The horrible earthquake in Haiti, again very starkly and sharply, raises the question, the issue, about God and God’s relationship to the world. In particularly God’s relationship to what we call natural calamities, earthquakes, floods, fires, tsunamis, tidal waves, all destructions of storms, hurricanes like Katrina. Everytime those horrible things happen and especially when you have very large, vivid, images before your eyes on television, seemingly endlessly, of all this terrible terrible suffering and we don’t even know how many are yet dead in Haiti, over 100,000 perhaps, millions homeless, suffering. We have to think about all of these things especially those that are believers. Those who claim to believe in God.
Of course when these things happen you hear all kinds of things, people give their opinion about why they happen. I’ve come across already opinions of everyone, from Pat Roberton to Patriach Kiril of Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church. They’ll say things about it. When the tsunami happened there were magazine articles by Orthodox thinkers like David Bentley Hart who wrote about these things and this issue of, some times called Theodicy, how do we square the existence of God, particularly a good God, a beneficent God, a wise—strong God. A God who can allegedly do whatever he wants. Why does he do what he does? And of course there are people who say these kind of things really prove that there is no God. That we are just at the mercy of nature and how nature acts and there is really no ultimate meaning to any of this at all. The best we can hope for is some kind of pleasure and long life on earth and if that would be the case we’d much rather live in San Francisco than in Haiti or somewhere else in Africa or Asia. I mean I say San Francisco because virtually all of us know that the San Francisco area is an area for earthquakes. But we also know that there was an earthquake in San Francisco in the 1990s, I can’t remember the exact year, 1998, 1993. But in any case, very recently, where it was exactly the magnitude of what hit Haiti and in San Francisco 63 people died. 63 not 110,000 or however many will finally be added up. 63 people are still 63 people who have perished, which leads to a first reflection about dealing with calamities.
You know, in my life time you hear many people who would say, for example, they say about England and Europe generally that, I read this when I was reading about Darwin for my other talks here on the radio, that people had a very progressive, optimistic, positive view of human life and then the Lisbon earthquake hit. Many many people were all of a sudden killed and that made people have very great troubles about optimism and faith and God or human progress or whatever, and then you hear certainly the same type of things about the 20th century. How can there be a God when billions of people were slain and killed and were put to death to gas chambers by Nazis. Millions of Jews and homosexual people, slavs and who knows who. And then in Russia you have all this massive death in these prison camps. Solzhenitsyn is said to have said, that communism, marxism in Soviet Union brought 70 million deaths. 70 million if you count the war dead, the famine dead, the prison camp dead, the people dead from famine and hunger and stress and decease and so on. So this fact of death, and then of course we have in our country America, people still reacting to the terrorist attack on America on Sep 11 2001. They’ll say, “Oh look at this terrorist attack. Why did God do it? Why did God allow it?” and in that terrorist attack little over 3000 people perished, 3000 people died. And other people will take that statistic, like I myself will do, and say “You know more people than that die all the time all over the place by calamities and by murders and by human evil and by natural disaster”. The things that sometimes insurance companies call “Acts of God”—floods and fires and so on.
I can honestly say that from my youth, in my young years, I always couldn’t quite understand why calamities of tremendous magnitude bring out these questions and cause questions and even cause a lot of people to lose their faith—”(God) After Auschwitz” and all those kind of books. When as a matter of fact you could ask the same questions about, what about God after the death of my child? What about God after the death of my mother? What about God after the death of my neighbour? What about God after anybody’s death? And whether that death is violent, tragic, by murder or rape or whether it’s surrounded by family in a bed at home at the age of 90. Death is still death and then if you add the addition of suffering, and how much suffering you see. If you want to see tremendous suffering just walk into a hospital ward, go to an intensive ward. Go into a, especially, go into a institution for the mentally ill who are also physically ill. You’ll see sights you’ll not want to see. Not to speak of all that we see on TV like in Rwanda, in Ethiopia and those places, Darfur and so on. We are surrounded by calamities all the time, every day they are happening. Calamities which seem just to happen because of plates under the earth that move and cause the earth to quake and cause the sea to rise and huge waves and tsunamis come and wipe people out, and then you have all kinds of tragedies. Then you have the human tragedy. Some crazy person who shoots 15 children or something like this. This is going on all the time, all the time.
