Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Devil and Disaster

Death and destruction in Haiti. An archbishop crushed to death, a cathedral in ruins, wounded and shell-shocked people with nowhere to go.

Is this the work of the devil?

We've heard similar pronouncements before. Hurricane Katrina, for example, was a divine chastisement for the sins of New Orleans.
With so much suffering unfolding in Haiti, so many of our neighbors worrying and wondering about their relatives there, it comes second nature to assign disaster to the devil. No believer really wants to blame God for it, after all. We only want to attribute nice things to God. And power. Lots of power. Because then we can feel safe and secure in this world. (“God is on our side!”)
It's an old temptation. Today's first reading at Mass related a disastrous defeat the ancient Israelites suffered in battle. Not exactly a theological problem. Except that team Israel had attempted to secure victory against the Philistines by bringing the Ark of the Covenant to the battlefield, thinking to use God's power as a shield. God's self-esteem, they figured, would prevent the Ark from being profaned.
They figured wrong. God took the defeat very well.
That's the strange thing about God as revealed in the Bible. This God, for all the thunder and lightning and signs and wonders, is most fully present in tiny whisperings, like the faint breath that the prophet Elijah heard in the cave when God came close.
We should know this, too, having just passed the Christmas season! There we found God, not in a gold-covered Ark, but in a stable outside of a town known only for being insignificant. Later, when he said that the poor and the meek and those in sorrow were blessed, he meant it. He himself was poor and meek and sorrowing.
Maybe our image of God isn't vast enough to encompass a God who can not only bring good out of evil, but chooses to identify (in “distressing disguise,” Mother Teresa said) with those who suffer.
Which God do we believe in? A God so weak that all suffering is the sure sign of the devil's hand, or a God who is weak with his weakest children?

This post is also featured in the Chicago Tribune's blog, "The Seeker." Please add your reflections in the comments there.

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