God, My God, look upon Me, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
events of the past month—the earthquakes and the terrible loss of life in
Haiti—have caused many people to ask why God would permit such a thing.
I am sure that Irene, and Arturo’s other relatives, have asked themselves
this question, particularly those who were there on the spot in the midst of
the devastation. Their loss had to be heightened by the terrible events
going on around them. The question of evil in the midst of God’s good
creation has been with us since before the time of Christ.
Augustine dealt with it in his autobiography, The Confessions, for he
had struggled with the wrong answer to the question during the early
years before he became a Catholic. The wrong answer, Augustine tells us,
is the heresy known as “dualism,” or “Manicheaism”, which suggests
that there are two equally powerful “gods” in the universe—a good
“god” associated with spiritual things, and a bad “god” associated
with material things. In this false philosophy, evil is simply the
struggle between these two. But Augustine was smart enough (with the
help of Saint Ambrose of Milan) to recognize that the good “god” could not
really be God if he were merely equal in power to the bad “god.” The
true God cannot be lacking in any way—the true God is the one necessary,
fully existent, and infinite being in the Universe—if He were lacking in any
way—if His being were less than infinite, there would be the possibility of
Him changing, of being less, and even of not being at all. Were that the
case, there would be no rational explanation of the universe itself. In
modern terms we would probably say, correctly, that a positive “god” and a
negative “god” would just “cancel each other out”—again leaving us
and others like him, came to understand that any and every being other than
God exists imperfectly—some, closer to God, exist with a high degree of
perfection—others, farther and farther from God, exist with less and less
perfection. When we speak of evil, we are not speaking of a positive
thing, but rather a negative thing. Evil is the partial lack of being.
There are degrees of evil, corresponding to how far away a thing is from the
perfection of God. We don’t speak of “evil” in the angels, but
they are indeed less perfect than God. Mankind is less perfect still,
and we tend to think of men and women as being a mixture of good and evil.
The devil would seem to be at the most evil end of the spectrum, but even the
devil can claim a certain good in that he exists at all, and was not simply
annihilated when he rebelled against God.
usually distinguish between “moral evil” and “natural evil.”
Moral evil exists because God’s intelligent creatures have free will.
God made us that way because our good actions would have no merit if we
performed them mechanically, out of compulsion rather than out of free choice.
If a person we love does something kind for us, we feel the emotion of
gratitude—if a machine does the same thing for us, we have no emotion, no
feeling of gratitude. We appreciate the child or the spouse who does
our laundry, but we have no particular gratitude toward the washing machine!
Likewise, God appreciates the good that we freely do in this life—it is our
way of glorifying Him in this life so that we may share His glory in the next.
Yet, the ability to choose freely can also be used to do what insults God,
what detracts from the glory we give Him, and what jeopardizes our chances of sharing
His glory in eternity.
even this moral evil is not an absolute thing. Moral evils occur because
we are less than perfect. The man who chooses to sin does so because he
is mistaken in his choice. In his moral confusion, he perceives the
wrong things to be good for him. He is attracted to the ways of the
world, rather than to the ways of God. But his pursuit of “wine,
women, and song” follows from thinking that these things are better for him
than the alternatives which he may know or not know. No sane person
intentionally pursues what he knows to be bad for him.
may have been elements of moral evil at work in the catastrophe of Port au
Prince. Certainly, those poor people would have been better prepared to
deal with the aftermath of the quake had not decade after decade of political
corruption and instability driven them deeply into poverty. Greater
material resources would have made recovery easier, and might even have kept
some of the damage from happening.
what strikes most people in such a large scale disaster is the magnitude of
the “natural evil,“ the sheer number of those hurt and killed.
Arturo’s family will miss him—his absence will create a sort “hole” in
family life, that will never be quite filled, even with the passage of time.
But this particular catastrophe is not like one or two people being lost in an
avalanche or a storm at sea—the numbers lost at Port au Prince are
staggering, and will not be fully known for weeks, or even months.
the question again raises its head: “Why would God allow such a
people ask this question because they don’t want to believe in God and want
company in their disbelief. The obvious retort to the question asked in
this manner is to demand to know why God has made so much good in the world.
If we hold Him responsible for the few bad things that happen now and again,
then we should hold Him in high honor for all of the good things, most of
which we take for granted. Every breath we take, every heartbeat, every
beautiful flower, every sunrise is something for which we should honor and
praise our Lord, but many people just consider such things to be their due.
as Christians, we know that God is capable of miracles. Why would the
God who parted the Red Sea, who cast out devils and cleansed the lepers, who
changed water into wine, not do something to calm the tremors of Port au
Prince? Surely, the God who could calm the wind and the sea could also
calm the rocks of the earth—why did He not?
may help to realize that a miracle is the suspension of the physical laws
which God built into the universe. We know that God has been known to
intervene, and suspend those natural physical laws—but we also know that he
does so rarely—almost always as a means of making sure that His people are
able to identify Him as God. The miracles of the New Testament made
people realize that Jesus was God the Son of God. The miracles of Jesus
lasted a little while in the early Church so that people could recognize it as
the Church of God—but then they became very few and far between.
by definition, miracles have to be rare, indeed, very rare. If God were
to monitor the behavior of everyone on earth, intervening miraculously every
time someone wanted or needed something, there would be chaos. It takes
little imagination to recognize that the wants and needs of a billion people
or so must always overlap and be in some degree of conflict. If God were
to continuously adjust the behavior of nature, no one would know what to
expect next. Most of the things that are good in this world are good
because they are reliable and predicable. We trust God to allow night to
follow day, to allow the sunshine to follow the rain. We trust God not
to tamper with the laws of nature, for we are dependant on their reliability.