I think it would be true to say, as someone once said, “one death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths, a hundred thousand deaths, a million deaths is a statistic”, because each human being died himself, herself. Each person died and then when you see death that is preceded by incredible suffering, terrible suffering, and then when you see death that is connected with torture, like people being caught under buildings for days on end and screaming and finally die. You can even think of the death, I always think of the death of St Elizabeth—the Grand duchess, that great modern saint of the Russion Orthodox Church, who was thrown with her friends, the nun Barbara and others, in to a mine shaft and the witnesses said you could hear them singing down there. They were singing “Holy God, Holy Mightly, Holy Immortal have mercy on us”, singing the Cherubic hymn or something until they died. Knowning that they were going to die and starving and not being able to breathe, I mean, you could imagine all kinds of suffering, like you don’t even want to imagine.
But when we look at all of that there are some things that we have to see. First things that we have to see is that different people do it differently. Different people understand it differently. There was a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust, Victor Frankl who wrote in a book, I can’t remember the name of the book right now, he said that, what a difference he had observed in the prison camp between those who believed, who had hope and those who didn’t. Those who didn’t easily and quickly and bitterly and he said he saw people walking to the gas chambers on their two feet saying the Shema Yisrael, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD he is one,” or saying the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven…” and they walked in and died. And many of them died not cursing the people who killed them. That would be of course the ideal for a Christian martyr. That you not only die for what you believe, and you not only die praising God, and you not only die in the midst of horrible suffering but you die actually forgiving the persons who did this.
But then the question would be, what if it seems to be that there is no persons who did this? What if it is God who did this? It’s God who made the earthquake and got everybody perishing and some people say it is because they were sinners and God wanted to punish them or something. That is some kind of interpretation you might hear which in my opinion is absolutely outrageously blasphemous, just absolutely unacceptable. But at the same time even if the crimes are, as they say on TV, perpetrated by evil doers, still somehow people could ask why did God allow that. Why did he even make a world with evil doers in it? Why did he do it the way he did and could he have not stopped it? Could God have not stopped those terrorists for example for blowing up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or the hotel in Mumbai or wherever else? Could God not have stopped Nazis with Hitler and Stalinist troops and Marxists madmen and I don’t know what, people who do genocides and so on, could God have not stopped it?
Well, most people would say, sure he could have stopped it if he wanted to but then that raises the question, if he could have stopped it why did he even start it in the first place? Why did he allow it in the first place. When you see in the scripture the Lord Jesus can walk on water in the midst of storms you say, well that’s great but you could also ask the question, why did God make storms in the first place? Why should there be storms in which people would perish? If you could say, Jesus Christ fed the hungry, who were in the desert, you could say, well that’s great, but you could also ask the question, why if there is God, did God make the world in which people would be hungry in the first place? Why didn’t he make a world where there would be no hunger and no rich or poor, no evil doers and so on. These are the questions that rise all the time. How do you answer them? What is the response?
Now, it seems to me, and this Ancient Faith Radio gives me the opportunity to express my opinions, which I always say could be totally wrong, please dear listener know that! I can only say on the radio how I understand things. How I believe things to be and then of course, how I understand things and believe things to be, I would even dare to claim are the teachings of Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the Saints, the teachings of the Orthodox Church. The teachings that you gleam from the Church’s prayers, that you say in Church. How we pray, how we act. Certainly what you see in the lives of Saints. So when we try to answer the questions, when I would try to answer the question I have to honestly say to you, I am trying to answer the question as a person who believes in the Orthodox Christian faith. Who goes to an Orthodox Christian church. Who identifies with the tradition and teaching and scriptures and saints and services and sacraments of this Church.
So if somebody would corner me and say to me, ok you go to that Church and you believe in those scriptures and you serve those services and you celebrate those sacraments and you honour and emulate and even try to imitate those saints, what would you say about all this? What would you say about Haiti, that horrible suffering, that earthquake? What would you say about tsunamis and disasters both natural and humanly caused or directly humanly caused, like prison camps and so on. What do you say, what do you say about how your God, how do you believe in God if you believe in those things? And I’ve said on the radio before that my opinion is that there is only three possible answers.
One answer is, there is no God at all, and all of this is just sound and fury, it signifies nothing, it is purely accidental. Earthquakes depend completely and solely on plates under the earth and how they move around, how they move the earth and how they move the waters and how they produce tidal waves. Air and fire and water and earth they all have their own ways of behaving which are chaotic and are connected to all kinds of forces in the universe and there is nothing controlling it, there is no meaning to it ultimately, we just hope for the best. That if you are going to be in an earthquake, that you are going to be in San Francisco and not Haiti, where in San Francisco they have buildings that are built to withstand earthquakes and then you hope that you are in one of them. You don’t pray to God that you would be, you just hope that you would be by pure accident so that you would not perish like those children and those poor people in Haiti because their houses were so poorly done and they were in such poverty and had such terrible economics that once an earthquake strikes there then the death toll is unbelievable. That is one way.
