The single most consistent, critical and crucial cry toward God throughout the history of humanity during times of trial, challenge, and despair has been some form of the question: “Why have you done this to us?” (Luke 2:48). Implicit in this brutally honest statement is the accusation that if God truly loved us he would not allow natural disasters, pandemics, economic distress, bigotry, hatred, violence, destruction, and so on to occur.
The Catholic response to these questions has been debated, argued, and written about for centuries. In this current moment in our world, people are worried and they are posing similar concerns. The best manner of response to divine questions such as these is to dive into the words and actions of Jesus himself.
From the moment of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38), eight days after his birth, until his public ministry begins with his baptism in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22), we have one singular event recorded in the Bible which has become known as The Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52). Jesus and the Holy Family are making their way to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, as prescribed each year for all Jews, and on their return home to Nazareth Jesus appears to be lost. For three days, Mary and Joseph go looking for Jesus until they finally discover him in the Temple with the teachers of the Law. We are told that Jesus is “listening and asking them questions,” (Luke 2:46).
In order to investigate these important questions we must follow the lead of the ones closest to Jesus. First, Joseph and Mary looked for Jesus “among their relatives and acquaintances” (Luke 2:44). When we are looking for God in the midst of trials it is imperative that we speak to the ones we care about the most and who love us the most: our family and friends. Often enough, the cry announcing God’s absence on the scene comes from a real reflection of the horrible nature of the present circumstances. There is something wrong that is confronting us, and this occurrence seems to have no disappearance in the near future. Therefore, this response is coming forth from a place of frustration toward a situation because the good does not seem to be winning.
Questioning God is a natural human response. Interrogatives are how we learn more about what we don’t know. Honest questions come from a place of desire to reflect and work out what seems to be inconsistent with one’s experience and knowledge of God. If Mary and Joseph wondered why this would happen to them, why Christ would seem to desert them when he knew that this would cause them grief, then it is a guarantee of the human journey to ask why moments in history are filled with what seems to be divine desertion.
Running toward the one we love first will allow our friends and family, who know us best and have our best interest at heart, to objectively examine whether a question is coming from a good place. They will also be the best people to steer us in the direction toward the answer. Loved ones can offer and provide insight that will undoubtedly echo the same sentiments of either current or previous frustration and doubt about God’s presence in the midst of challenging times. This is why God prescribes human beings to grow up in the social structure of a family and to worship him together in a community. We must rest our shoulders and bare our concerns to others because their presence and encouragement give us the strength to never give up.
Now, the answer is what everyone is looking for. Centuries of believers in the Judeo-Christian God have inquired how God can allow tragedies to go on and people to get hurt if he truly cares about us? The answer is not analogous to what we find on the other side of an equal sign in a math equation. The answer to supernatural questions is not as simple as measuring whether or not your family-worn couch will fit in the basement of your new home or even if the Yankees will win another World Series. Discipleship is not concerned with measurements or predictions in the future. The Christian faith is caught up in the gaze of God toward man.
Jesus’ Incarnation, birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection contain the answer. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple provides a pivotal insight. Jesus’ response to why he would do this to Mary and Joseph is:
“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?Luke 2:49
It is important to notice that he does not give a clear and concise answer; Jesus does not say, “Well I allowed you to suffer and worry about me over the last few days because I wanted to teach you a lesson and show you a moral,” or any other definitive type response. His answer to their question about why he appeared to leave them and why he allowed these circumstances to occur is with his own question: how did you not know that I am where my father is? Jesus’ answer is that he resides, and is himself, the presence of God. Christ provides a response, in his own words, to the questions found below:
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- Why does God allow evil and suffering?
- Where is God in the midst of this virus and this violence erupting across the globe?
The “response,” and I use that word specifically instead of the word “answer,” is to go where God’s presence is. To run to the Eucharist, the fulfillment of the Temple and the actual presence of God, and to thoughtfully and honestly pose our concerns to him. The questions above are universally posed, not just by this generation, but shouted forth by every person who ever has or whoever will exist.
The problem of evil can be responded to through an in-depth understanding of original sin and the necessity for freedom in order for humanity to love, and, therefore, be like God who is love itself. However, Jesus does not quote Scripture and he does not say philosophy, although well-needed, is the correct recipe in response to evil. The response must be the pursuit of God’s presence. This can be confusing and unclear. Even Mary and Joseph, Luke noted, “did not understand what he said to them” (Luke 2:50). The issue is not our questions, but our need for a clearly explained answer that leaves us satisfied and convinced.
The key, the roadmap, can be found in the divine response of the twelve-year old Son of God that day in Jerusalem: bring everything to the Lord, nothing less than all of your worries, cares, fears, and questions will do. However, do not merely pose them in your head out of frustration and righteous anger; ask Christ your questions in the context of prayer, and ask them of his true presence in the Eucharist.
Look for Jesus, ask him everything, and be brought to the place that is not caught up in clear-cut answers, but on fire with the burning love of God for his children, whom he never abandons and continually responds to. Not just with wisdom and understanding, but with his very life and unwavering proximity which cries out to the world in dramatic fashion: my presence is the answer.
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Thomas Griffin teaches apologetics in the Religion Department at a Catholic high school and lives on Long Island with his wife. He has a master’s degree in theology from St. Joseph’s Seminary and College along with a bachelor’s degree in theology and philosophy from Molloy College. Thomas has written for several online Catholic blogs. Follow his (and his twin brother’s) article posts and videos @CalledTwin.
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