“God does not want us to understand the suffering of the innocent but to fight for a world in which the innocent no longer suffer.” ― Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
A few months ago, I was discussing the problem of evil with an elderly priest who worked among the “poorest of the poor” in Central America for almost 40 years. We were discussing “theodicy,” the problem of evil in the face of belief in a good, just and omnipotent God. He said to me (as I wrote later in my journal),
The poor have no time for speculation when evil happens. The problem is not ‘why,’ but what to do. You don’t find agonizing existentialists there wondering sleeplessly about meaning. Meaning is about action, about the life of the other. For them, meaning is found when you do your faith and see the results. Then you can sense God, or the Virgin, present and alive. They believe in order to understand.
When I first arrived there, the high infant mortality rate made tragic death an ever-present reality. When a child would die, the mother would wail, the women of the village would rally around her. Ritual weeping for 3 days, a weeping church. Praying. Clutching a crucifix. Flowers at the feet of the Virgin. A dignified burial, groaning, prayers, Mass, food for the family, then song. Life moves on.
Evil was very naturally redeemed by the people, because they understood that God does not simply come down to explain evil, but acts in an incarnate manner to conquer it. Acts in us. Peacefully, organically when we see ourselves as a living Body. If one might ask, ‘Where is God in all this?’ they might say, ‘Get to it and you’ll see.’ Ora et labora, pray and do.
The drive to make a better world is indomitable, and they wanted this as much as anyone. Yet for them it was hope in a perfect world to come that kept at bay the temptation to a hopeless protest that so often leads to violence. They were a peaceful people. You could see the leaven of the Gospel from centuries of faith. While they were never content with evil, they worked to heal it by taking it into the community’s life; which for them meant taking it up into God Himself. Never to destroy evil, but only to save what was good as a Body animated by faith in Jesus.
There’s something essentially Christian about that focus on action and community, a way that we’ve largely lost here as we relegate so many of our responses to evil and suffering to institutions and not to living, breathing, feeding, healing communities. Our parishes have to become alive with this ‘doing faith in community’ if culture is to change.