Another way would be to say that there is a God but he is a monster. And that he just picks and chooses what he wants to do. That he decides. I’ll have an earthquake in Haiti! I think I’ve blast out Haiti! I’ll just do it, they are not any better/worse than anybody else and I don’t even care about that, I am a monster. I just want to terrorise people. So, I’ll have this one be saved and I’ll have that one die and I’ll have this one lose their legs and I’ll have that one go blind and it will be my sovereign will to do whatever I want with people and I will it do as I want it and maybe even this God would say, if there are people who believe in me and follow my commandments I’ll spare them and then I’ll smash the other people and then hopefully some lesson will come out of that. That is a way of looking at it. All those ways are possible ways of looking at it if you are going to have a deity at all.
But then I think there is a third way and I personally subscribe to the third way and I believe ancient Christianity does too and that is, that you understand everything through the crucifixion of Christ. You understand everything through Christ. Christ and him crucified. Christ and him suffering. Being beaten, mocked, spit upon, scourged, whipped, thorns on him head, nailed to a cross, tied to a tree, nailed to the cross through his hands, spear in his side and dying the most vile, radical death that a human being can die. That is the key to understanding everything.
And it is the key to understanding everything, with the additional claim, that this man is God’s son. That this man is God. He is God from God. He is divine. He has exactly the same divinity, the same nature as they say in theology, the same exact identical divinity as God his father. That is begotten of God. He comes forth from God. He is not a creature. He is begotten not created, as the Nicene Creed says, and that he is the one by whom, through whom, for whom, and toward whom everything exists. Everything. The hundred billion galaxies with the hundred thousand billion stars. He is the key to understanding—everything. And so this, this crucified Jew, is God’s son and he’s born of a virgin. He is born on earth of a virgin. That means that he is not a mere human being. He is born as real human being. He is really human and here I have to just add parenthetically, every day as the clock ticks, I am more and more convinced that Christians generally and even Orthodox Christians, do not really believe in the Incarnation. That a lot of people who came to be Christians—well, there are a lot of people claiming to be Christians who don’t believe that Jesus is divine, that is one thing, but even those who believe that Jesus is divine, they especially, do not believe that he really became a man, really born of a virgin, really the suffering servant, really endured what he did, really had a human life with a human brain and a human body and human feelings and human passions, human emotions and that means human ignorance, that means human limitations. I really, honestly—especially when I get these emails from the listeners of Ancient Faith Radio, I have this impression that they don’t really believe in the Incarnation. “Oh, Jesus was God but he really knew, he could have done this, he could have smashed everybody, could have done this, could have done that.” Well there is a sense that humanly he could have done a lot of things. He himself even said, he could call angels and wipe out the Roman Empire, he said that. He said that he has power over the waves and the water, he showed that. He showed that he could feed poor people in the desert. He showed that he could heal every manner of decease. He showed that he could raise the dead. He did, and he did that in his humanity. In his divine humanity. He, being God, becoming man through his humanity, he did these things. But he did them as a man. He did them as Jesus of Nazareth and therefore for Christians, the Incarnation of the Son of God in human flesh as a real human being, for the sake of being crucified, suffering, dying, and then rising the dead and recreating creation, that is the prism through which we understand everything. That’s how we understand everything that goes on, no matter what it is. That’s how we understand it. That’s how we try to understand it at least. That’s how we come to understand it, if understanding is even possible, and there many things that are just not possible for us to understand.
You know, the Saints of the Church say we can’t understand everything, and when it comes to God we can’t understand in fact most things. But there are things we can understand. And then they also say, there are some things that given our present state of humanity, in the fallen world—this corrupted world we live in, you might even put this way, given to the state to which we have progressed and evolved as a human race, we are still not even capable of understanding certain things. We just don’t have the ability or the capability of understanding certain things. And here I’d even take it a step further, I would say that according to the lives of Christian Saints and the Holy Scriptures, it’s only those who really don’t want to understand those things but trust God that he knows what he is doing, they are the ones to come to understand it. I gave a little sermon on this on St Anthony day which was just recently in our church. St Anthony the Great, when he asked God he said, why do things happen the way they do? Why are there some who live long and some who die young? Why do some suffer and some don’t? Why are some good and seem to be suffering all the time? Why are there evil people who seem to be just having a wonderful life, and he could have asked, why are there hurricanes here or there? Why are there earthquakes, why are there fires? Why do these people perish? You know that question was even in the New Testament, the 13th chapter of Luke. In the 13th chapter of Luke, Jesus kind of refers to this in his teaching because there was the Galileans who suffered—I’ll read it to you,
“There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the sacrifices”, in other words Pilate had killed these Galileans and Jesus said to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all of the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you no. But unless you repent you also will perish likewise. And the eighteen upon whom the tower of Saloam fell and killed them, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelled in Jerusalem? I tell you no. But unless you repent you’ll also likewise perish.”
