‘Acts of God’ is the legal terminology for natural events causing destruction, disruption, and other misfortunes for which compensation is claimed or business terms relaxed or rescinded. Such was the temblor that took more than 175 lives, dislocated communities and collapsed structures in Bohol on the ides of October, including centuries-old places of worship.
Before-and-after pictures of San Pedro Apostol Church in Lobok and other holy places make it hard to think that the catastrophe wrought by 7.2 on the Richter scale is godly. True, the Almighty could have averted it. But permission is not commission, though they look the same. God did not will the calamity; instead, Christianity preaches that He suffers with the victims and is sustaining and uplifting them in often unseen ways.
Or so we are told to believe —never easy in our woefully flawed, fierce and unfair world. Not just Bohol battered, but Auschwitz gassed, Hiroshima nuked, Pinatubo lahared, Hong Kong SARSed, and Fukushima tsunamied. Rather than sweeping away pain, suffering and death, the Almighty has time and again stood aside or even embraced agony, enormity and calamity, and let them afflict even His most devout disciples and His Incarnate Second Person.
So is that it? Bohol and other ugly episodes make sense and deserve embrace because the Creator cries, bleeds and dies with His creatures? To be sure, one may admire, even envy the true believers of holy age and humble state who kneel and intone, “Thy will be done” or “Praise be to God” as roofs collapse, walls crumble, and hearts go still.
Their ethereal perspective on the earthly impart eternal meaning to ephemeral suffering, turning agony into ecstasy, or at least making pain worth enduring. Then, rising from rubbled town and village, the faithful live their Lord’s love and law by feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, comforting the bereaved, and performing other mercies corporal and spiritual. Thus, catastrophes become canvasses to render masterpieces of faith, hope and charity.
While lofty and admirable, however, that blessed vision is vastly different from the eye of many a beholder today. Bowing to and adoring heaven’s will may not come naturally to modern-thinking people, even Christians among them. That’s one reason the Vatican instituted the Year of Faith in September 2012, peaking in the country with last week’s Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization at the University of Santo Tomas.
True, the Divine Mind is beyond human knowing, as the sensibilities of other beings are, whether angel, animal or atom. But acknowledging God’s inscrutability need not muzzle Homo sapiens in mouthing unspeakable dismay at 175 or so innocents snuffed out by shifting fault lines.
After all, only because man believes in the existence, omnipotence and mercy of our Father in heaven, can he rail at Him anguished, angry and aghast over what seems senseless, undeserved and cruel suffering abetted by His silence. Yet others, facing a fallen world scarred by disasters natural and man-made, junk altogether the idea of a Supreme Beneficence pulling strings above or behind the tableaux of life.
Rather, all are mere man acting by free will, and matter moving by immutable physics, with divinity’s purported role just contrived by the dimwits denying that their beings, lives and achievements are driven by temporal entities, not eternal Deity.
By this stark godless light, it seems, man lives out his days scraping together whatever slivers of peace and joy he can salvage for himself and his fellows before death everlasting. In quaked Bohol and bloodied Zamboanga, as in other arenas of agony, unbelievers see no guiding, gracious hand giving succor.
That solitary view could well fuel immense effort in the belief that no help is coming from above, even as having God on the side of believers might lighten their step and quicken their pace, too. Or not: for having heaven’s help could very well engender complacency, just as an absent Almighty might weigh down hands with hopelessness.
Whatever way one looks at Bohol and other burdens of life, lift them one inevitably must, either by striving to rescue, relieve, rebuild and recover, or giving up and embracing the end, or going away to seek new life elsewhere. Either way, man survives and maybe does better, having learned first hand how to rise after falling, steeled by fate’s blows, and perhaps wiser and better prepared for future challenges.
Now isn’t that what evolution and progress are about— the improvement of the species through the unforgiving law of the jungle, and the upliftment of humankind from ignorance, hunger, sickness, deprivation, and subjugation?
No doubt, there remains much to wail against on the planet, from nature’s devastation to man’s depredations, as there are millenia ago and hence. But undeniable too are the singularly enhanced living, learned thinking, righteous mores and humane societies that humanity now enjoys against their forebears’ harsh, brutish and dismal existence.
And the gross poverty, injustice, subjugation and violence decried today are often evident only in contrast to their rewarding opposites elsewhere. Indeed, the world’s unsavory elements prod civilization to think, act, live and do better. Paradise has little use for progress, but adversity is the mother of advancement.
So Bohol’s calamity, undeserved and unjustifiable though it is, can spur island and archipelago to husband manpower, material, money and minds to reconstruct and rehabilitate, making structures stronger and communities safer. Plus demonstrate compassion, cooperation and courage, which elevate the human species and, in the eye of the believer, bring creature closer to Creator.
The faithful will also thank the Lord for Bohol’s rise from rubble, believing that all good on earth only happens with heaven’s prodding and providence, guidance and grace. For disbelievers, though, resurrection from devastation, like the world’s flourishing from Big Bang to life’s first spark and today’s bustling, networked civilization, owes all to man and matter, which are seen to have brought forth on their own the whole panoply of nature and culture. Einstein out of ego, Mozart from mud.
So are Bohol’s harrowing calamity and painstaking recovery the sole work of mortals and elementals—or acts of God? As the answer goes, 175 or more Boholanos shall rest in peace or in pieces.