Where was God during the floods, fires and shootings?

When terrible things happen we want our spiritual leaders to find meaning in what seems meaningless. Rabbi Steve Chester recently sent this message to his congregation of Temple Israel. He leans more on actions than on faith. Maybe you feel that way also.

The last few months have been very difficult ones for many of us. Natural disasters seem to be running rampant. Hurricanes in Florida, Houston and Puerto Rico have killed a number of people and left thousands homeless. Fires in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties also have killed people and left thousands homeless. If this is not enough, human beings have perpetrated horrendous deeds. The massacre in Las Vegas; the mowing down of those in Manhattan; the recent shooting in the church in Texas. Hundreds are dead or wounded. We as a society are reeling because of these events. These tragedies, whether caused by natural forces or human forces cause us to ask many questions-some of the most frequent being “Why did God let this happen; Where was God when these events were happening; or did God have anything to do with these events.” “Were people so bad that God was punishing us in the same way God punished Noah’s generation?”

I recently read an article that attempted to answer these age old questions.The article, in brief, did not give AN answer, but gave many answers. These answers ranged from the most traditional: the people affected by these events, or at least many of them, were leading lives full of sin and thus God punished them through these horrific acts of nature or of humans in order to make them change their ways; to the non-religious response: God had nothing to do with this; to many beliefs in between. Depending on one’s theology, so went the answer.

What do I answer when people ask me what God’s role in this tragic events was? My answer is based on the approach taken by Rabbi Harold Kushner in his famous book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I agree with him when he says that God is not the cause of the act or event itself, but that God is in the response-in the response of human beings. God was found-was acting through those who risked their lives to save others as the winds roared, the waters rose, the fires raged and the bullets struck. God was in the many people who rushed to volunteer to help the hundreds of thousands who suffered losses of all kinds. God was in all who sent money to get food, medicine and shelter to those whose lives were filled with fear and suffering after each event. God is present when we do Godly deeds. God is present when we become partners with God to help those in need. God is present when we strive to do God’s work of repairing our broken world.

So, where was God in the horrible happenings in the past few months? God was there in the work that we did, in the help we gave, in the prayers we delivered. We are created in God’s image: as God is merciful, so are we to be merciful; as God is caring, so are we to be caring; as God is comforting, so are we to be comforting. May we continue to be merciful, caring and comforting as we do God’s work here on earth.

Rabbi Chester
Temple Israel in Alameda