Now, did he mean perish in some kind of calamity or did he mean ultimately perish? The one thing he said for sure, Jesus Christ himself, he said, you can’t say because these people perished and those didn’t that they were better and they were worse. He says no. That’s not so. Jesus said so. And very often he says, “two will be in bed, one will be taken, one will be left. Two women at the mill, one taken, one left.” You know there is this mystery about, we don’t know how it goes. We know that God is behind it, at least the believers believe that God is behind it but how he is working it and what he’s doing, it remains a great mystery but it cannot be said, well this is happening to them because they are evil and this doesn’t happen to them because they are good. I mean just look around you. How many evil people prosper and how many good people don’t. How many evil people are healthy and live long, and never are in an earthquake and how many good people are standing in Church praying and the earthquake smashes the building and they all perish. I was recently in a mission in California, the ruins of a mission, where an earthquake hit and it fell on all the people while they were at mass and they perished, including the priest. Ok, figure that one out. But you’ve got to face those things.
So St Anthony, getting back to him, when he asked God and said, “why are these things this way?”, well it is very important to know that God said to Anthony, “Anthony, pay attention to yourself, it is of no benefit to you at all to know anything about these things. You live your life as you should and you keep the commandments and let me take care of the rest.” But in my opinion that’s not the end of the story. The story kind of continues. You know why? Because Anthony did do that, he did pay attention to himself. He did pray, he did fast, he did everything and boy, he got beaten up by demons and he was left half dead, all that he went through and finally he said to God, “where the heck are you God”—this is in the life of St Athanasius, Life of Anthony, it is written,—and God comes and says, “Anthony I’ve been here the whole time watching your suffering” and you know you might be able to add if you are a biblical person, “who do you think was sending you the suffering? who was sending the demons to you? You think a demon can test you without my permission without my sending? Oh no, that is not so.” He said, “But since you have endured, since you have believed, your name will be known for ever all throughout the whole world” and here we are in 2010 contemplating the Haitian earthquake and raising the name of Anthony to try to come to terms with it. Well, the thing is this, Anthony followed God’s advice and guess what? He came to know, he came to have insight into divine providence.
St Maximus says that if we look at things through the prism of Christ with faith, we can actually have insight into divine providence. We can actually see the hands of God in things for good that otherwise would never see. One thing you will never see, never, is that God simply, capriciously, decides to have some perish and some live or that he punishes some because he thinks they’re evil and then lets other live because he thinks they are good. That’s not it at all. Because the crucified Christ died for everybody. And there aren’t any good. If Pat Robertson thinks he is good and therefore he is spared, he ought to read the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee and be a little bit more careful. Have a little more fear of God. Because who knows, a person could be allowed by God to live a long life only to perish in hell, where the person who suffers terribly in his human life and is caught even in the midst of an earthquake, he may be saved. And it is amazing how many of those Haitians are still praying, still singing, and still thanking God. It’s amazing. And how many people there are in happy suburban homes in America where they have everything they can possibly want and they are in despair and they curse God their only pleasure in life is sex and money and pleasure, and they don’t even get pleasure out of that.
So it is a great mystery here what is going on. But you can only, at least if an Orthodox Christian would say, you can only, somehow, come to terms with it when you understand and believe in Christ, crucified Christ, crucified! St Paul said, what we preach is Christ and him crucified. Scandal to those who want the power God who just takes care of his own, folly to people who think that there can be a God that is governing the universe the way they see it, with all of it’s capricious calamities and all of these kind of stuff. But for us who believe, Christ crucified and glorified, is he wisdom and the power of God and it is in him, as St Paul has also written, that the mysteries hidden from before the foundation of the world are ultimately revealed for what they are. The mystery hidden even from the angels, made know in the Church, is revealed for what it is. Now, what is it? What could you possibly say that it is? Well, my opinion, God forgive me, you have to decide, my opinion is that it is something like this. The truth is somewhere around here. Around this view, if you are a Christian.
