Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Sympathy for the Creator: When We Encounter Suffering, Destruction, and Death, God, Too, Suffers. Perhaps It's Time to Comfort as Well by Renewing Our Faith and Love and Working Together with the Creator

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Sympathy for the Creator: When We Encounter Suffering, Destruction, and Death, God, Too, Suffers. Perhaps It's Time to Comfort as Well by Renewing Our Faith and Love and Working Together with the Creator

Article excerpt

It was a summer day. I was 5 or 6 years old, no older. I was running fast down a sidewalk in our neighborhood, heading for home, when I stumbled and fell, my bare knees skidding on the cement. Sitting on the sidewalk, crying and holding my bleeding knees, I remember uttering in bewilderment and anger, "Why did God make me fall? Why did he make me tall?" This is a startlingly clear memory, a signal moment that stands out in my recollection of past experiences. If you and I were in that neighborhood now, I could show you the exact spot where I fell.

What was the concept of God I had at this young age that initiated such a question? Where had that concept come from? Without then knowing the words omniscient or omnipotent or predestination, the message I had received from the religious teachers around me, from hymns and songs and certain Bible stories, from hearing comments made by adults during times of death and tragedy was that God was a hugely powerful, perfect creature, both fearsome and loving, who had created everything in the world, was present everywhere, aware of everything and controlling all past history and future events, and who operated with purposes often mysterious to human beings. I wouldn't have used those words at 5 or 6 years old, but this was the concept I had incorporated into my attempts to understand the way the world operated.

That question, "Why did God make me fall?" has at its heart issues many of us are still struggling with. Where is God in our sufferings and in the sufferings of others? I come back to the issue again and again. Why should pain, suffering, evil, and violent destruction exist in a world created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and perfect God? How is this seeming contradiction to be resolved?

It is important to me to possess a vision of divinity that does not contradict our reason or our understanding of the universe today. While that vision will always require faith and an openness to the spiritual, it will only be weakened if it conflicts with our contemporary understanding of the physical world, an understanding that influences the way we define ourselves and upon which we base many decisions in our daily lives.

All definitions of God in all cultures in the past have been in union with their cosmologies. Our cosmology, our story of the physical universe, tells us that the earth in its long history has passed through many stages--large ice fields advancing from the poles and retreating, ocean levels rising and falling. From the fossil record we can trace the appearance and the extinction of thousands of species.

We know that the continental land masses drift on tectonic plates and that mountains form from pressures on the land when these plates meet. We have geologic evidence of catastrophic events that occurred on earth before the existence of humans, collisions with meteors and asteroids that caused massive explosions resulting in drastic changes in the earth's atmosphere. We can locate the craters left by these collisions.

Not long ago, I stood in Arizona on the high, dusty rim of such a crater, the result of a meteor striking earth 50,000 years ago with the explosive force of 20 million tons of TNT. People standing on the opposite rim of this shockingly deep and gaping depression in the land looked very small. Today we realize that we are immersed in a vast array of cosmic events and that at this moment stars in the heavens are being born and stars are dying. All the physical phenomena we witness are in flux and change.

Where is God in this physical universe of constant changes, changes that often cause suffering and the deaths of humans and Other life on earth? Where is God in the destruction caused by earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions? Where was God in the sufferings of the many, many children who died in the past from diseases like cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis, small pox, malaria, polio, scarlet fever? …

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