Imagine the chaos if God began to tamper with even a few of those laws.
Imagine if things began to fall up instead of down! Imagine if fire
failed to boil the water but made ice instead! Imagine if all the
mechanical gadgets upon which we depend—gadgets that are designed according
to the laws of nature—if all those gadgets acted unpredictably. On
some level, we trust God NOT to interfere. Our prayers ought not to be
so much for miracles on His part, but for good moral choices on our part.
as Christians, we have an insight into a corollary question to “Why did God
let that happen?” The corollary question, of course, is “Why is
there suffering in the world.”
the book of Genesis we note that Adam and Eve were created in a more
comfortable world than ours. They did not earn their bread
through the sweat of their brows; they did not bring forth their
children in anguish and pain, at least not to begin with. But then sin
entered the world, and everything was changed. With the advent of sin
there came suffering and death. As we have done no better than Adam and
Eve, it is pointless for us to complain about inheriting these very same
the Scriptures suggest that suffering is more than just a penalty. It is
as much a remedy for sin as it is a penalty. In the Old Testament we
have the example of Job, who had no idea why he was visited with terrible
afflictions—but he did know that his “Redeemer lives, and that on the last
day he would rise out of the earth.”
In the New Testament we encounter God Himself—not in the palace of a king or
an emperor, but born to humble people who lived in crude surroundings.
“The Son of Man had not a place to lay His head.”
The Christ, the Anointed One, came into the world to suffer for the redemption
of the children of Adam and Eve. And suffer He did—the ignominious
death of a criminal on a cross. He laid down His life for us so that we
might have eternal life.
the cynic might say that three hours on the Cross was not all that much
considering the number of the redeemed. Others would differ. The
philosopher-mathematician, Blaise Pascal, argued that, in light of mankind’s
proclivity for sin, “Our Lord Jesus Christ will be in agony until the end of
suggest that man himself has a part in this ongoing work of redemption.
And this helps to put the awful fate of Arturo and his countrymen into perspective.
Msgr. Ronald Knox wrote that: “suffering, no less than action, is
meritorious; that he who accepts suffering form the hand of God, no less than
he who takes it upon himself, is helping, voluntarily, to make reparation for
human sin, is filling up in his own flesh ‘that which is lacking in the
sufferings of Christ.’”
Fulton J. Sheen, perhaps the greatest preacher this nation will
ever know, went so far as to suggest that the sufferings of the people of the
“third world” constituted their “baptism of blood,” even among those
who did not know Christ—that the humble acceptance of their difficulties was
the way to their salvation.
of course, was a Catholic, and Haiti is a Catholic Country, where people are
baptized in the normal manner—but it would not be stretching Bishop
Sheen’s metaphor to suggest that their suffering is penance for their own
sins and for the sins of others. There is great consolation for
Arturo’s family, and for all of us in that. We have good reason to
hope that God accepted Arturo’s sufferings for any of the sins that he
might have committed in this life—and likewise the thousands who died with
him when the earth quaked—and that God accepted their lives in solidarity
with His Only-begotten Son for the sins of the world. “Filling up in
their own flesh that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”
“As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so also by Christ does our
God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Many people, hearing those
words, mistakenly believe that our Lord was abandoned by His heavenly Father
as He suffered on the Cross. In actuality, He was reciting one of the
Psalms, the religious poetry of the Jewish people (Psalm twenty-one).
The Psalm starts out as the words of a man who appears to be totally
abandoned, but near the very end we are assured that God does no such thing:
“Neither hath He turned His face from me: when I cried to Him He heard
me…. To Him my soul shall live.”
know, as the biblical Job knew, that our “Redeemer lives, and on the last
day we shall rise out of the earth … and in our flesh … our eyes will
behold … and we shall see our God.”
God has not abandoned Arturo, nor has He abandoned Arturo’s countrymen.
On the last day they too shall rise and see our God. And they will
present God with the sufferings that will help to fill up “that which is
lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”
still, it remains for us to reflect on those words we read from the Old
Testament in some of the Masses for the dead: “It is therefore a holy
and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from
While sins and the punishment due to sin may be forgiven during this life, our
Lord speaks of sins forgiven “in the world to come.”
pray for the dead that God will swiftly cleanse them of those small sins and
imperfections that might keep them temporarily from enjoying the glory of
heaven. That, by His mercy, He might quickly forgive the punishment that
is due to their sins in Justice.
we also pray for the dead, that we might receive something for ourselves;
that by reflecting on the realities of life and death, of heaven and hell, we
might be more motivated to keep His Commandments and receive His Sacraments in
order to ensure our own eternal salvation. These are things not
just to talk about, for they are realities; we might even say the only
realities, for nothing else matters if we lose our souls.
we pray for the dead, so that they will pray for us. The souls in
Purgatory need our prayers, for which they are eternally grateful.
Remember that they are God's saints, soon to share the glory of heaven with
Him; powerful intercessors on our behalf. Let us not forget those
who have gone before us, lest they forget to pray for us.
Reverend Father Charles T. Brusca
Our Lady of the Rosary Old Roman Catholic Church
North Federal Highway, Deerfield Beach, FL