Where was Lord God?
Archbishop Jozef Michalik, Metropolitan of Przemysl
From time to time there arises the question about God's presence, about the sense of the Asian tragedy, in articles, radio talks and television programmes concerning this tragedy. People try to understand if that was God's punishment. There are even questions, which express doubts about God's Mercy. It is difficult to be indifferent towards these questions, which many of us raise.
It seems that facing any disaster you should direct all your potential interest to offer help for the victims. And that's why you should not ask 'where is God?' First you should ask: where are the people? Later there will be time for further reflections, for example 'to what extent could we have avoided this suffering if people had taken the attitude of humility before God and themselves?' We know very well that animals were leaving those areas threatened with flooding. It is worth asking: is there a relationship between lack of respect for the laws of nature and this great disaster, did the people who conducted too aggressive experiments with the earth's atmosphere and interior not start a process, which is just about to begin and this big disaster is perhaps the first cry of the nature?! If yes, to what extent? There are other observations as well.
We know that tourism is the main source of income for these poor islands. There were many attempts to install instruments of warning there. Once or twice there was warnings but the local authorities ignored them because they feared that tourists would leave the islands and thus they would lose a lot of money. We do not know what was the situation this time. The fact is that the tsunami wave reached the coast of Sri Lanka half an hour after the flood alert. Not all people could have been saved. But did they try to save them? These are human matters and those people are waiting for human help and we should get mobilised to help them.
However, it is painful and astonishing to see that for several dozen years we have not been aware of the tragedy of people dying of hunger, that we appease our conscience and close our ears and eyes to the killing of the unborn and innocent children and that we easily - too easily - justify every evil.
All these dramas, which involve human suffering, often nobody to blame for, show the need for human solidarity; they let solidarity be demonstrated, and this is certain value of every suffering, including this disaster. They let us find a middle ground and look at our lives, possibilities and difficulties from a right angle. True and creative solidarity is not only evident in every penny or million dollars we give but should be revealed through inner solidarity in prayer, compassion, reflection on life, which is a big set of communicating tubes.
This is all true but a question still arises - why? There is no clear answer to such a question because suffering, very suffering, is a great mystery. We can and should ask if people did not cause this suffering. In this context there is a reflection on various known, and often unknown experiments, with nature. Can rape of Mother Nature be unpunished? Wild, non-ethical pursuit of wealth... Yet, for example the USA have not signed the Kyoto Protocol, which obliges all countries, including great powers, to protect nature.
The significant thing is that this disaster happened exactly at this place - the place where people are poor and exploited by powerful international tourism. It may be a sign, a warning from Lord God... Lord God could have said - naturally reasoning from our human perspective - 'The things you are doing, the fact that you are not listening to God's laws, given for your good and safety, the fact that you are ignoring these laws, all this causes suffering, regardless who has caused it'. All people are suffering. Therefore, this is a call to reflections and conclusions that all people share the responsibility to defend God's laws and the laws of nature.
Another problem, which must rise in the situation of such a hecatomb, is the question about underground nuclear experiments. Nuclear experiments must have repercussions in the universe. There are natural tectonic movements but there is some evidence that the nuclear experiments have caused earthquakes and even a movement of the earth's axis. This is a big warning, which says that man's provocation leads to disorder in nature. One may also say that looking at these countries, called holiday paradise, one can see that man's pursuit for relax without considering ethics and morality, should incline us towards reflection. Some responsible correspondents write that tourism in the Far East has not always been a matter of rest but it often resulted from the pursuit for profit on these poor people, for example through drug smuggling or even the trade of children. This is a great tragedy, which is being revealed now and which calls for reflection.
We could multiply questions but the Christian perspective concerning suffering demands humility in looking at it. God also speaks through suffering; he saves man through suffering - the suffering of his Son, through the suffering of the Holy Family. The struggle between good and evil can be seen not only in present times with reference to the innocent man, but we can see the seed of rebellion of the Evil One against the greatest Good and Holiness.
I have already mentioned that not all people go on holiday in a morally good way. It is not time to evaluate people's behaviour but it is time to reflect on the theology of rest. Today tourism is rooted in people's lives; people deserve rest. We mean a wider reflection on dignity of rest, on faithfulness to principles and norms, which we are obliged to.
Without slightest doubts - big tragedies become signs. It is hard to find a prophet who could interpret these signs but we should become prophets for ourselves, for our behaviour, our hierarchy of values and faithfulness to principles. Can we, looking at this disaster in a subjective way, not say that this suffering over there, so far away from us, was a sign for the world and for us, that it was a merciful call of God through tragedies of those people so that we could become better? I do not know. I do know that such a challenge creates such an occasion. The Council teaches that man is obliged to read the signs of the time. The easiest way to do this is to refer them to other signs, to global events. It is necessary to read them on the map of your own life. I remember watching an interview with the man who was miraculously saved, as he claimed, from the burning towers on 11 September 2001. He could not explain that survival. Later he learnt that all his family prayed at home during that time. He said, 'since that day my life has changed. I know that every day is a day given to me. Every day I am thankful for my survival and I tell the people I meet how good God is'.
And this tragedy brings similar testimonies. A testimony of a mother, whose daughter with her husband and a child were at this very place, saw the approaching wave on television. And at this moment she, together with her family, knelt to pray. All were saved. Or another testimony, 'I was saved by unknown people. Up till now I cannot sleep, I have nightmares. I must go there, I must thank them and help in whatever way I can'.
I have great doubts that when mass media stop describing this tragedy the world will draw proper conclusions. These big signs are still insufficient voices for the people who formulate global thinking, they are not sufficient for the media which have fulfilled a positive role in publicising this great disaster, stirred human solidarity in minds but are not courageous enough to make another step: creative reflection on the questions: why? what more can be done?
Tragedy shows that there is a need for prophets. The media need prophets, not only the Church. But among people working in the media there should be prophets who could see beyond the facts, and persistently build a hierarchy of values and remind people of certain principles; otherwise things will remain the same. And there are more and more threats - read the books by Prof. Francis Fukuyama and consider his prognosis. You can see very clearly that new disasters are bound to happen. And then we ask where God was then. We may well need those scientific prophets of the media who would remind us of God and pose questions about the role of God in human activities, which often have the features of Promethean temptation.
It is true that the world declared big sums but ... it is to help to rebuild what was destroyed. Today we have the problem of the children who have lost their parents. How can we help them effectively? We need prophets!
It is worth mentioning that exactly 60 years ago New Zealand accepted several hundred orphans of the Polish refugees sent to Siberia. All those orphans were placed in local families; all were brought up and educated. Now they enjoy high esteem. A few weeks ago my friends sent me a report of this moving jubilee - the hearts that opened 60 years ago are still opening.
Yes, tragedies can yield good and then they become a great sign of heaven. Human mind cannot interpret the mystery of suffering but it can answer it with goodness and heart. The writer's words are still valid, 'And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee'.
You can give money for the victims in Asia to the following account
Caritas Polska, Skwer Kardynala Stefana Wyszynskiego 9, 01-015 Warszawa
PKO BP SA I/O Centrum w Warszawie 70 1020 1013 0000 0102 0002 6526
(USD) 65 1020 1013 0000 0202 0121 5011
adding: Earthquake in Asia
Bank PKO SA doe not charge any commission. Bank BISE SA and Polish Post offices do not charge any commission on payments for the Asian victims into the Caritas Polska bank account. From 12 January to 31 March 2005 Bank Polskiej Spoldzielczosci SA does not charge a commission on payments: For the earthquake in Asia.