shares in our suffering but without the limitations of human suffering. God accepts the tragic element in creation and is moved to redemptive action. God works in and through us as we suffer.
However, suffering sometimes threatens to damage our relationship with God. We question God's love and caring for us, God's fairness in the distribution of suffering, God's willingness or even ability to come to our aid.
We wonder whether we can pray to a God who sends or allows the suffering in the first place. But there is a deep intuition within us, the kind that inspired the psalmist to say, in Psalm 23, "Even though I walk through the valley of darkness, I fear no evil for you are at my side."
God gave humans free will so they would willingly and freely chose to offer love, gratitude and service to their maker. A servile relationship would not give God the honour and glory that we owe.
Suffering is a result of the human condition that includes this power to choose between good or evil. There are consequences according to every choice made. This was vividly demonstrated in the tragedy witnessed the world over.
I realize that knowing suffering comes from the human condition does little to relieve the pain of such a tragic event as we have witnessed. There is a greater mystery in suffering that we can ever fully comprehend.
When we do all we can to remove the evil that causes suffering, we can unite our suffering to the sufferings of Christ and turn to God in prayer and reflection. The Psalms are prayers that come from pain and there is one to suit our every need.
Our healing also requires that we reach out to others. When we turn to God and others, we follow Jesus' example and teaching. God transforms our pain and brings forth from it new life and we truly experience a resurrection.
Then, we can say with Paul: "I rejoice in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" (Colossians 1:24).