Where Was God? - This question inevitably comes up in the wake of great tragedies either natural or man-made. This past week the Bahamas was devastated by hurricane Dorian with parts of some islands nearly obliterated. It will be some time before we know the full extent of the devastation and number of lives lost. Within the past month, mass shootings took lives in California, Texas, and Ohio in addition to lesser publicized shootings. On this week 18 years ago, our nation experienced the enormous suffering and loss of life from the attacks on 9-11. Yet even in the face of the suffering and death of individual loved ones, the same question arises. There is no simple answer to this age old question. Yet the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus reveal that God is somehow present with us in suffering and death rather than standing outside of our painful experiences and certainly not causing them. In the months following 9-11, I purchased a book titled From the Ashes: A Spiritual Response to the Attack on America. It is a series of essays by religious leaders of various faiths. One essay was by the Catholic priest and novelist Andrew Greeley. Here are some of his words which I believe are as important today as they were 18 years ago and also apply to other experiences of suffering and death:
Where was God on September 11? He was somewhere (which in his case is everywhere) grieving for his suffering children…For reasons that we do not and cannot understand fully, God cannot prevent death, though he can triumph over it, no matter how horrible it is.
This is no easy answer to take away suffering but a promise that we are not alone in it. In fact, we can and are called to be agents of God’s loving presence to those who are suffering. The outpouring of relief efforts for people in the Bahamas along with the vigils and advocacy efforts to end gun violence are recent examples of embodying both the grief and love of God. Where Was God? - This is not a question for theological debate but a call to recognize God’s presence in suffering and to respond with Godly compassion. So the follow up is another question - How are we called to share God’s love in the face of suffering? That answer is up to each and all of us.