A powerful, class five tornado this week in Oklahoma City, deep in the heart of the windy alley. Many deaths, many homes shredded, much news coverage of the human misery before the blood stopped flowing and the tears dried on saddened cheeks. The vectored forces bearing down on this part of the country seem to become more intense with each new season, while the seasons themselves overstay their allotted visit. The blogs, the interviews with victims and witnesses, all through the air I hear people asking “Where is God in all of this?” I don’t have that answer. The powers that rule from above or from within seem to be aloof of our common problem with suffering. Our major religious traditions, east and west, don’t give us understanding, but do their best to help us cope.
The poets, philosophers, thinkers–those I’ve read–have nothing much new to contribute to this ancient question that plagued Old Testament Job. The New Testament account of the Tower of Siloam tipping over and killing eighteen people is followed up with a little talk from Jesus, who says in a nutshell that accidents will happen and to worry about the fate of your own spiritual journey rather than that of the victims. To me, it sounds like he’s saying, “Look, I don’t know what’s going on any more than you do”.
I find myself guilty of being unsympathetic and smug when I think to myself that people know they live in a dangerous spot in the world and haven’t moved away from it to protect their lives. I’m just as blind and obtuse as they are, thinking a wall of safety has been placed around me. Here I live right on top of the San Andreas fault, seventy-five miles south of San Francisco, and believe I’m safe from catastrophe. How blind can I be?
My consciousness has a threshold or tolerance for pain and suffering that allows me to get through the minor injuries in life. I can pray, develop a stoicism, take a pill, and in many cases alleviate suffering if it’s not too great. If I scrape my knee or burn my skin, I can easily find something to spray on it, and somehow manage to tolerate the hurt. If my kids, house, or horses were tossed for miles through the sky, the agony would be too great, and I would find no palliative for relief.
After the shock of a catastrophic event has occurred, people look for an understanding. The hope is that the acquired understanding will help them avoid further pain and anguish. Then comes the realization that there is nothing to understand, and the conundrum people have been asking since the beginning arises in each of us once again. We look for new and more specific ways to ask the same old question, thinking somehow we can wrangle a new answer.