By LORRAINE V. MURRAY | Published January 17, 2013
For anyone who keeps up with world news, one thing is certain. You will never lack for something to weep about. You’ll read about workers killed in factory fires in Third-World nations, a woman brutalized by a group of men in India and entire families destroyed by suicide bombers.
And shortly before Christmas, there was that horrendous tragedy that shook our nation when 20 children and six teachers were killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The public poured out widespread sorrow and tears, mixed with prayers, sympathy cards and showings of support. For some there was also outrage and the predictable question: Where was God?
This same question came to the forefront a few years ago when another group of innocents was killed. The Amish massacre in Nickel Mines, Pa., in 2006 was also senseless and brutal—and it caused many in the TV news audience to shake their fists at God.
These same people don’t consider giving God a round of applause when each day millions of children worldwide are cherished in countless ways throughout the world. Unfortunately some folks are always looking for another excuse to blame God when tragedies unfold.
But here’s the obvious answer, one that the Amish folks realized very quickly: It wasn’t God who planned and executed the bloodbath.
Suffering comes to all of us, and that includes the rich, the famous and the beautiful. God doesn’t sit up in the sky, however, choosing which dart to throw at us today. There is a very important distinction when it comes to suffering, and it is the difference between what God permits to happen to us, and what he causes.
Say you are crossing the street and a car runs a light and hits you, and you are severely injured and in great pain for months. Did God cause this? Was it his fault? No, it was the driver’s stupidity or recklessness, or both.
Did God permit this to happen? Well, yes, because if he didn’t allow it—or didn’t know about it—then we can’t say he is all-powerful.
But why would he permit it? This question, of course, came up with the Amish people following the horrific loss of young lives in their community. And although they grappled with this question, they didn’t expect a simple answer because they are aware of the mystery inherent in God’s nature.
In this life, as St. Paul told us, we see through a glass darkly. Try as we might, we just don’t get answers to every single “why” question when it comes to God’s motives and plans. Maybe in heaven we will.
The Amish people didn’t point the finger of blame at God when the tragedy rocked their community. Rather, as discussed in a wonderful book “Amish Grace,” they put into practice the prayer that is at the heart of their faith.
It is the Lord’s Prayer, and they take it quite seriously, especially the words, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As hard as it was for the grieving community, they very quickly extended forgiveness to the family of the deceased gunman.
Of course, they struggled with questions, but as one pastor put it, “We will never have all the answers for why it happened.”
At St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, where eight of the slain children attended Mass, Msgr. Robert Weiss suggested that the only way to heal is through the sacraments and God’s grace.
“Where else but the altar could we find some resolution? People bring their wounded and shattered selves here for healing, mending and transcendence,” he said at one of the funerals.
The church has gone through thousands of vigil candles and stays open 24 hours a day for people seeking consolation. Many stop by the statue of the Virgin Mary and leave flowers and candles and messages there.
When the tragedy first happened, someone suggested taking down the Christmas lights at the church, but the monsignor refused.
He said the lights were needed more than ever, then.
And that, of course, is the answer to all the horrors that unfold daily in the news. Instead of giving in to darkness and despair, instead of turning away from God in disappointment and anger, we must keep our eyes on the one who was called the Light of the World. The one who said the words that sum up every horror, every heartbreak and every crime that people commit: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”