First of all, you don’t begin with your idea of God. And you don’t begin with how you think our God ought to be and then question whether he exists or not. If you are a Christian you take the God of Jesus. And the God of Jesus is the one who sent his Son into the world to perish and when that Son was hanging on the cross, betrayed by his own people, killed by gentiles, all alone, a spectacle to God and man, and he screams out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me—why have you forsaken me?” and that is the first line of Psalm 22 that says, but I know you are there, I know you are with me. I know that you are my God. But why is this happening? Well you’ve got to do that. You’ve got cry out, why? If you don’t cry out why you’ll never come to see and Jesus came to see why. I mean the answer that he probably came to hear was, “because you are the bride groom. The one by who, through who, for whom, all things were made. And you’ll have to suffer all these things so that the world could actually exist.”
Which leads us then to another very, very, central dogma, this is a dogma of the Orthodox Christian Church. And that is, that God created heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible knowing that all these things would be this way. That there would be hurricanes and tsunamis, and earthquakes and tragedies and injustices and persecutions and prison camps. God did all that! Yeah, God did it! If you are a Christian you can’t get off the hook. You believe in God— God did it. He did it.
But you could even go to the next step and you could maybe even speculate, on the basis of scripture and the divine revelation that is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus hanging on the cross, is that God creates everything that can possible be created. I think that that, in my opinion, could even be a Christian doctrine. If anything could possibly exist, God creates it. And he creates everything, including evil. Everything he creates is good, he doesn’t create evil. But he certainly creates creatures that he knew would be evil. Take for example, the Christian teaching about the noetic realm, the angels. It is certainly the Christian teaching that God created the “cosmos noetos” (Gr. “Κόσμος Νοητός”)—the bodiless powers, billions and billions of spiritual beings without bodies, pure intellects, that he knew would rebel. That some of those angels, the symbolic number is a third of them, they plunge and become demons. They become devils. They pollute the universe. They are infecting everything, they are trying to destroy everything. Why did God do that? Well he did it because he creates everything that can exist, even those that would be evil.
You can almost say, according to the Sermon on the Mountain, God doesn’t just love those who love him. He loves everybody. He loves the unjust as well as the just. He creates people that he knows will be unjust and maybe burn forever in hell. He creates them anyway and gives them that choice, that freedom, how to act and interact with him. And if he did not do that he would not be just. God does not say, if you are good I’ll like you and I’ll take care of you and I’ll keep from earthquakes. That’s just ridiculous. Because first of all there aren’t any people, beginning with I don’t know who, Pat Robertson and who ever it might be, me or you. There aren’t any such persons. We are all sinners, we are all in need of salvation. Even the most righteous person, the Holy Theotokos Virgin Mary—who gave birth to Christ, call God her Saviour because she is part of this world that is perishing. And you are part of this world and you are perishing no matter how good you are or how bad you are, you are in it.
However it is the teaching, that God created all things, and certainly the planet earth, and animals and plants and fishes and birds and ants and barnacles and earthworms and God knows what Charles Darwin studied and everything else, he created all of that for his glory and to live and to exist, and to be beautiful, and to be splendid and it will be that way. Ultimately Christians believe it will be that way. Christians also believe that it can only be that way. When it is governed and cared for by Christians who are good, who are true, who are God like. Who believe in God, and here we believe in saying nowadays that it might even mean people who don’t believe in God but are good people because they are all screwed up because of the people who do believe in God, like you and me. St Paul says “many good people blaspheme God because of us”. God says in Isaiah, “My name is blasphemed amongst the nations because of you, who claim to be my believers and say all kinds of stupid, disgusting, wrong things because you’ve made up your own God and you give him my name.” We are in trouble if we do that.
