Coping with Tragedy
WHEN BAD things happen to good people, we can't help but ask "Why?" How can a God who is all‑knowing, all‑loving, and all‑powerful allow such things to happen ‑ whether it be the killing of one innocent child, a mother with young children, the deaths of a whole plane‑load of passengers, or the extermination of six‑million Jews?
The rational answers is, of course, that although we humans live on a planet that is teeming with living beings, it is still within a universe that is, on a whole, not particularly friendly to life.
Astronomers are, even now at the rate of several per month, discovering hitherto unknown planets orbiting almost every near‑by star they examine with their huge new telescopes. But so far they have not discovered even one that seems to have even the barest requisites for an environment hospitable to life. The vast majority of them are either barren chunks of rock or vaporous conglomerations of gas.
And as for our neighbors in the solar system, if they once harbored life of any sort it either, as in the case of Venus, died long ago under a lethal brew of greenhouse gases or, in the case of Mars, was frozen into immobility. So too, paleontologists record at least five major extinctions of life on earth, the last of which, some sixty‑five million years ago, wiped out the dinosaurs. Previous mass extinctions wiped out even a higher percentage of species. And cosmologists can almost guarantee that there will be a day when we, the whole human race, will be the next to go. So it seems that if, as some theologians insist we are the product of "intelligent design" it would be best not to inquire too deeply into the motivations of the designer.
At best, if this designer was aiming at the emergence of creatures such as ourselves, having free will and the ability to know and love, the price that seems to have to have been paid is for us to have to live in a universe that is dominated by uncertainty, accidents, and chance.
IN THE FACE of all of this, the Christian answer to this problem is, at least to some extent, unique. It involves a concept of God inherited from Judaism, that is quite unlike the concept of God that has otherwise so dominated human thought down through the ages ‑ that of an aloof, transcendent "supreme being" who is unaffected by human joys or struggles but instead sends blessings or inflicts us with sorrows according to his own pleasures or whims.
Instead, the biblical view of God is of a God who not only deeply cares, but, even more, in the Christian version of this same God, cares enough to identify with us to the point of becoming one of us in the person of his Son, Jesus, himself a victim of a tragic miscarriage of justice.
So complete is this union in Christ
between God and our suffering humanity, the second‑century bishop, St.
WHETHER SUCH a view is, in the end, a satisfactory answer to why bad things happen to good people, remains, of course, largely a test of faith. For those who would like to think of God as a kind of celestial Santa Claus, of course, such an answer is deeply disturbing, even scandalous.
But for those who, like the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, describe God as "our fellow sufferer", such faith is not impossible. Indeed in the face of tragedy, it is the only thing we've got.
R.W. Kropf Aug. 15, 2001 Tragedy.doc 01-08-15.html