A few weeks ago, after a Sunday Mass in north Jersey, a woman stopped on her way out of church to tell me about a terrible tragedy that had just occurred in her family. It was unquestionably a heart wrenching ordeal that she and her family were experiencing. I listened attentively while she poured out her story with remarkable discipline and control. She appeared not to be asking anything of me except to listen and to pray for them all. And then – I don’t know whether to say it was to my surprise or not (I can give reasons for both) — she summed up her story by saying, “Well, we know that God does not ever give a cross too heavy for us to carry and that we must simply accept this as God’s will for us.”
I tried, as I have tried over & over again with so many good people, to lead her into thinking the matter out differently and not any longer making things worse for herself and her family by assigning to God blame for the tragedy.
There are so many of us Christians who believe that the troubles that have befallen them were arranged and decreed by God. Most of these good people don’t seem to have the slightest idea why they have been so punished. They either make the sad statement that, if only they did know what sins they had committed to deserve the penalty, they would never commit them again or, in contrast, confess that it must be for a particular sin they knew they had committed.
That same kind of thinking makes its appearance on the world scene as well. Fourteen years ago, for example, Christian ministers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson told us that the tragedy of 9/11 was an act of God in punishment for the sins of us Americans – in particular, for what they called the sin of homosexuality. Unfortunately, as our first reading today clearly shows, we are still stuck with a long and strong tradition that would have us believe that the Creator is in charge of what happens in this world, when actually there is so much more reason to reject such thinking.
There are reasons why many of us are so quick to assign to God responsibility for our troubles: to begin with, we get comfort from assuming that there is a rational cause for the terrible things that happen to us, and that the cause is God. That belief enables people of faith to shrug their shoulders, grit their teeth and say that God must have caused or allowed the tragedy for a reason that they cannot comprehend. Something deep inside them tells them that they could not survive in a world of pure chance; someone’s got to be in charge, there must be some sort of intelligent design, otherwise this is an absurd world, and we are all its hapless victims.
But that’s a dead end street; it is simply false. If we could get rid of those old notions about the supposed “will of God” in our lives, we would free our minds to understand that our strength and consolation come from the presence of the Divine Spirit, the Creator, within us in both good times and bad. We must tell ourselves over and over again that that is more than enough and that we need nothing other than our own personal resources, the support of those who love us, and the unfailing, inexhaustible presence of the one and only God Creator, who lives within us and within every particle of this vast universe.
The truth is that life is full of accidents and human violence and disease in addition to the irrational, often deadly, forces of nature, enough to produce a climate in which all living things, including us human beings, are only too likely to get hurt — not just occasionally, but often.
And so we go on, people of faith, expecting rain & storms as well as sun & cool breezes, all the while knowing that the Creative Spirit is with us every step of the way.