Tornadoes, earthquakes, cyclones, but few answers

Normally, the deaths of at least 22 people who got in the way of tornadoes in Missouri, Oklahoma and Georgia would make for the major news story of the day.

But today is not that day.

132695c208c241c9a7ced1afd4ba14f5.jpgClose to 8,000 people were killed by a major earthquake in central China (photo). We all woke up to reports that some 900 children were buried under the rubble of their former school.

And the death toll in Myanmar has hit 32,000, while another 30,000 are missing.

At these times, friends, neighbors, and colleagues ask me about my book. Why do these “acts of God” happen? What answers do religious authorities have?

I generally have little to say (which sometimes surprises people). There are no easy answers. Each religious tradition has its own way of looking at these things. And it’s complicated.

Yes, Buddhists in Myanmar and China will blame karma. Protestants in Missouri may blame Original Sin. Many people around the world, from many faith traditions, will wonder who is being punished for what.

But on a day like today, when children are buried and thousands of people (bodies?) are missing, what explanation can possibly be satisfying?

As one Catholic priest who advises the U.S. Bishops Conference, Father Thomas Weinandy, told me for my book:

What gets preached from the pulpit and by the bishops is “Let’s support these people, take up a collection and do what we can to help them get back on their feet,” — rather than addressing the theological issues that may be raised. Part of the problem is that there is no simply answer. You can’t get up on a pulpit and say this is why this happened, other than to say that God has his purposes and ways and hopefully it will all become clear in heaven. What is there to say other than that we have to know that God loves us, that we have to trust in him, that he’s on our side in the end? Other than that, what can you say?

Other than that, what can you say?

And we complain about the cost of gas.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.