This year’s hurricanes have wrought physical destruction and human misery on a grand scale. Whether we speak about a small island such as Barbuda or Texas and Florida, our nation’s second and third most populous states, the storms and their aftermath have created inconvenience for almost everyone and a world of pain for too many. Most of us exhaled a sigh of relief: it could have been so much worse. But, we can easily empathize with those who experienced the “worse”. So, we reach out in solidarity to those in need of our help. We thank God that we survived and we pray for those who did not and for those who mourn them.
When faced with our misfortunes or those of others, we can be tempted to ask ourselves: what did we do or what did these people do to deserve this? Once in His ministry Jesus spoke of the Galileans whom Pilate had executed. And He spoke of those killed when the tower of Siloam collapsed. (Luke 13: 1-9) Jesus warns us not to see these events as somehow the wrath of an angry God. Evil came into the world not by God’s willing it; but through the devil and human sin. Jesus says in the Gospel: Don’t think that those Galileans were the biggest sinners around. Don’t think that those who died in the tower were guiltier than anyone else.
The tragedies that Jesus spoke about – whether man made or acts of nature – are as contemporary as our morning newspaper. Each day, we read about victims of war or poverty. Each day, we can see on our T.V. screens those displaced by natural disasters – which during Irma included about a third of us living here in the Sunshine State.
Today – and, indeed, from the beginning of our exile from Eden, – we experience this world as a “valley of tears.” We live in a fallen and thus imperfect world. And oftentimes the forces of nature – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters – can suggest that our planet itself is “in rebellion” against the original order of a loving Creator God. And that rebellion seen in nature – from the perspective of faith – can be said to mirror the rebellion of the human heart.
Of course, many times, we do suffer because of our bad choices. The scriptures do say: the wages of sin is death. And, in one way, as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve who lost for themselves and for us the original blessings of Paradise, we experience this rebellion of nature because of their bad choice – their original sin of turning away from God which made all of creation “subject to futility” (Romans 8:20).
But as followers of Jesus we cannot rush to blame victims for the evil visited upon them – nor can we blame God, whom Scripture reveals as all loving and all merciful. That doesn’t mean we will come to an easy understanding of why bad things happen to good people – most times we will have to wait with the patience of a Job to learn the answers to those questions – which God will tell us surely; but not necessarily on this side of heaven.
Jesus however does give us an insight on how God deals with the tragedies that afflict us. God does not remain remote from or indifferent to the plight of his fallen creation. In Christ, the Word became Flesh. God became man. Rather than distancing Himself from people and their tragedies, He draws close to them. From the Cross, He stands in solidarity with all the pain experienced by us in our fallen human condition. Despair, destruction, death will not have the last word: rather the transformative power of his resurrection will define the human project anchored in hope.
One of the most compelling scenes of the Gospel is that of Jesus being awaken in the boat by his frightened apostles in the midst of a storm (Matthew 8: 23-27). Jesus calms the storm by rebuking the rain and the wind; but, He also rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith.
Two months remain of this year’s hurricane season. For these two months and certainly for years to come, we will be understandably more anxious every time a new tropical depression forms off the West African coast. Like the apostles, in our fear we cry out: “Save us, Lord.”
Yes, we rightly pray that God may spare us from nature’s fury. But, in the face of trial and tribulation, we also ask God to strengthen our faith by calming the storms of anxiety and fear that rage within our hearts. We know that God can bring good out of evil. Indeed, the many acts of solidarity – of neighbor helping neighbor – are eloquent witness to what God’s Providence inspires in the hearts of men and women of good will. Strengthened in faith, we will not be overcome by any adversity but will overcome evil – whether physical or moral – with good.