A two-year-old toddler eaten by an alligator in the world’s iconic amusement park. A rising British legislator and mother of two shot dead on the street. A Canadian living in Davao beheaded in Sulu by the Abu Sayyaf. More than 50 people in an Orlando, Florida, gay club killed by a man reportedly with extremist views.
Why does God allow this senseless carnage?
Even devout believers may find themselves thinking, if not mouthing that question in the face of tragedies like those, all transpired in just recent days or weeks.
The normally loquacious Pope Francis may himself be at a loss for words, as he was before a tearful 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar at the youth assembly during his visit to the Philippines last year. Referring to the suffering and death of children, Palomar had asked: “Why did God let this happen to us?”
Saints, Pontiffs, theologians and other thinkers through the millennia have pondered and pronounced upon the whys of evil and death in a world created by a loving God.
Good out of evil
The usual suspects in making sense out of senseless suffering and death include accepting the inscrutable will of a loving God, Who lets the pain fall upon the good and the bad alike, but rights all in the end by welcoming the righteous to eternal joy in heaven, and casting the wayward to everlasting fire.
Another justification portrays life’s agony and end as trials for man’s faith in the Lord, obedience to His will, and compassion for the distressed and the deceased.
Atrocity and murder are also occasions for Christ-like sacrifice and forgiveness, by which humanity rises to the boundless love and mercy of the Divine.
A further sense-seeking perspective on senseless killing points to the good that may result from unconscionable deaths. Sadly, society and people often don’t do the needful to correct longstanding ills and perils until they are dramatically and tragically exposed by the death of innocents.
Thus, Orlando’s bar shooting and alligator attack could spur anti-gun policies and better safety precautions. Allowed to flourish for years, Islamic State was finally targeted by Western and Arab forces after its brutal online executions and horrifying genocide.
The British legislator’s killing has spurred soul-searching over the destructive passions stirred by political debate; her alleged killer reportedly shouted “Britain first,” possibly in opposition to her advocacy for the UK to remain in the European Union.
And the Canadian’s beheading in Sulu a month after his compatriot was decapitated might now prod the Philippine government to finally decimate the murderous Abu Sayyaf.
For Christians, of course, the ultimate good out of evil is Christ’s Resurrection after Calvary. His glorious new life and being came only after His Passion and Death.
And the brave sacrifice of early Christian martyrs manifested the conviction of their belief across the Roman Empire, and their blood watered the faith’s flourishing.
In sum, the thinking goes, what makes sense of seemingly senseless suffering and death are the nobility and good that come in its bloody wake. We can stand pain and brave death to bring forth a better tomorrow and advance a great cause.
Man’s agony becomes God’s love
Well and good, except for one thing: the good that may result from unjust, senseless suffering and death isn’t a sure thing, and the victims, like the child attacked by the alligator, may not benefit from or even know about whatever gains may result from the wrong done to them.
Jesuit Fr. Catalino Arevalo, the doyen of Filipino theologians, stressed the need for a heavenly afterlife to right the unjust suffering of countless people through the ages, which history and society have never made and can never make right.
So is that it—senseless suffering and loss of life are made right by the reward of Paradise? Well, if heaven was all that was needed to make sense of suffering, Christ’s sacrifice may seem unnecessary, since God has rewarded virtue and punished sin since Adam.
Rather, our Lord’s brutal and wrongful suffering and execution not only obtained forgiveness for man’s sin, but also imparted the fullness of divinity to human life, including its ugly, unsavory, and unjust episodes.
In sum, God sent His Son and Second Person to live a perfectly righteous and holy life, with total obedience all the way to an ignominious, excruciating death.
In so doing, senseless suffering becomes an act of divine love, opening the door for all humanity to rise to Godliness, especially in our deepest woes and seemingly irreversible end.
Thus, Jesus told His followers to take up their cross, not shun it. Those who lose their life for His sake would save it. And only by dying like the mustard seed can man reach his full potential as seen in the Risen Christ.
One with God in agony
And the toddler who probably saw no divinity in his tragic accident? Does he also share in the Godliness of martyrs and other souls offering all for God, even if he clearly was not willfully taking up the cross off his macabre end?
Well, even Jesus never willed His Passion and Death, although He accepted it in obedience to His Father and out of love for man. Neither did martyrs wish to be mauled by lions in the arena or crucified and burned alive by IS.
Moreover, every moment of distressing every human life partakes of the pain Christ suffered, especially the tragedy of innocents, from the babies massacred by Herod’s soldiers to the toddler swallowed by the Orlando alligator.
The woes of the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the ill and the imprisoned are His too, and it is His pain and deprivation we ease when we feed, clothe, shelter, and visit the least of our brethren.
We suffer the immortal God’s pain and death in our own morbidity and mortality. It is the way to Him, the truth of our life on earth, and the door to life eternal.
If that doesn’t give sense to our groaning and passing, what will?