FINDING FAITH in the ASHES

by Richard B. Patterson

For centuries, faith has been sorely tested in the face of senseless tragedy, particularly when that faith includes a belief in a loving God. And so it is that, on 9/11/01 and since then, many believers are crying out "Where is God in the midst of the ashes of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?"

The feeling that one's faith has been shaken to its foundations is normal since the question of why God permits senseless suffering has been with us as long as the idea of the God of Love has been around. In fact, C.S. Lewis observed that a belief in a loving God creates the problem of pain.

Sacred writings are filled with persons of faith trying to grasp tragedy. How do some of them react? Job undergoes the most devastating tragedies, losing everything. How does he react? With anger! In fact, he was so angry that he demanded that God show up and explain Himself. And God shows up! Take note that Job is never punished for his anger, an important lesson for us during these times.

In the face of such crises of faith, people often have two reactions: 1. anger at God and 2. judgment of himself or herself for either that anger or at least the doubt that comes with senseless tragedy. So as each of us struggles with what has happened this week, I would offer the following thoughts:

  1. Do not judge yourself if you are angry with God. Rather, take that anger into your prayer life. God, after all, is supposed to be a Loving Parent. What loving parent would not want to hear his/her child's hurt and anger?
  2. Do not judge yourself or your faith if you are struggling. To struggle is not to be weak in your faith. Rather, faith is exactly what we try to draw upon to help us get through such times. To me, faith is like those gigantic Olympic weight lifters. We see them hoist hundreds of pounds above their heads, groaning and shouting in the process. We would never call them weak because of the groans and hollering.
  3. The writings of Harold Kushner or Viktor Frankl may help, particularly Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People and Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Both men write not from a position of abstract theory but from personal experience. Particularly helpful is Frankl's notion that, while we may have no choice in the misfortune that hits us, we always have a choice with regard to the stance we take in the face of such suffering.
  4. Talk about your struggles and doubts. Write about them in a journal.
  5. Listen closely to the testimony of persons of faith who have lost love ones or were involved with searches through the wreckage. Such testimonies are already coming in the news.

Where is God in the ashes? So far the only answers that work for me are these:

  1. Such disaster is clearly not God's doing. I find no comfort or help in the notion of God's will and I reject the notion that this is part of a Divine Plan.
  2. God for me is standing in the ashes, trying to comfort those who have lost loved ones and those who are trying to help.

I encourage you to struggle to find an answer that works for you. The Journey of Faith, after all, is never a smooth one.

09/17/01

Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology and spirituality.

 

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