“Why, God?” is the title of Maureen Dowd’s New York Times opinion column on December 26, 2012. It caught my attention. I don’t usually comment on op-ed pieces in the newspaper. This one touches on a subject I like to reflect on, theology.
Ms. Dowd asked a friend of hers, Father Kevin O’Neil, to write an essay explaining if and how it is possible to believe in God when so much tragedy engulfs us, thinking of Newtown, CT in particular as well as the memories of so many other losses.
I’m often asked the same question, which is why this column resonates with me. I do not understand why we pin tragedies on God, but then again my own view is that things don’t happen to us because of some external controlling force or fate.
No person’s evil act or any natural disaster is God’s will. Neither are our achievements. Rather, God is present through us, through our responses to life’s pains and joys.
Father O’Neil’s answer reminded me of my own view. His expresses Christian faith, mine Judaism. “God has chosen to enter the world today through others, through us,” he believes, explaining how the bereaved may find a measure of comfort.
I agree. I don’t understand God to be like a genie granting our personal wishes. Instead, through our plans, and as a result of our reactions every day, we make progress, we find solace, we respond.
My faith trusts that because God is intrinsic to our being, within our lives and within our world, and not external to them, God grants our world and each one of us the resources, talents, and strengths to succeed.
Father O’Neil also explained, “How we are with one another in that suffering and dying makes all the difference as to whether God’s presence is felt or not and whether we are comforted or not.” I’ve also said this before, just not on the op-ed page of the New York Times!
In the Talmud, Rabbi Hama, son of Rabbi Hanina teaches that our responsibility in the face of difficult days is to act as we believe God should. “Just as God comforts the grieving, so do we comfort the grieving.”
Jewish tradition teaches us that God is present in all of life. Every instance of pain and comfort, of fear or resilience, of achievement and goodness is a sacred moment in which God’s blessings can touch our lives.
When someone does something terribly wrong, I do not ask God why. I do not blame God for human weakness. I find God in the strength to heal what hurts. As things happen everyday, through each of us God is present or absent. It depends on what we do.