Source: The National Herald
This being the week of the “Christmas column,” I was torn between issuing my annual Christmas message and writing about the topic at the forefront of most readers’ minds: the horrific mass pedocide that occurred last week in Connecticut. Keeping in mind that I was midway through a trip to my beloved hometown of Manhattan (I live a considerable distance away these days, in Central Pennsylvania) when the tragedy took place.
I pondered that, while visiting family and friends last Wednesday and Thursday, the victims of the Newtown, CT shooting and their families were probably experiencing a happy time of “quiet enjoyment” of life – one of cornerstones of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that is promised by our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence.
And yet on that fateful Friday morning of December 14, an entire community was torn apart by an incomprehensible twisted, sadistic, and ultimately cruel mass murder. I was fortunate enough from a personal perspective in that none of the casualties were individuals whom I knew. And though that may have spared me from unspeakable grief, I was nonetheless saddened – on a more detached yet nonetheless poignant level – by what took place.
The basis for my column this week, then, is rooted in the comment of a dear member of the large group of friends and family that I visit on my trips to New York – one who has of late become convinced that there is no god – who said to me at a large gathering the following day: “if there was a god, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Although I disagree with that premise, the statement is an intellectually valid, if not logically conclusive, determination. And it is not the first time that folks have turned away from God because of despair, disillusionment, and a sense of betrayal. How many family members have prayed in a hospital chapel for the healing of a loved one, only to succumb to the reality that the loved one in question died? How many people have prayed to God for a sign and, upon determining that they did not receive one, took their own lives by shooting themselves in the head or jumping off a bridge?
When I was a kid, I prayed to God for my favorite baseball, basketball, and football teams to win – completely oblivious to the fact that supporters of my teams’ opponents, just as avid fans of their teams as I was of mine, were praying for the opposite result. I can now see the folly in asking our creator to arrange for a particular ballplayer to hit a home run, sink a jumpshot, or kick a game-winning field goal, but I don’t see what is so foolish about asking for general good health, safety, and happiness. Perhaps in another 30 years, when I am older and hopefully wiser, I might see things differently.
In the meantime, maybe we should all consider that suffering comes part and parcel with life. Who among us – at least those among us who has reached a reasonably advanced age – has not experienced sorrow? Whether starkly gunned down in a classroom or slowly faded away on a hospital bed, loss is loss, and suffering is suffering. If we believe in God, we must accept that the god in which we believe has created a formula of life in which all of us die, and those who love us suffer as a result. Not to mention all the suffering along the way.
Why, then, should we lose our faith in God amid mass murders? Are murders any less atrocious when committed individually and hundreds of miles apart? On average, at least five children are murdered in the United States each day. That amounts to 35 per week – except they are not all in the same location. Does that make the suffering any less painful for their loved ones? In a broader sense, is our faith in God so fragile that it hinges upon our own personal good fortune? Have we become so narcissistic that we base the very meaning of live on our own atomic experience? “The Giants got shut out last week – there must be no god!” But last year…”the Giants won the Super Bowl – aaah! There is a god!”
This column’s space is fast running out, and so there is hardly room enough to describe why, despite life’s daily litany of misfortune, I believe that God exists, He is good, He loves us, and we will all – yes, every single one of us! – wind up in a great place with Him one day.
In the meantime, let’s take a breather from the broad philosophical questions this week and appreciate the simple joys of Christmas: family, good friends, a well-decorated tree, fun surprise gifts, melodic carols, good food, and love.
To those who reflect upon the tragedy in Connecticut and ask: how can there be a god, I say: have you taken a look at the aftermath? Have you seen an entire nation come together to assist in the healing process? Have you not watched people – clearly across the other side of the country, and maybe even the world – burst into tears over this incident?
The answer to “how can there be a god” given this tragedy came to me just as I was driving outside a Greek Orthodox Church, one near my old residence in Northern NJ: instead of focusing on the horrific actions of a single individual and asking how can there be a god, considering the limitless outpouring of compassion, sacrifice, and utter human tenderness, the more appropriate question is, how can there not be?
It is up to each of us, of course, to decide whether that response occurred to me as a result of pure coincidence or Divine intervention.