In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I assisted several hospitals in restoring their information technology resources. In the midst of all the mental stress, anguish and pain inflicted, I look at those who passed and ponder the most basic, yet futile, question: “Why?”
In October 2012, a New York Times story detailed about 39 people who died in the storm. The following is an excerpt:
- A Manhattan woman whose only sin appeared to walking her dog and was killed by a falling tree.
- There was the woman whose iniquity was to take a picture of a downed power line. She did not see the puddle in front of her. Her body remained engulfed in fire for half an hour before rescue workers could salvage what was left.
- A young Jewish couple killed walking a dog in Brooklyn.
- Two boys killed when they walked just outside their house to briefly peer at the storm.
In true form, all of us have seen we have seen God’s people serving as God’s hands and feet in the aftermath of many natural disasters. The true image of one’s faith can be seen in all who have selflessly reach out, assisting the poor and downtrodden. All of this may be true, but still I query, “Where was God when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines?
Hurricane Katrina survivor and retired pastor William Mackintosh stated “God doesn’t send suffering, he allows it and God enters into suffering and shows us how to use it.” Mackintosh believes suffering and disaster allow believers to learn and practice trust in God, as well as provide a chance for people to be heroic and to help others. From my perspective, while it may be true that evil (e.g. the death, misery) gives us the opportunity to express kindness, concern and generosity, but could not God think of a less cruel way? Is it fair to inflict suffering just so society has the opportunity to serve?
These are nice thoughts, but personally, it’s bullshit. Ask anyone from the Haiti earthquake, the December 26, 2004 Asian Tsunami, the 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku or the 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province about God entering their suffering and seeing if they found a positive way to use it? Is this what we are to say to the Philippine mother, “God will positively show you how to use the death of your daughter, son and father?“
Maybe it’s time to concede to the fact that God is busy. Or as the Philosopher Sam Harris so eloquently quoted after the Tōhoku earthquake, “Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.”
Why God allows so much suffering is beyond me. Frankly, I don’t really care. I’ve seen too much misery in life, of natural disasters, the inhumanity of mankind and that within myself. As a Buddhist I do not need evil to be good, to understand what goodness is or to strive to be good. Disasters and God’s strange approach towards His creation can prod me to do good but more often it is the beauty and joy of goodness itself that moves us. It is the Buddha, Christ, God or our faith in humanity and of each other that should inspire us to a higher virtue.
In short, to my friends of faith, if you knew that the above mentioned disasters were going to happen and you had the power to stop it, would you have done so? Undoubtedly most would answer ‘Yes.’ The obvious question that follows from this is, ‘Then why didn’t God?’ How one answers this question will depend on what one’s religion is or whether one has a religion.
As Sam Harris would say, “Take your pick, and choose wisely.”