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By Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard
As Haiti reels from a death-dealing earthquake, I attend a visitation for a young man I know. I have been here before, at visitations for people under 30, people deemed too young to die. On Dec. 26, 2004, when the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake turned into the Indian Ocean tsunami, I had just gotten word of the death of a young person in a car accident. With both of these earthquakes, I’ve been struck by the immense grief of one family, dealing with the death of one child, set against the backdrop of thousands of families grieving thousands of dead.
If God is a gracious and loving God, then why doesn’t God bail us out of these super-sized, seismic earthquakes? With climate changes in the works, we hear on the news that there will be more cataclysmic catastrophes. Some say, “There is no God, hence, no One to bail anyone out of anything.” But, for those who do struggle with belief in the midst of tragedy, God appears to be missing in action. Where is God when the errant car swerves on ice, when the cancer continues destroying from the inside out? If the Federal Reserve can bail out, why can’t the Almighty?
We have an old clock that needs to be wound once a week. It belonged to a grandfather, and if we don’t wind it, the pendulum swings to a stop after one week. Some believe the Creator of the universe(s) set creation in motion, to let it wind down like a clock, that no Self-respecting God would intervene in creation once it got going. That’s called Deism. God was involved, got things set up and running, but bail on the world, God did. God bailed out.
Looking at bailouts, the North American International Auto Show is being held January 11-24 in Detroit, with many mindful of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) , and of the $23 billion initially provided to General Motors and Chrysler. Ford, which did not take bail out monies, is seen as the strongest of the Detroit big three, and took both car and truck of the year awards. How Ford continues to do remains to be seen. The one who did not take a bail out proved to have the strongest showing. It was true at the car show, but is it true in life? Do we become stronger by not being bailed out?
My brain cannot wrap itself around the depth and breadth and height of this tragedy in Haiti. I cannot fathom the human cost, the children orphaned, the relatives bereft, a poor nation left staggering.
Perhaps the best bailing out we do as humans is to respond to the needs of other humans, and let God do what God will? I do believe in the mystery of the Divine, that I cannot comprehend the depth and breadth and height of that either. I find myself returning to Eliza Gilkyson’s “Requiem,” a song Gilkyson wrote after the 2004 tsunami, which a friend of mine and I played as my friend was dying of breast cancer. In this economy, we can donate to good causes and be kind and compassionate knowing there is plenty of grief to go around. For those seeking comfort, Victor Hugo said it well, “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”
Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard is parish associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Normal, Illinois. She is editor of spiritualbookclub.com and its blog.