But in any case, I believe the Christian teaching is that God created—you know if you read Genesis, it’s like chaos in the beginning. It’s formless, it’s invisible. There is the waters, primal, God’s word and spirit are over the waters and then all things come into existence, and we can discuss how they are going to come into existence—we’ll do that on our reflections on Darwinism, but in any case, Christians believe that God’s hands are in it all. But the Genesis story is very clear too. At one point God, himself, acts and brings into the world a creature called human, called man—anthropos. And it is man and woman, male and female, and according to the story he puts them in paradise and where they are, it’s paradise and they can now be with God. They can now have divine powers, they can be as God. As long as they are with God, they can be with God and they can take care of everything and in a sense even they can spread the paradise, and they can overcome all the chaos of the cosmos or to put it another way, they can transform chaos into cosmos. Disorder into order. And it might even be, some people think so—I think C. S. Lewis thought so, that he fall of the angels and their corruption of the created order, antedated the emergence of man on earth. That the demons fell when God created man in his image and likeness and the symbolic theology would say they were envious or jealous or they rebelled against God, but one thing is for sure. If you take the Genesis story as it is written the devils are already there before Adam and Eve appear, because the serpent comes to them and the serpent tempts them and says, “Follow me. Follow me. Don’t follow God. God doesn’t want you to be like God. Or if you follow me, you will be like God but God doesn’t want that.” That’s the fundamental lie of evil.
So we might say that the plan, if you look at it through the prism of the cross, is that we were all made to care for the earth. We were made to cultivate the earth, to bring the Shalom, the peace of God to the earth. To bring the peace of God to the animals, to the plants, to nature and nature itself was in a kind of vicious cycle and that somehow maybe even how animals and plants are supposed to be. Maybe that’s even the way God wants them to be. But man is supposed to care for them and use them and cultivate them and bring peace to them. That was the vocation of man according to the scripture. And it is a vocation humanity miserably failed.
So we could actually say, if we jump over a whole lot of intermediate points, that if human beings, were human beings, the way God created human beings to be, in other words we could put it as Christians, if we were the way Jesus is, if we remain sons of God, male and female, before God, filled with the Holy Spirit, not listening to the Devil, facing all the temptations of evil but not succumbing to them, we would control the universe. We would control earthquakes, floods, fires and so on, and we even have saints who did it. We have saints who stopped earthquakes. We have saints who were able to show that they could bring peace to the animals and to the plants and so on. In other words, when we are with God we can control this earth. We can control it, to a very large degree, even without God because we are made in God’s image and likeness and we have all these powers. For example, we can have seismographs. We can tell where earthquakes are going to happen. We can warn people to flee away. They say that in the tsunami that happened a year ago, where all those people perished, they say that if those men had been on duty and made the warning come on time, the way it should have, the loss of life would have been incredibly less.
We also know that, like we said already about San Francisco, if we knew our universe, if we knew how things were, if we knew how to predict happenings, like winds and rains and storms and hurricane Katrinas and all that stuff, and if we knew the universe and if knew how to handle it, and if we knew how to protect ourselves from it, there could be no disasters. There would be magnificent natural happenings. We’d see violent storms and tsunamis but they wouldn’t hurt anybody or we would have control over them, or we’d know how to deal with them. So when all is said and done, in the Christian view, all of this is our fault. Haitian earthquake, Haiti, that’s our fault.
If we, human beings, controlled the universe the way God created us to do it, no one would perish, ever, of anything. And we wouldn’t even have died. Maybe the animal world would be cyclical, the plant world would be cyclical—some of the early Church Fathers thought so, like St Irenaeus for example—that plants have to grow and die and people have to eat them and after Noah we even eat the animals and there is a kind of strife in the animal world. But we are the ones that are supposed to govern and care for them. No contribute to it. Not make it worse. But to heal it, to cure it.
Now, with that view, we Christians would definitely say that we believe that because of Jesus. Because Jesus, the Christ, showed us. The life of a man, who has power over all nature. That’s the reason of the miracles of Jesus. My professor of New Testament used to say, “We call them Wonders. The Wonders of God, we call them miracles and then we define them as things contrary to nature.” But maybe they are not really contrary to nature. Maybe the real miracle is to know how to handle nature, how to deal with nature, how to relate to nature and maybe even to have some kind of power over nature because of the powers that are in inherent in us that are given to us by God, when they are used properly, when they are used for good. When they are used for God’s glory and the good of our neighbour. And we all know, it just would be hypocrisy and lying to say, we all know that if we, human beings, used the knowledge and the powers and the wisdom that we have, we could so reduce suffering and evil on this earth it wouldn’t be funny.
I doubt if we’d raise the dead but that would be also in what we’d need to do with Jesus. The dead have to be raised. And here this would be another teaching of ours. Everyone who perished in the Haitian earthquake will be resurrected. That’s a Christian teaching. Everyone who perished in a prison camp will be resurrected. The good and the evil will be resurrected, on the last day, that’s the Gospel. Those who have done good will come forth to a resurrection of life and those who have done evil, and not only done evil but allowed evil to happen because they didn’t do the good they could do—the sin of omission as well as commission—they will give an answer for what they have done.
