By Andrew Boyd
I can’t Facebook. I can’t check my fantasy league. I have to wait in line for gas. Starbucks is closed (No, I don’t drink coffee, but what’s the point of writing if people can’t see you do it). My 4G Network is down. This is what gets me upset. Not that people are homeless, hungry, and cold (or dead). But my life has been personally inconvenienced in what only can be considered minute and superficial ways. Many are homeless and cold, some have lost everything, I’m merely living in a world unplugged from social media and political news.
Why does God allow seemingly random bad things to happen? Is he trying to punish us? I for one don’t believe in a God who rains down supernatural punishment upon His sinful people in the form of super-storms. After all, after sending His Son to be crucified, what more can our God do to correct our behavior and send us on the road to salvation? But that doesn’t answer the questions, it just shuts up whatever talking head is blabbing on TV, using this tragedy (or any other) to get his or her name “out there” by making outrageous claims about God’s will and intention.
An interesting thing happened to many of us in the Tri-State Area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) these past few weeks. As we clean up and get back to life following Hurricane Sandy, our perspective dramatically changed. For many of us, deprived of internet, phones, and the ability to travel, quiet reigned where there was once self-involved and distracting noise. Suddenly, we were stuck only with the people right in front of our faces, and cruelly forced to acknowledge them. What a dramatic change in lifestyle.
As the electronic world came back to life, fully four days after the storm, I actually saw pictures of what was happening in New York City, in Southern Long Island, on the Jersey Shore. Unimaginable devastation, human pain and suffering, loss of life and property coupled with chaos and lingering anxiety. Disbelief was my first reaction, followed by frantic calls to loved ones and friends as the cellphone network limped back to life. Thankfully, everyone I know was alive and safe, though many others were not so lucky.
In all the swirling and unreal confusion of the past three weeks here in the Northeast United States, that emotion, that perspective, kept coming back to me again and again, in terms of thanksgiving. Short periods of deprivation from my technological world made me profoundly thankful for the wealth and convenience of my modern life. I was thankful for the safety of my friends and family, thankful for the heroic efforts of so many first responders, thankful for power crews from across the country, and even thankful for some days of quietly reading by candle-light instead of compulsively checking my smartphone. As I passed a Red Cross relief truck on the highway last week, I became thankful for the ability of so many, even in our cynical age, to give so selflessly. One OCA priest relayed to me the absolute surreal experience of seeing IOCC at work in his own neighborhood.
Father Alexander Schmemann always taught that human beings were created for the sole purpose of giving glory and thanks to God, of being what he would call “doxological and Eucharistic creatures.” We are created to be in communion with God through thanksgiving to Him, for we know the very word “Eucharist” has as its root the Greek verb “to give thanks”. God made us to be in communion with Him and each other by giving thanks and glory to Him. In our current life however, in the noise and self-involvement of our daily tech-enabled routine, it’s so very easy to forget God and your Neighbor. I am eternally thankful to God for this profound tragedy, because it forced so many of us to open our eyes to our neighbor, and give thanks to God for his abundant blessings and constant love. This attitude of thanksgiving is not the whole answer to the eternal question “Why does God allow bad things to happen?”, but for me, writing this on my laptop in my heated apartment watching cable, it is perhaps the most relevant answer.