Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti in the Aftermath

I am still at the numb stage. I have difficulty watching those images om TV from Haiti after that 7.0 earthquake devastated the country. I am glad that there are already relief agencies beginning to help. So much tragedy elicits questions. The following essay of mine was run in The Birmingham News as a guest editorial after Hurrican Katrina hit in New Orleans. It is still the best way for me to make some sense out of tragedy.

Finding God's Face in Tragedy

“What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn… that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” -- Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning

Christianity has a problem that arises from three basic precepts: 1. God is all-powerful and all-knowing, 2. God is loving and good, and 3. Evil is real. This is a recipe for dissonance. In two thousand years, these theological concepts have never been reconciled nor have they been abandoned by mainstream Christianity. I am in no position to try to debunk any of these three notions, but I am in a position to feel the ache and the loss for words in response to the question, “How could a loving God allow such devastation and loss of innocent life?”

Hurricane Katrina was one of those tragic events that cause many to ask, is there really is a God out there, or is this just a barren, meaningless universe? Preachers and theologians have always felt the tension of trying to communicate faith and hope to people in light of intellectual honesty and trying times. Theology likes to create nice tidy boxes to put things in, but the problem is that life is not nice and tidy.

It would be a cruel understatement to say that Katrina was an untidy incident. I’ll be honest, for days I tried to avoid the emotional impact. I tried to keep some distance as I viewed the news reports. Then the reality began to hit, and along with it, the tears that one tries to fight back, the deep sighs, the heaviness that weighs upon the chest and the brow. There came inevitable shock and the sorrow of so much devastation.

Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, came out of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. His was the only voice I could think of that might be appropriate to listen to in the wake of our current storm. The core of that book for me was a passage close to the middle of the work which is quoted above. Frankl goes on to say, “We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead start thinking of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly.”

If we are being questioned by life, what is our response? Here are some things I heard in the week following the storm:
- I heard anger that response was so slow.
- I heard outrage that the poor, the handicapped and the needy were being overlooked and neglected.
- I saw bitter tears over the loss of life and the suffering of children.
- I saw responses from some individuals who were determined to do whatever they could to help.
- I heard scorn heaped upon the comfortable wealthy bureaucrats in Washington who seemed literally unmoved by the massive suffering.

When I read the words of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets, God is described by these very same responses.

I cannot put this into a tidy box that will resolve all questions and ease the tensions of living, but I can say that in the midst of the chaos and horror that followed Katrina, I saw and heard God in our midst. I saw God in your face and heard God in your voice when the sorrow and outrage was expressed. As real people began to move to care for the evacuees by offering help, refuge, and hope, I took heart. There were people showing great care for life, even lending aid to pets that were displaced. I saw how we respond when we are questioned by life, and that response gives me hope in the midst of tragedy.


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