Fr. Charles Irvin
Nehemiah 8:2-10; I Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4,4:14-21
Television and Internet visions of the catastrophe that has fallen upon the Haitian people have captured our minds ever since the day of the earthquake. It all seems so reminiscent of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that in the year 79A.D. wiped out Pompeii and its entire population. Coupled with this catastrophe we also bear memories of the tsunami that on December 26, 2004 engulfed populations of countries from Indonesia to India, Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the area in and around New Orleans, the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, and other such disasters.
Globalization is something that is encroaching on our private lives, a modern phenomenon the likes of which the world has never seen before. Globalization is a reality that is not confined simply to world economic realities, it is a phenomenon that affects our awareness of others and our interconnection with others throughout the world. We now live in 24-hour television news cycles as well as the omnipresent Internet with its continual news images. We are brought into close contact with human suffering as never before, global human suffering.
During the past few days I have been wrestling with questions about God’s will. What can we say about God’s will in all of this? Why does God allow all of these disasters and catastrophes to happen?
My own struggle in answering this question causes me to stand back at look at “The Big Picture,” and hold to a broad view that is as complex as it is comprehensive. I cannot, of course, answer for God or defend His decisions… that would be absurd. But going back to beginnings helps me; two beginnings that help me shed light on the puzzling questions that arise when human disasters fall upon us.
The first beginning is that found in the Book of Genesis. There we find these first words of the Book of Genesis:
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” Thus evening came, and morning followed–the first day. [Genesis 1:1-5]
At the end of the first chapter, on the sixth day of the creation account, we find the these thoughts:
Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.” God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed–the sixth day.
For me, the important words are: “…fill the earth and subdue it.” Here we find ourselves, made in God’s image and likeness, joined into His task of bringing light out of darkness and order out of chaos. That, as people of faith, is our task, a task that joins us into God’s task. It is the will of God that with Him we bring order out of chaos.
So we must ask ourselves: “Have we devoted our energies and our resources to subduing the earth and bringing order out of chaos?” The unfortunate and tragic answer, of course, is that we have not. Rather than joining with God in making our world what it could be we have instead been warring with each other, building up our own self-interests at the expense of others, trampling on the rights of others in order to assert out own self-individualism, grasping, greedily acquiring, and promoting our selves rather than developing the world around us, gaining control over the elements, and ensuring our safety in the face of hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. The borders of chaos need to be pushed back, a task to which we should be devoting ourselves with God’s help.
If blame is the name of the game, then we need to take a look at ourselves rather than God when it comes to filling the earth and subduing it. Have we not been about the task of emptying the earth rather than filling it? Have we not been about the task of being more concerned with self-interests than the task of subduing the moral and physical evils that best us? While it is true that we cannot control nature we can build up our protections from nature’s storms, earthquakes, and other forces.
Simply stated, God created us to work with Him in bringing light out of darkness, order out of chaos, meaning out of absurdity, and enhancing life in the face of all that would bring us death and destruction. That is God’s will.
I turn now to the second “beginning” that helps me with answering the question about God’s will in the midst of our sufferings. That second beginning is found in the beginning of Christ’s ministry among us.
Jesus gave an inaugural address shortly after He returned from spending forty days and forty nights in the desert preparing for His public ministry. He returned to His own hometown of Nazareth to begin His public ministry. In his Gospel, St. Luke reports:
“He came to Nazareth where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.’
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at hin1. He said to them, ‘Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.'” [Luke 4:16-21]
Can we make Christ’s vision come true? It seems to me that the answer is “yes” and that it is God’s will that we do so. To the extent that it isn’t yet true, we can and should make it come true. As a matter of fact we must make it come true. A huge part of our human misery is found in human rejection of that vision, that God-given task He has given to us.
We can make it come true if we put aside our human differences, accept our commonly shared humanity, and live as members of one human body. We, you and I, by the way we live our lives and relate to others, ought to be able to say: “Today this Scripture passage is being fulfilled in your hearing.”
As I watch television news and view the news images found on the Internet my heart is filled with hope as I rejoice in seeing those words of Jesus being fulfilled. May you and I bring them to realization in our own lives as well. Wherever we find suffering, pain, and loss there we find the crucified Christ calling out to us in His redemptive suffering.