When there happens a natural disaster, behold the usual question: “Where
was God?” Some say that God wanted it in order to punish sinners. This
is what the vice-president of the National Research Council (CNR)
upheld, on the occasion of the tsunami in Japan. This idea horrifies me;
and yet – especially when you see children suffering – a doubt lingers
in the background: Why is it that God who loves us so much, allows the
innocent to suffer?
In the background of every evil there is always an event both common and natural: death. We are very much shocked by natural disasters, because those who die are many. But the worse evil is the suffering of the innocent. And a much worse evil would be a God who is the cause of it. Evil – in our way of thinking – is always somebody else’s fault, even God’s. Already Adam put the blame of his tragic mistake on the woman and on whom had created her.
But God is good and almighty by definition. If He were powerless or evil, what kind of God would He be? To escape the dilemma, there are those who interpret evil as just punishment for our sins. Then God would be the supreme executioner who remedies evil with something worse: He kills the wrongdoers! Such a God, if he were there, should be done away with!
“Where was God?” is our question in front of what is evil or wrong. God answers us as He did with Adam: “Where are you, human beings?” Human beings reside where they are loved: their “natural habitat” is God. But Adam, thinking that God was jealous and malign, changed residence: he fled and hid. From then onwards, God started searching for him. And He found him in the point which was farthest from Himself. According to the Gospels, the only time man saw God face to face was in the most improbable place: hanging from the scaffold of the rebellious slave (Luke 23:40ff).
The first evil is the image of an avenging and punishing God, that religions always affirm and atheists always deny. From this false image we are relieved by the cross of the Just One who was killed because of blaspheming and overturning the religious and political power.
The second evil is our way of going through death. For us the limit is not communion with our brethren and God but defense and attack against everything and everybody. Ignoring the fact that we ensued from the love of a God and are meant to go back to Him, we make of our biological life an absolute. The conscience that we are going to lose it makes us sad and aggressive.
Hence the third evil: injustices, wars and the suffering of the innocent. To God’s questioning; “Where is your brother?” Cain answered: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Not to keep one’s brother means to kill him. Wherever we are irresponsible towards our brethren, violence and abuse of power prevail. Evil always unloads on those who do not commit it.
Where then is the God who executes justice in history? God is the hungry, the thirsty, the immigrant, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned because of my lack of justice (in-justice). When in these lesser brethren I will see God crucified by my egoism, then my thoughtlessness will cease and a new heaven and a new earth will start.
Lastly, there is what is evil in nature: earthquakes, tsunamis, etc… What can we say? Better not to say anything! Only suffering is left. And human solidarity for the slow recovery of life. Without forgetting that natural disasters are meant to re-awaken our sense of responsibility. We are not the masters of our own life or other people’s, much less the masters of nature. Nature follows its course. The suffering that may ensue is not God’s punishment but the result of our ignorance or wickedness.
Natural disasters, moreover, reveal our natural limits to ourselves: we are mortal. Whoever forgets this, falls into a kind of lunacy and performs crazy actions. It is up to us to accept and understand the mystery of life and death. Otherwise, the only life’s sense will be death itself.
As a conclusion: the only answer to what is evil is pain which makes us experience it, compassion which knows how to soothe it, intelligence which makes us avoid it, responsibility which knows how to repair it, and conversion which gives us new living criteria. I can face the problem of evil only if I love life and accept “our sister bodily death” (as Saint Francis of Assisi used to call it) as the basic, fundamental questioning to my existence. If I listen to it, I become “human,” capable to answer according to my dignity. The more beautiful the answer, the truer and more efficacious it will be!