Take the abortion of children that we’re thinking about here in these days. We could just as easily not abort them. We could just as easily care for them. We could just as easily find ways to take care ourselves and not have the hubris of trying to be God without God and making everything a million times worse mess than it ever could possibly be. No, the buck ultimately ends with human beings. And that is even the meaning of the Adam and Eve story.
It seems to me, the whole meaning of the Adam and Eve story is, human beings were created to govern and care for the earth in communion with God, by keeping his commandments. St Basil said this in the anaphora of his Eucharist. That we were created to glorify God and to enjoy everlasting life in the keeping of the commandments. But when we blew it, when we apostatized, when we took things into our own hands, when we listened to the serpent, which is not only an image of the devil or demons, its an image of earthly wisdom.
I think that in the Bible actually you could say the serpent is the image of wisdom, earthly wisdom, which St James in his epistle called, earthly, psychic and demonic. Wisdom that is wisdom without the wisdom of God. Wisdom of creatures made in the image and likeness of God who turn on God. Well, when you listen to all that you destroy everything and you have no power over everything, anything at all.
So, when all is said and done, you can’t blame the disaster on God. You can’t. Not in the beginning and not ultimately. And here by the way, it’s important to know that the genesis story, the protology, is always an image of eschatology. What what means in everyday language is, the vision that we are given in Genesis, of human beings living in paradise and increasing and multiplying and filling the earth and taking care of all creation, that is what we believe is going to happen at the end. The real Adam is going to be the crucified one who is Jesus. Because the original Adam and Eve are going to blow it, and they do blow it and that’s why we are in the pickle we are in right now, and that’s why we have Haitian earthquakes and tsunamis and prison camps and all that kind of thing.
But if the human being would be with God, then we would have the powers that we have and these things would not harm us. I believe that that’s the Christian teaching. Now, you still have the question. Why did God do it?
Could still God be behind all this? He made the world with humanity knowing that there would be apostasy. He created the world with angels and demons—angels that would become demons. He created the world with you and me in it knowing how we would be. He did the whole thing knowing everything and he did it anyway. Why did he do it anyway? Here I think the simplistic answer is that, it was either this way or no way. If you could say, why did that earthquake happen in Haiti, the answer could be because God decided in the beginning to have a world. God decided to create. God decided there would be beings in addition to himself, so to speak, or there would be those to whom he would give being. But God gave the being, not capriciously or indiscriminately but he did give it to everyone without condition. He said, “I will allow you to be” and I think we can say he will allow everything to be that can be. But, those who will ultimately enjoy creation, the way it was originally meant to be, at the end when it will finally be what it was originally meant to be, because it has been recreated by the blood of Christ on the Cross, only those will be there in glory who trust God, believe God, know that it’s not God’s fault, know that we are the ones that have failed, trust God in everything and then even believe that there is a providence. There is a providence.
St John of Damascus said it clearly. God doesn’t want tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, fires, storms. He doesn’t want kids being dragged out of rubble in Haiti or San Francisco or anywhere else. He doesn’t want any of that. He doesn’t want Rwandas and Darfurs, and holocausts and Auschwitzes and gulags. God doesn’t want that. But, in order to get finally what he wants for us, we have to get through that. As one of my students at St. Vladimirs used to say, “That’s the bad news of the Good News.”
The good news is, God created it good. The bad news is, we messed it all up. The good news is God saved it. The bad news is, we only partake of that salvation if we are trusting him, believing in him and suffering with him. Suffering with him.
Going through all of the sufferings with him, not accusing him, but accusing ourself, so that at the end—as the prayer of Shadrach says in the fiery furnace—we’ll say to God, “you are just in all that you have done for us, all.” And Dostoevsky’s creature in his story, Karamazov, he says, “that’s disgusting. You mean some little girl who was sexually abused then molested and put in a outhouse and smeared with feces, that that girl is going to end up in the end and glorify God?” And the beleving brother says, “That’s the only thing we can say.” And that’s the miracle. That’s the miracle.
The miracle that there can be Haitians who dance and sing and praise God in the midst of terrible disaster. And there are those who themselves will suffer and die, with their last words being, “Thank you Lord for saving me. Thank you Lord for raising me from the dead. I’ve got to go through this.” And we don’t know why people go through what they have to do.
