Tree of Knowledge
It is impossible to try to digest the magnitude of the loss: suffering, death, pain, and destruction caused by the earthquake in Nepal. We know that over 3,600 people were killed, numerous buildings destroyed (including some landmark structures in Kathmandu), and many roads rendered impassable. Over a dozen Mt. Everest climbers were also killed, with others left stranded on the mountain.
While at one level, “natural disasters” have a way of being “no respecters of persons,” at another level, they also have a way of exposing the massive inequities that persist from country to country, location to location. Nepal is a developing country, scoring a ranking of only 145 of 187 countries in the Human Development Index. It is a poor country that boasts incredible natural and cultural beauty, but with a complicated political situation and challenging economic challenges.
In his book ‘Where is God? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope’, liberation theologian Jon Sobrino reflects on the theological question of “natural” disasters, in particular the earthquakes of 2001 in El Savador. Sobrino points out that some tragedies are interpreted as having greater world significance, depending on where they occur and – most crucially – whom they affect. The greatest tragedies, then, are those which have the greatest felt impact on the most powerful –the “writers” of the script of history or those whom that script is written around.
A related point is that, very often, “natural” disasters are most disastrous when they hit areas that are more susceptible to the ravages of nature: variables like financial resources, political structure, educational levels, and so on, create situations of deep vulnerability.
Too often in theology, discussions of the “Problem of Evil” make hard distinctions between “moral evil’ and “natural evil.” But the devastation caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and so on, can reveal deeper and more complex problems of the human condition that cannot be adequately addressed by distinguishing “moral” and “natural” evil. While geographical events and weather patterns are no respecters of persons, they can also be a sign of the lack of progress in affirming globally and fully the imago Dei in all human beings. The way the event is inscribed into our cultural and historical memories (or whether it is quickly forgotten altogether) is one of those signs.
Let me close with Sobrino’s own words from his first reflection on the devastation of an earthquake:
“There is no logical, rationally convincing answer to the question about where God is in suffering. Without discussing it further now, let us simply say that God is also crucified. In Europe, Bonhoeffer and Moltmann have made that point very well. Some of us have also thought about the problem. But it is clear that the answer to the question about God can only be found in life: if ultimate mystery, even in a time of catastrophe, can give rise to hope. That is to say, if hope does not die.”
Kyle Roberts (PhD) is Associate Professor of Public and Missional Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
Kyle Roberts – Patheos
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Compassion – In the Presence of Difficulty
— Madisyn Taylor, DailyOM
Compassion is the ability to see the deep connectedness between ourselves and others. Moreover, true compassion recognizes that all the boundaries we perceive between ourselves and others are an illusion. When we first begin to practice compassion, this very deep level of understanding may elude us, but we can have faith that if we start where we are, we will eventually feel our way toward it. We move closer to it every time we see past our own self-concern to accommodate concern for others. And, as with any skill, our compassion grows most in the presence of difficulty.
We practice small acts of compassion every day, when our loved ones are short-tempered or another driver cuts us off in traffic. We extend our forgiveness by trying to understand their point of view; we know how it is to feel stressed out or irritable. The practice of compassion becomes more difficult when we find ourselves unable to understand the actions of the person who offends us. These are the situations that ask us to look more deeply into ourselves, into parts of our psyches that we may want to deny, parts that we have repressed because society has labeled them bad or wrong. For example, acts of violence are often well beyond anything we ourselves have perpetuated, so when we are on the receiving end of such acts, we are often at a loss. This is where the real potential for growth begins, because we are called to shine a light inside ourselves and take responsibility for what we have disowned. It is at this juncture that we have the opportunity to transform from with!
This can seem like a very tall order, but when life presents us with circumstances that require our compassion, no matter how difficult, we can trust that we are ready. We can call upon all the light we have cultivated so far, allowing it to lead the way into the darkest parts of our own hearts, connecting us to the hearts of others in the understanding that is true compassion.
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* Published in print edition on 1 May 2015