Thursday, November 3, 2011
The Ultimate Question
Yesterday I drove to the pool under a luminous blue sky, the car windows open to the breeze. Days like that are rare down here, and as glorious as the memories of my Italian summers.
The YMCA was hosting a summer camp, so I sat in the sun watching the unfolding of the games. It was beautiful to see teen-age boys and girls taking care of younger children, unconsciously getting ready for their own future parenthood. And it was beautiful to observe how the children looked different from one another: the pale Irish girl with wavy red hair, the muscular young boy honey-colored from head to toe, the bright-eyed black girl who looked even darker in her white bathing-suit. Maybe it's because I'm Italian, but I was moved by their diversity. In Italy children look pretty much the same: nice tan, chestnut hair, but more blue eyes than American people might think.
As I was delighting in the children's playfulness, the image of a Somalian kid popped into my mind. I had seen him on CNN the night before, his limbs skeleton-like, his face covered with flies. I didn't have the courage to keep watching.
…"Give as our daily bread"…God, why aren't You listening?
On one of the blogs I follow, "Being! Or Nothingness", appeared with much delay a post by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, who is very active in Communion and Liberation. The article was previously posted on "America - The National Catholic Weekly" after the earthquake in Haiti, and had generated a lot of comments, some angry at a silent God, others accepting suffering as imposed by His mysterious hand. Those capable of acceptance argue that God has reasons for permitting suffering, and that if we are tempted to doubt the value of suffering patiently, according to His will, we only have to look at the Cross. There is a lot of truth in this statement, but I disagree with the premises.
The theologian Bonhoeffer wrote:
"God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, He is with us and helps us".
I'm comfortable with the idea that God is omnipotent only in that He is omnipresent. Nobody can figure out God, yet it's only natural to try. I believe that when God created the universe He put in motion a sort of chain reaction that we call evolution, and chaos, or evil if you want, is still present in it. He can't step in here and there to fix it. It's in our hands; we have to make it work. In fact, we have evolved to the point that we can do a better job at anticipating natural disasters and building safer structures.
Albacete point of view is very subtle. He writes:
"I do not want an explanation for why this God allows these tragedies to happen. An explanation would reduce the pain and suffering to an inability to understand, a failure of intelligence so to speak. I can only accept a God who 'co-suffers' with me. Such is the God of the Christian faith. But faith or no faith, Christian or not, our humanity demands that the question 'why' not be suppressed, but that it allowed to guide our response to everything that happens."
Albacete doesn't want an explanation because he knows that we can't unravel the Mystery. Yet he insists on the importance of the question. Perhaps that implies that we ask "why" to ourselves and not to God: Why didn't we do something to prevent a tragedy of such magnitude? Why did we wait to evacuate the area? Why aren't we taking action to alleviate our neighbors suffering?
The Christian aim is the perfect world, heaven on earth. The prophet Isaiah predicted the coming of a new Garden of Eden, where all the wars, diseases and misery would disappear. Christianity, as opposite to eastern religions, doesn't wait for the end of this illusion that is our world, but only for the end of its imperfections.
Jesus never said that he would wipe away the sorrow from humanity. He told us to love our neighbor, because he would be hidden inside of him. He told us to take care of the poor and the outcasts:
"Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me."
Jesus asked "why" on the cross:
"My God, why have You forsaken me?"
Reading Psalm 22 we realize that his "why" was not intended as a question, but rather as a cry for help. The mocked Jesus, who had not been rescued by his Father, who had been surrounded by evildoers and tortured, whose life was draining away, whose heart was melting, that same Jesus was still praising God, seeking Him, trusting Him. As always, Jesus' response is the only possible one.
at 4:19 PM