Thursday, April 21, 2011

Where was God when this happened?

Good Friday Year A

Over a month ago, the whole world was shocked by the extent of the destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan. The immediate question that rose in many people’s mind was this: “Where was God when this happened?” The second question is related to the first: “If there is a God who hates evil and human suffering, why did God allow this tragedy to happen?”

These are difficult questions. If we try to find quick answers for these questions, we may be lead to two conclusions. Firstly, we may try to give simplistic solutions by putting the blame on someone – whether it be the sinfulness of those who died, or the Devil, or destiny, or even God. The second conclusion may be that we are not able to find any satisfactory answers and so we begin to doubt the existence of God. We are led to despair and self-pity.

But for us Christians, there is a third option. We can choose to believe and recognize that God was present there and continues to be present in all human suffering and pain. When children became orphans, God became orphaned. When mothers and fathers lost their children, it was God who lost his children. When the waves swept away thousands of people, it was God who was swept away too.

Suffering is a reality. We can never pretend that it doesn’t exist. But suffering and death has now taken on a new meaning. God himself became man – Jesus Christ. And Jesus has undergone the worst kind of suffering and pain imaginable. God died on the cross. Why did he have to die? Because of what happened on the first Good Friday, man can no longer accuse God of being distant from us and of not being able to understand our suffering.

Every time we see human suffering, our faith makes us recognize that God suffers along with His people. Every time each of us experiences rejection, loneliness, pain, sickness or suffering, God also experiences that rejection, loneliness, pain, sickness and suffering just like us.

This of course does not make pain and suffering disappear from our midst in the here and now. But knowing that God suffers along with us makes us aware that our suffering and pain are part of a greater suffering and pain experienced by the whole of humanity. It is this pain and suffering, which Jesus takes upon himself on the cross. When we become aware of this, we no longer become witnesses of the devil who continues to blame God, other people and circumstances for whatever befalls us. When we become aware of the power of the cross, we become witnesses of Jesus. We become sensitive to the needs of others. We become more compassionate and understanding of the suffering of others. We become witnesses of the redeeming cross because we too have experienced suffering and pain.

Jesus, while suffering on the cross, did not forget about others. He did not ask others to pity him. But during those last agonizing hours, Jesus reached out in love to the people around him. For his enemies, he asked for forgiveness. For his mother, he found a new home. For his disciples, he made sure that they would continue to support each other as a community and as Church.

Let us then ask God to transform our suffering and pain by the power of the cross. May he take away our anger, self-pity and bitterness, so that we may give ourselves in love and selflessness to others.

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