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A couple of years ago I read a book by the Australian Jesuit, Fr Richard Leonard called “Where the Hell is God?” It’s a short book that takes up the age-old question of the goodness of God and the existence of suffering and evil in the world. The thing that stayed with me most of all was a deeper understanding of how God interacts with us and the world he created – particularly the fact that God does not will suffering.
As the news about the massacre in Christchurch unfolded on March 15, I suffered. I spent five of my eight years in the NZ Army living in Christchurch and used to regularly run past the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue in Riccarton. One of the things I struggle to contemplate is the sheer number of people whose lives have been adversely affected by the death of 50 people. “Lord, how could this happen in such a beautiful and peaceful city” I prayed?
These are confusing times for many people who have faith. Only five days before Christchurch, we had the terrible news of the Ethiopian plane crash which killed all 157 passengers – and of course, we remember the anger and/or confusion we felt at the news of Cardinal Pell’s conviction four weeks ago. Where the hell is God in all this violence, loss of life, anger and confusion – and how are we supposed to respond? While there are no clear answers to these questions, Jesus is unequivocally clear in today’s Gospel in how not to respond.
Some people approached Jesus and suggested that some Galileans who suffered at the hands of Pilate were being punished by God as a consequence of their sin. While he says that their sinfulness had nothing to do with it, he challenges them to be vigilant of their own sinfulness – a great Lenten exercise. Jesus then cites contemporary news that may resonate more with us: the tower of Siloam – probably a tower under construction to form part of the defences of Jerusalem – had crumbled and killed 18 people. “Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the people living in Jerusalem?” he asks. Jesus’ message is that suffering happens in the world but it’s never as a result of God’s intervention.
In the Book of Job, Job questions God as to why he’s suffering but he eventually comes to the realisation that he was trying to comprehend something that was far beyond his human capacity. While it may seem anticlimactic, the Book of Job ends with Job’s realisation that there are simply no answers to many of the big questions in life.
Deacon Joshua Whitehead