The readings for this 18th Sunday in ordinary time challenge us to totally put ourselves under the care of our loving God. In the wake of the tragedy in Oslo, Norway, some people are tempted to ask: “where was God?” I will always remember the scene from Eli Wiesel’s Night in which a young boy was hanged by the Nazis and the question was posed “where is God?” The answer came from someone in the crowd: “he’ there, hanging on the gallows.”
The fact is that God is continually present in the midst of poverty, hunger, sickness, death, terrorism, and any other evil because of His compassion. Compassion literally means “to suffer with.” God suffers with and in humanity. As St. Paul notes in the second reading from Romans, “nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God is always walking the journey with us.
But when times get tough, it is difficult to see God’s presence. We focus on the evil or the suffering instead of on the hope that comes from God. We need to remember that God always provides. God always shows us the way. God always is calling us to more abundant life.
As more details emerge about the Norway terrorist, it should be noted that the issue has less to do with religion and more to do with extremism. Whether the terrorist is a Muslim, a Hindu, a Jew or a Christian, the common denominator is that they took their beliefs to the extreme and distorted them to the point that their actions were in total opposition to the tenets of their faith.
As Christians and Catholics, we must guard against any tendency to the extreme which would distort or twist the basic beliefs of our faith. But how do we know if a particular teaching or opinion is in the extreme? Here are some questions to help guide our understanding:
- Does this particular teaching or opinion seem contrary to what I’ve heard or believed all my life?
- Can I find evidence of this teaching in scripture, canon law, the catechism or in tradition?
- Do a majority of other people hold the same opinion I do?
- Is this particular action, teaching or belief really in accord with God’s plan?
The problem with the 9/11 terrorists as well as the Norway shooter is that they didn’t recognize that God does not call us to kill, maim and harm. Even in the few instances in scripture where God seemingly encourages violence, it is always directed at a specific target for a specific purpose. The majority of scripture shows us that God is a God of love, forgiveness and understanding. As the Gospel of a few weeks ago noted: The weeds and wheat are allowed to grow together until the harvest time. It is at that point that they are separated and the weeds discarded in the fire.
Those who are trying to purify the Church, society, or the world of evil elements by using extreme measures should take note of how God allows the good with the bad until the time is right. Moreover, God walks the journey along with the good and the bad trying to bring about conversion and holiness among all peoples.
As we continue to enjoy the summer, may each of us recognize that nothing can separate us from God’s love. When acts of terror happen instead of asking “where is God” we should be asking ourselves “how can we get closer to God as a result of this particular situation?”