In the wake of a natural disaster or a catastrophe like Hurricane Sandy, it is not uncommon for anyone to wonder – or even ask loudly – “where is God?”. “Why did God allow this to happen?” or “Why didn’t God prevent it from happening?”.Some may even wonder: “In the midst of all this devastation and all the chaos, how is God involved?”
In the book of Ruth 1:1-18, – the First Reading for some churches on the Sunday after All Saints Day – Naomi – Ruth’s mother-in-law – draws this conclusion: “…the hand of the Lord has turned against me”.
Think of Naomi’s predicament in dealing with this question. She and her family flee their homeland – Bethlehem – because of famine. They seek refuge in a foreign land – Moab. Calamity strikes when her husband dies and before long, further calamity when her sons also die. She is left with two daughters-in-law. She actually sees her daughters-in-law as further burden she has to bear.
We do know, that in later years, Ruth becomes the grandmother of king David and the ancestor of Jesus the Christ. Yet, in the midst of the catastrophe and chaos that Naomi faced, she had no way of knowing how God was involved. It is certainly easy for us now, looking back, to conclude that something far greater than the catastrophe and the calamity came out. It would not be so easy for Naomi when the catastrophe struck.
The victims of Hurricane Sandy face the same predicament as Naomi. Some lost relatives – 74 people are already reported to have died. Many more lost homes and property – every material thing they owned. Many are worrying about lost business, lost livelihood.
Difficult as it is to grasp, the same message about Naomi can be said to those who have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy: God works in mysterious ways, and something far greater than the catastrophe may come out of this.
Yet, even this acceptance demands a lot of trust. One has to trust God in order to find not only meaning, but solace, in the wake of catastrophe. Think of Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God…”
This comes from trust without which it is almost impossible to deal with issues that are bigger than us.
There is a second issue, and that is of relationships and the support system. In Naomi’s case the family unit was all that one had for support in times of catastrophe or calamity. The extended family constituted the unit.
In western society today, there is only the vestige of the family support system. When parents are no longer able to care for themselves, nursing homes and professionals provide them with the care their children would have provided. Instead of relatives looking after children, now there are schools and childcare facilities – professionals instead of family.
The important thing, perhaps, is that there should be a support system. The community at large, in western society, has replaced the family. What needs to happen is not to go back to Naomi’s days – even if that were possible – but to adapt to the new reality and make it work efficiently and equitably. Indeed, it would probably be impossible for families alone to provide assistance in the face of calamity without the involvement of the larger community. That is why FEMA and the Red Cross and the Catholic Social Services, for example, can be more effective, equipped and capable in the wake of natural disasters than family units.
The third point, in view of All Saints Day, is the reality of departed loved ones.
Death is a bond among human beings. Everyone has experienced the death of a family member, relative or close friend. When that happens, it can be catastrophic, as in the case of Naomi and her daughters-in-law. Even what was once valuable assets, like homes and houses, can become burdensome in the wake of death.
Here too, the lesson to be learned is that there is and there ought to be a support system so that not one individual among us should have to bear the burden alone.
So, going back to the question we began with: “Where is God in all this?” The answer is: “We find God in each one of us, in one another”. When we are there for one another, no catastrophe, no calamity should be too great for any one.