Vol 39 No 1
God does care!
JOB AND THE TSUNAMI
INNOCENT SUFFERING AND THE CHRISTIAN GOD: SOME PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTIONS
SIXTY YEARS AFTER AUSCHWITZ: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY?
Idris Edward Cassidy
CATHOLIC DEVOTION AND THE UNITY OF CHRISTIANS
THE UKRAINIAN GREEK-CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA AND THE FILIOQUE: A RETURN
TO EASTERN CHRISTIAN TRADITION
IN FEAR AND GREAT JOY: FORTY YEARS OF FEMINIST BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
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
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 crueltyatrocities 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 Davids 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 Davids 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 campsthe Jews, Slavs, gypsies,
disabled, homosexuals, along with the politicians, religious leaders and
private citizens who were sent to the gas chambers for opposing the regimeis
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 themoppressed
and oppressorsremain 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
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 isagain to quote
Mons. Migliore, the Vatican spokesmanto 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
(editors 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 Gods
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.