March 10, 2006

Last night, on Fox News Network’s Hannity & Colmes show, they were interviewing Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham, who was down in New Orleans with a group of teenagers helping to restore houses destroyed by the Hurrican Katrina floods. One of the more interesting parts of the segment (at least to me) occurred when Alan Colmes asked Graham why a loving God would allow such suffering and misery to occur in New Orleans; I couldn’t believe Graham stumbled around trying to give him an answer. Given Graham’s vocation as both an evangelist and a missionary, I was kinda shocked, but then it occurred to me that, were someone to have asked him the same question in perhaps a more comfortable, less secular setting, he might have given a more articulate and less cautious answer.

To me, the answer to Colmes’ question, while troubling for sure, has never been a difficult one to answer, whether you’re talking about what happened in New Orleans, the tsunami victims of South Asia, the recent Phillippines mudslide tragedy, the Pakistan earthquake, the sudden loss of a close friend or acquaintance, or any number of illnesses, sufferings, miseries, or horrible circumstances that have befallen humankind since the beginning of time. It is, in short, the question of God and suffering. So, how might Graham have answered the question posed by Colmes?

First of all, no one – and I mean no one – can claim to know exactly the mind of God, so there’s a mystery right there. I do believe there are people whom God in one way or another has revealed, or inspired them to understand or comprehend, certain aspects or events of the human condition, but anyone who says for certain that God will do this or God has done that (the old “God’s will” argument) is, in my opinion, full of it. Heck, not even the Son of God’s disciples or the saints that followed them down through the ages knew the mind of God – they were just recognized by the Church as having a certain degree of reverence or holiness not typically found (or known) in others. I see the saints of the Church like I do priests and bishops in my own Episcopal Church – there are those who lived up to their calling, those who probably should never have been, and those who never were (or will be) but should have.

Secondly, you have the question of suffering in specific times and places: Why does/did God allow it? In this case, why did God allow the death and suffering in New Orleans to take place? Once again, we see the perfectly human sin vice of ego come to the forefront, the “why me, Lord” – as if we are somehow perfectly blameless for the misery that occurred. And, consider the scope: it wasn’t just human death and suffering that took place in New Orleans – animals, insects, birds, and agricultural and aquatic life were also affected, as were human relationships, a population’s general sense of security and well-being, our faith in God and one another, and our trust in our government and systems as well.

While it is true that an earthly weather phenomena started the ball rolling, there was plenty of human nature that contributed to the scope of death and destruction that took place. In other words, God was no more responsible for a hurricane hitting New Orleans than He was for all those buses being left under water, or those patients being left in the hospitals and nursing homes to die and drown, or the confusion and delays in getting necesary help to those who were stranded, or the money that should have been spent on reinforcing the levees that was instead misspent elsewhere. You see where I’m going here? We’re always so quick to blame God. Fortunately, He does not hold our many flaws and weaknesses against us if we are honest with ourselves and with Him. Thank God for that (literally!).

OK, enough about New Orleans. Back to the question of the human suffering in any and all forms: Why does God allow it? You mean, why does God allow an innocent person – say, the nicest, most caring person in the world, be killed by a drunken driver while walking along the side of a road? Or, why does God allow someone innocently walking riding to work to be blown up by a suicide bomber? Or, why would God allow someone to be born with a serious deformity or physical disability? Or, why would God allow someone still so young, with their whole life ahead of them, to die suddently of a stroke? Or, why would God allow someone to suffer through a lengthy and painful bout with cancer, or a life of loneliness, depression, or addiction? Why does God allow autism, physical and mental abuse, hatred, racism, greed, ethnic cleansing, hunger, poverty? I hope you’re seeing what I’m getting at here. The question is not “why?”, but “why not?”. Is there one of us so much more precious to God than anyone else that we should be somehow immune from the very thing all ages of humankind have shared in since the beginning of time?

The question, then, it seems to me, is not to ask where God was, or why God allowed this or that to occur. After all, we live in a broken world, perfectly imperfect in every way, seeking the answer to questions which have no answers. All the while, the gifts God has given each of us: the capacity to give and receive love, kindness, generosity, empathy, compassion, charity, idealism, temperence, perseverence – you know, all those good human qualities you never see on network TV! 🙂 wait to be reclaimed and used over and over again in our own unique lives and circumstances. These gifts challenge us to ask not where God WAS, but where God IS. They don’t come from our prehistoric existence, or through evolution, or via some DNA or RNA strand passed down through the ages from the Neanderthal to Michael Jackson :-); rather, they are evidence of God’s existence in this world, and ourselves as God’s created.

So Alan, the question is not, “why does God allow suffering?”, but, “what is God calling each of us to do in a world full of suffering?”. After all, if there were none, we wouldn’t be living here on earth, we’d be in Heaven, and it is in the way we live our lives here on earth amongst one another, and how we use our God-given gifts to respond to the suffering around us, that, in the end, we meet our Creator face to face.

UPDATE 3/11/06: Added some hyperlinks (above) to provide some poignant examples of what I’m talking about here.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:26 | Comments (5)
  1. GWS, As a native New Orleanian I appreciate You clarifying the fact that God had not singled out New orleans in some sort of heavenly scheme of higher retaliation. The breeched levees were a result of Human failure, period, end of story!

    Keep up the great writng, $

    Comment by Dollar Bill — March 10, 2006 @ 9:02 am

  2. Truly enjoyed your piece on why God allows these tragedies to happen. We will never understand “God’s will” but we must just accept what happens and offer, love, comfort and support of all kinds to those who suffer. A very proud aunt says thank you.

    Comment by Auntie Marge — March 12, 2006 @ 9:26 am

  3. Thanks $ and Auntie for the nice comments. I appreciate you taking the time to write.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — March 15, 2006 @ 1:32 pm

  4. […] Finally, even as venerable an institution as the Washington Post is starting to get it re: New Orleans and the Katrina tragedy. Those who frequent this space know how much I’ve been pushing the corruption/incompetence angle and the mainstream media’s shoddy reporting on this, so it’s good to see at least one of them finally waking up to the truth. One can only hope others will now follow. Hell, it’s only been near ten months, better late than never, I guess… […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Back on Track — May 30, 2006 @ 12:50 pm

  5. […] It’s things like this past week’s Amish schoolhouse shooting and the other events mentioned in yesterday’s post that can really get you down if you let it. But, as I mentioned in a post several months ago, the heartbreaking reality is that suffering is the common denominator in the human condition, affecting it in many ways and in many forms. Consider the following equation: […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Thinkin’ ‘Bout This Whole World — October 7, 2006 @ 11:38 am

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