For as long as I can remember, the hardest question for me has always been “How could God let this happen?” The question has been hurled at me in accusing tones by people who really mean ‘if this god you believe in really existed, this wouldn’t happen.’ But it is also a question I find it hard not to ask myself when I hear about great evils or great disasters. After all, I don’t really think that God meant for 600 people to lose their homes and everything they own this past weekend, any more than I think God meant for the residents of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward to be further impoverished and displaced by Katrina.
As much as I am reminded of the fire’s devastation by the smell of smoke in my living room and the taste of ash in my mouth, I am startled into an awareness of other aspects of God’s presence when I watch the grandeur of the sun setting over the ocean, through the ashen sky. One of the great ironies of Creation is that there is no more magnificent sunset than when the air surrounding it is filthy.
What does this tell me about God and God’s presence in the world? I can only guess – and my guesses are no better than yours – but I think the contradictions are meant to be stunning. To stun us into alertness. Perhaps to remember that there but for the grace of God go I, this time. But perhaps even more importantly, to ask what we are called to do to bring a moment of beauty into a messy and ambiguous Creation. What can we do to help those displaced by the disaster? What can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen this way again? What can we do for the friend or colleague who finds in every less-than-perfect moment a reason not to believe in hope or joy or possibility?
Some days I think I just have to forego the satisfying articulate explanation and try to do what little I can to make some tiny corner of the world a little better for someone who may have every reason to rail against God. It may not be entirely comfortable for either one of us, but maybe it can move both of us a step away from despair.