Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What I Have Seen and Heard (November 12, 2009)

By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published November 12, 2009  | En Español

One of the colossal questions regarding faith that somehow manages to touch, in some form or fashion, all of the world’s religions is the issue of evil and suffering. It remains the obstacle that keeps some people from joining a religious family. They simply cannot understand how an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God can allow the horrible things that occur so regularly to touch our world. How could such a God tolerate hurricanes and tsunamis, devastating diseases and death, horrific violence and hatred to bring so much sorrow to so many people in our world? We know that evil is a reality, and yet we are all stymied to understand or explain why God permits such events to happen—especially to innocent people.

Last week, the issue of evil and suffering wrote a new chapter in the horrors of the massacre of many fine young people at Fort Hood. November is a time when we often think about and give thanks for those who have served us in the military and whose generosity and selflessness have protected our freedom as a nation. Yet some of these fine men and women were killed or injured at a place that most of them would have considered a very safe haven. They were young men and women who were serving in the military as an act of patriotic love for our country, and they became the victims of random violence. It baffles and disturbs the soul of our nation.

Some people might try to explain it as the result of religious fanaticism, or the consequence of too lax regulation of lethal weapons, or the corollary of the exultation of excessive violence in the movie and entertainment industries, or maybe simply the effect of the stress of a long military conflict. No doubt people will turn to these reasons and to many others to try to understand the horror that too many families now have to embrace.

We have witnessed during this past generation so many acts of terror and hatred: 9/11, Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, and dozens of others that give us all pause to ask the question: Why does God allow such tragedies to occur?

Such suffering and pain have caused people of faith to ask the same question from the beginning of human history. The Bible itself grapples with this issue from the Book of Job to the Passion of Christ Himself. Jesus repeatedly warned His first disciples (and us as well) that we would have to follow Him in carrying our own crosses.

Yet the randomness of violence and its frequency continue to puzzle the hearts of us all. After all of the industries that will probably be blamed as somehow complicit in a portion of this particular tragedy, after those voices that will denounce Islam as somehow the source of this act of terror have been quieted, we will return to our lives—a bit more nervous and shaken. God has created us to be free—He gave us all free will—like His own perfect freedom. We can use that gift of freedom to love Him and other people as it was so designed. Or we can use it to inflict great harm and injury on our fellow human beings and thus offend and dishonor the very Author of human freedom.

We are invited to use our freedom for the preservation and the enhancement of human life and not for its destruction. Great acts of violence grab our attention like the horror that erupted in Fort Hood, Texas, last week. But our nation unfortunately has learned to endure lesser-known acts of violence (and to defend them) as individual rights. So the killing of an infant in the womb, the destruction of embryonic human life for experimentation, the self-inflicted taking of the life of a critically ill person are not viewed as acts of horrible violence or even as morally wrong. But we are stunned by the terror of a violent individual. Could it be that we all need to realize that violence and killing—no matter where it occurs—is contrary to God’s law and His desire for the human beings that He has created?