One of our own daughters just contracted, well she had it all the time—we didn’t know, an awful decease. Of tumors growing on her nerves and so on. How many people we know, every day my phone rings about another person with cancer. Or another person died suddenly. One of my friend’s priest’s daughter was jogging in California and just dropped dead. Just the other day, the funeral was last Saturday. Thirty two year old girl, just married, no children and then mums die who have lots of children. Children die.
You know, all of this is crazily mixed up because of creatures and Christians would still believe it’s all worth it. You’ve got to go through it. You’ve got to believe through it, that in the end all manner of things will be well as Julian of Norwich said—the English mystic woman. And she even said, “we’ll not even be surprised at how marvelous and wonderful things are at the end when the Lord comes in glory. But part of the delight, a huge part of the delight will be that we will see how he pulls it off.” Because we don’t know how he is going to pull it off. But another part of the tremendous delight will be, that every creature will bow and say to God, “you are just in all that you have done. All that we have gone through, you can imagine how horrible it is, but still compared to the eternal weight of glory as St. Paul writes, it’s incomparable.”
Now it is easy for me to sit here in my nice little room in Elwood City with the heater on, my teacup beside me, looking out the window, watching the clocks seeing when it is time to go for vespers. You know, it’s nice for me to say that while I look at TV and see all those people suffering, or read about prison camps and all that kind of stuff. I don’t know why I am spared. I don’t know why others are not. I just don’t know. But as a believer I have to say several things.
Number one. God knows.
Number two. It’s his business.
Number three, my business is to be as virtuous and good and holy and helpful as I can possibly be. Especially to those who are suffering.
Another point is that I should endure my own suffering with faith, hope and love in God. I should believe in the resurrection of the dead and I should believe that God’s hands are in everything for good. And I should believe that here is some kind of providential plan that involves all these evil things. But I should not believe that they are capriciously given by God because, you know, earthquakes Haiti because they are bad and spares New York City because they are good or something. That is just absolutely ridiculous.
Anyone that looks at reality, don’t even read the darn Bible, look at reality and you can see that that’s just not true. The injustice is flagrant. If you just look at things without the eyes of faith, it’s totally capricious. It seems to make no sense whatsoever and to the human mind, in some sense it does not make sense.
But as one protestant writer of my youth, Reinhold Niebuhr, said, “I am stil a Christian because when I look at reality and when I read the Gospel, the Christian Gospel makes the most sense of the most facts.” And the fact of the matter is, this world is a corrupted, unjust, terrifying world outside human control. But another fact is, it ought not to be that way and if it is, it’s the fault of humanity. And another fact would be, God knew that and had mercy on humanity. Another fact would be, God saves everyone, including the unjust and shows mercy to everyone. And another fact would be, if you love that and believe that and want that, you will have an ever lasting life of bliss. There cannot even be compared to the amount of time we spend on this fallen, corrupted earth. That goes to the tragedies and calamities and disasters because of us.
Now we pray. We pray not to be victims of earthquake, flood, fire, storm. We pray for a favourable weather, we pray for all these things, because we know that they’re what God wants. But we pray so that we can handle them. We pray so that we could prevent them. We pray so that when they happen we can endure them. That’s our prayer. But we always say to God, “This is what we will, this is what you will, but providentially your will be done. And no leaf falls from the tree, no bird from the air without your hand somehow being in it.” So it’s certainly the case that if God does not want it, he certainly permits it. And in some sense he even sends it the way that he does, in this mystery hidden before the ages that’s revealed to us in Christ crucified and only in Christ crucified.
So I think the final word for right now is this. If we are going to try to figure out what God is doing with all this stuff, including the Haitian earthquake, we can’t make up a God of our own or a God as we think a God ought to be. And we cannot make up our own version of God or our own version of reality. Not if we are Christians. If we are Christians we have to take the version of God and the version of reality that is given to us in Jesus Christ, and him crucified, and in the interpretation of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets of the Old Testament through the prism of the crucified Christ who when he is raised from the dead he opens our eyes to the understanding of the scripture. That’s the way we have to look at it. And who knows, we may not ever understand it all. We can’t understand it fully, most certainly. But one thing seems to be for sure, at least to me. That all this would be senseless, is unacceptable. That all of this would be a moster God just playing with us, killing one, capriciously raising up another and so on, that’s also just absolutely unacceptable. But the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ, tragic and hard and difficult as it is, and unexpected, surprising, shocking as it is, when all is said and done, this seems to be the only choice of a human being who wants to say that this world is good, and destruction and death is not the final word.
May God help us to understand.