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AUTUMN 2005
Vol 39 No 1


Editorial:
God does care!

Charles Hill
JOB AND THE TSUNAMI

Richard Colledge
INNOCENT SUFFERING AND THE CHRISTIAN GOD: SOME PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTIONS

Joseph Grayland
SIXTY YEARS AFTER AUSCHWITZ: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY?

Cardinal Idris Edward Cassidy
CATHOLIC DEVOTION AND THE UNITY OF CHRISTIANS

Paul Babie
THE UKRAINIAN GREEK-CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA AND THE FILIOQUE: A RETURN TO EASTERN CHRISTIAN TRADITION

Elaine Wainwright RSM
IN FEAR AND GREAT JOY: FORTY YEARS OF FEMINIST BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP

Reviews

Kevin Mark
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS



 

Editorial:
God does care!

A NUMBER OF TIMES since the Tsunami I have heard the comment: ‘Life is fragile’. I do not recall ever hearing that particular turn of phrase previously. So many lives lost in a few minutes…graphic records of the disaster in a long succession of print and screen images...the Tsunami was a traumatic experience for the whole human race. The immensity of this single catastrophe has shaken any delusions of permanence on earth and we have been forced to reach for new ways of expressing the old truth that we have here no lasting city. And so we say: ‘Life is fragile’.

In the normal course of our lives the trauma of death is shared by a few at a time. The trauma of the Tsunami, on the contrary, was experienced world-wide. Collectively we had a renewed sense that none of us will live forever on this earth.

A short time after the Tsunami we commemorated the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, reminding us that if nature can be cruel, human beings can be even more cruel. Millions of innocent people were subjected to inhuman suffering and annihilated in gas chambers by their fellow human beings.

But we are very aware that we do not have to reach into the past to unearth extreme cruelty—atrocities are being perpetrated against whole populations even today, and we hear about only some of them.

Massive violence and extreme iniquity are possible at any time. Consequently, we might be tempted to feel that individual human beings are not able to muster much weight to throw against the forces that threaten. Are we not like flotsam bobbing briefly on a great ocean?

Interestingly, King David’s reflections now and again went along those lines. We read in psalm 144:

O Lord, what are human beings that you regard them,
or mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath: their days are like a passing shadow. (NRSV)

But David’s assessment of the insubstantiality of human beings was counter-balanced by his faith in the solid foundations for existence provided by God. In the magnificent psalm 8 he celebrated human beings as creatures of wondrous splendour:

When I look up at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour,
you have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet.


We are with David on this. That is why, in the Christan era, we like his psalms so much. The Son of God came and lived amongst us: that mystery has existential consequences. Against all the appearances to the contrary, each human being is substantial, precious, destined for eternal life.

A sense of our human fragility is good: it encourages us to remember the true grounds for our hope of permanence. And being reminded of the true foundation on which we stand, we recognise anew the dignity and value of every single human person.
Every single Tsunami victim whose life was so haphazardly and meaninglessly extinguished is precious.

Each and every victim of the Nazi death camps—the Jews, Slavs, gypsies, disabled, homosexuals, along with the politicians, religious leaders and private citizens who were sent to the gas chambers for opposing the regime—is precious.

The Nazis tried to dehumanise them, to strip them of their human dignity. As Mons. Celestino Migliore, speaking on behalf of the Holy See at the General Assembly of the United Nations, Monday 24th January, 2005, recalled:

Conditions were so designed as to make human beings lose their essential dignity and divest themselves of every human decency and sentiment.

But even Nazi brutality could not succeed in taking away their dignity as human beings.

Nature can visit terrifying destruction on innocent peoples. Human beings can inflict indescribable cruelty on fellow human beings, but all of them—oppressed and oppressors—remain sons and daughters of our heavenly Father who loves and cherishes them beyond our ability to imagine.

We need to remind ourselves that evil and cruelty are not the whole picture. Nature also provides great bounty and beauty; human beings are capable of admirable goodness, as the world-wide response to the Tsunami has shown. As Mons. Migliore also observed in his address to the United Nations just quoted:

When natural and human calamities strike, as we have seen even in recent weeks, people display the best side of human society, with solidarity and brotherhood, and sometimes at personal cost.

Our faith response to destruction and iniquity is—again to quote Mons. Migliore, the Vatican spokesman—‘to build a safer, saner world for every man, woman and child to live in’.

The building of a better world is what we are all engaged in, wherever and at whatever level we live and work and recreate. We may not feel that our contribution amounts to much, and possibly it is not significant by human standards, but success in our terms is not what it is all about. Mother Teresa is said to have told a journalist on one occasion: ‘God does not ask us to be successful, but he does ask us to try’.

As we prepare to go to print the Easter season is coming. Next Sunday (editor’s time) we will have the gospel story of the resurrection of Lazarus, a story that talks of baptism and of what happens to each of us when we are baptised. It is an image of the journey we are all on after baptism, the journey to the fullness of life, ‘eternal life’, a journey of faith.

Our ‘passing from death to life’ shows in our behaviour: we promote life. By our choices we work for nothing less than ‘a new heaven and a new earth’. When so much of what happens in this world promotes destruction, death and unhappiness, we who have been and are being raised to new life look towards a new world in which God’s power is victorious in Christ.

Our choices for life are choices about the smallest things as well as about big things: I choose to smile rather than frown; to say a kind word rather than a hurtful word; to be patient rather than lose my temper. They are also choices about big things: I choose to be faithful when I am tempted to infidelity; I choose to care when I am tempted to be uncaring; I choose to work for a good cause when I am tempted to live for myself; I choose to be generous when I am tempted to be selfish.

Common to all such choices is the fact that they are choices for life rather than death, for light rather than darkness, for good rather than evil. When we make those choices we show that we are Easter people.
The early articles of this issue of Compass wrestle with the mystery of why bad things happen to good people and why bad people do bad things to innocent people. Perhaps the mystery is not why there is so much evil and iniquity in our world, but why there is so much goodness and beauty.

The mystery of goodness, beauty and truth is a greater mystery than the mystery of evil and human iniquity.

—Barry Brundell MSC, Editor.