Any time there is a tragedy, whether created by humans or the result of forces of nature, inevitably people ask why God allowed the tragedy to happen. At the risk of sounding like a broken record (an image that I just realized makes absolutely no sense to anyone under the age of twenty-five), I need to say quite clearly that is the wrong question to ask.
You see if you believe in the “Superhero God” who flies in to rescue people from adversity and danger, I need to tell you something. That God never existed. That God is the product of a pre-scientific imagination. Nobody has ever seen that God and nobody has ever been rescued by that God because, quite frankly, that God doesn’t exist. Neither does “Chess Player God,” who moves people in and out of danger as if life was a chess game, nor “Santa Claus God,” who is “making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.” Same deal, no such God – sorry, Charlie. So, if we are waiting for any of those Gods to rescue us from our own stupidity we are going to be waiting for a very, very long time.
Part of the adventure of being human is that we are born with free will. We are also born with everything we need to grow into full union with God, awakening, enlightenment, salvation, or whatever you prefer to call it. The problem is we lose touch with that truth, we become wounded, and we act out in ways that don’t faithfully reflect the truth of who we are as human beings. That isn’t unique to a few of us, we all do it now and then – and some of us do it on a cataclysmic scale. When we do, confused and hurting people ask how God could have allowed us to do the foolish and destructive thing we did. That is the wrong question addressed to the wrong being. The real question is, how much longer is humanity willing to allow our current cultural toxicity to continue?
You see, we don’t believe that we bear within us what has been called Christ Consciousness, the Cosmic Christ, Buddha Nature, the Holy Spirit, that we are Christ Events, and any number of other terms meant to convey the truth that we are essentially Divine by nature. The only thing we find harder to admit is that everyone and everything else is Divine. I have written before and at length about the truth is that everything and everybody is inseparably interconnected. Events like the shootings in Newtown remind us of this, as people across the globe are profoundly saddened and moved to tears by tragedy that impacted people and communities we had never met or visited.
Who among us didn’t feel for and with the citizens of Japan as first an earthquake and tsunami crashed onto their shores and subsequently their government allowed citizens to be irradiated so that nobody would have to lose face, metaphorically at least. How many non-Sikhs responded with outrage and compassion when the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was attacked? You didn’t have to even enjoy movies to feel for the victims of the so-called Batman shooter in Aurora, Colorado. I’m old enough to remember Chernobyl. Despite it happening in the latter days of the Cold War, no sane American cheered at the news of the Chernobyl disaster. When there are disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima, governments around the world offer assistance regardless of ideological differences. The real question is why we only seem to be cognizant of our interconnectedness in the aftermath of tragedy.
In the course of daily life we seem to be primarily concerned about enjoying the fruit of authentic original sin in the context of consumer capitalism. Authentic consumer capitalist original sin may well be trying to get ahead at the expense of others, which really translates (given interconnectedness) to trying to get ahead the expense of ourselves. It is perhaps the single most self-defeating tactic human beings engage in on a regular basis, but that doesn’t seem to matter – perhaps because they think Jesus is going to return tomorrow or God is going to rescue humanity from its own foolishness – a completely unrealistic expectation. Humanity has already done a seemingly endless list of stupid things without God intervening, including the nuclear, biological, and chemical arms race that after the fall of the Soviet Union has surely left weapons unaccounted for without God stepping in to save us from our own folly.
Why didn’t God save the children in Newtown? The answer is that is not how God works, which is a very different thing from saying there is no God. If you want to find God in Newtown, look to the first responders who rushed into danger and put their lives at risk trying to save lives at great psychological trauma to themselves. When people needed them, they responded selflessly and in recognition of our interconnectedness. That’s God, and God is found inside each and every one of us if we will only allow It to the surface.
The spiritual path is about allowing God to the surface in daily life, and in recognizing aloud God’s presence in each of us. Only when we develop the ability to do so consistently will we truly be able to act selflessly and take whatever steps are necessary to improve the human condition. Only then will we put aside the greed of consumer capitalism and truly act in our own self-interest. The problem is that much of religion seems to be focused on what we do with our genitals than in anything remotely resembling improving the human condition. Perhaps that is why institutional religion is breathing a death rattle. What we need are spiritual teachers to step forward and boldly teach interconnectedness.
We also need to teach the truth that everybody dies. You might say that life is a terminal condition. Naturally we feel badly when children die because their whole life was in front of them. I wouldn’t have that any other way. I also, though, have faith that the universe – in ways I don’t understand and that cannot be seen this side of the grave – has a way of converting even tragedy into blessing. I have to hold onto that belief in a loving, nurturing universe or life would be unbearable. That belief doesn’t make tragedy any less painful, but it does provide me with hope. Julian of Norwich famously said “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” She didn’t mean that everything will be grand in life as many light weight spiritual teachers insist, but rather that in a way that she couldn’t articulate God makes everything right. I think it’s fruitless to speculate on how that happens or what it looks like, even as my limited life experience of tragedy turned around through love has taught me that it is absolutely possible. In the intervening time, we are left to do the hard but good work of caring for one another, for that is God working in, through, and as us.