When the earth quaked in Indonesia on Saturday morning, so did I. I bet you did too. 5,400 are registered as dead, tens of thousands are injured, and many more are homeless. I would love to be there to work and console, but I can't, not this time. Unfortunately, we know there will be a next time — more suffering and tears, and yes, let's not forget, more parallel stories of charity, solidarity, and love.
On Sunday, the pope visited Auschwitz, where human acts of evil dwarf nature's worst. He called himself a son of Germany, a country whose dictators manipulated the masses and extinguished millions of Jews. Benedict accepted responsibility for his compatriots' crimes, then turned his ire toward God:
In a place like this, words fail. In the end, there can only be a dread silence — a silence that is a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?
His humble cry to the heavens reminded me of Job's:
Is it a pleasure for you to oppress, to spurn the work of your hands, and smile on the plan of the wicked? (Job, chapter 10, verse 3)
Heaven's answer came in colors. Journalists gawked and scribbled as a rainbow appeared (see photo above). The Jewish and Christian symbol of hope and reconciliation spoke in brilliant silence. God is not indifferent to our suffering. He accompanies us in our valley of tears, in Noah's flood, the Jewish Holocaust, and in Indonesia, too.
Rainbows help, but alone they aren't enough, I know. God's apparent silence in nature's rage and humanity's sin tests our faith in his omnipotence and love.
Then, we remember who we are — just little people with little brains. Is it not possible God has a bigger, better plan? That's our hope. Part of that plan is eternity. The other is a better world here and now. The first is about faith. The second is about hard work. Looking around, we've got a lot of that to do.
If we dare to point a finger at God, or at the men and women who, in hindsight, may have wavered in the face of evil, we mustn't forget to question ourselves. Myself. Not my government. Myself. There's evil at my doorstep, in my home, in my neighborhood, and around the world.
Where? Everywhere. Here's an e-mail I received from one of you:
I have cried all day long. I am not able to work. I am so angry and mad. For five years, I have lived like a prisoner, barely able to pay my rent. I don't know the reason. I have spent this weekend in bed, trying to figure out what, if anything, God is trying to teach me, or tell me, or wants me to do. I find nothing but emptiness. In fact, I have been contemplating up and leaving. I've wondered if my precious son and daughter would be too disturbed if I am no longer here. — Tracy
I've got a hunch God's passive approach to our pain would be less scandalous if we, his creatures, were to make his loving presence known to others. We can't make rainbows in the heavens, but we can make smiles arch across the faces of those who suffer.
God bless, Father Jonathan
P.S. As a summer schedule, I'm considering reducing my blog entries to Mondays and Thursdays. It will give me a little more time to finish my book on "suffering." What do you think?
Write to Father Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.