Still searching for perspectives on the suffering in Haiti

I noted yesterday that several New Orleans Saints were crediting God with their Super Bowl victory — while no Indianapolis Colts (that I’m aware of) said a peep about God favoring the opposition.

The phenomenon of people crediting God when things go right but not mentioning God when things go poorly got me thinking — again — of the religious responses we’ve heard to the suffering in Haiti.

As I’ve written over the past few weeks, numerous religious leaders have contended that God is present with the survivors and the rescue workers and that God expects all of us to help rebuild Haiti with our donations and prayers.

But few religious leaders address the dark and tenuous question (yes, the subject of my book) of where God was when the earthquake struck and thousands of people, young and old, good and bad, got crushed.

I can’t help it. I’m drawn to theodicy — attempts to reconcile God’s presence with the presence of evil.

So I went back and re-read a homily by a Catholic priest that came to my attention. Father Rees Doughty, pastor of St. Ann’s Church in Nyack, addresses the questions at hand quite directly.

I was going to quote a few sections of his homily, but I’ve decided to reprint the whole thing.

In short, he blames Original Sin for humankind’s fractured relationship with Creation. He says that until the created world finds peace in the fulfillment of “Jesus’ Kingdom,” God has rendered himself “helpless.” And he compares this state of helplessness to God’s position when Jesus Christ died on the cross.

Obviously, this is a Christian explanation that may not soothe those of other faiths. But it is an explanation that is worth reading, particularly if you, like me, admire religious leaders who don’t duck the tough ones:

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Our helpless God

When the human race suffers any natural disaster as catastrophic as the recent earthquake in Haiti, believers almost by nature turn to God not only in prayer but in bewilderment.  (Even non-believers appear to wonder.  The saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes” comes to mind.)  What was God thinking?  How could He have allowed something like this to happen? Where was He? Continue reading

Still asking, ‘Why?’

In the end, I did speak to a few clergy from the area where the horrific accident happened on the Taconic.

When I called Rev. Paul Egensteiner, pastor of Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pleasantville, I had no idea that he had been at the scene, serving as a fire department chaplain.

He was reluctant to talk about it, but took his best shot during what must have been a very difficult day for him.

He told me that he prayed over each of the victims at the scene.

As I wrote on LoHud.com, he told me: “Being there, there is just no way to make sense of it. You can’t. It was an accident. If the question becomes ‘How could God let this happen,’ I say ‘It happened.’ I prayed with each of the victims. I felt God’s presence with them. That was never a question for me.”

I was also able to reach Rabbi Mark Sameth of Pleasantville Community Synagogue, who told me that “Tragedy is no time for theology.”

He said: “One needn’t – I would go so far as to say, shouldn’t – look for meaning in horrific and violent death. This is when we need to reach out and to comfort, to be, so to speak, God’s presence in the world.”

I also got this comment on my blog from a Rev. Patt Kauffman, who I don’t know but apparently served locally at some point:

“I have been asked also how this could happen; is it God’s will that these lives be taken so tragically?  I confess a God that always loves, and that never desires ill for creation. When I was serving a congregation in Yorktown Heights, I remember the confusing, entrances and exits, the winding and narrow roadway, and the traffic that travelled much too fast that is the Taconic.  In my short tenure, I saw many close calls, and cars off the roadway.  This was an accident bound to happen.

“Our task as people of faith is to assure the survivors of God’s love and mercy, even as they (and we) struggle with the horror and the doubt.  Healing will come, through the work of a loving and caring community of skilled professionals, thoughtful and insightful clergy, and family and friends, all of whom God can and does work.”