Norway's Oklahoma City – Why?

Almighty God comfort the People of Norway during this time of death and confusion.  Give them courage, strength, and bless them with peace allowing each person to find closure.  Amen.      

Why God?  Why do these things happen?  Do you allow them?  Free choice?  What was the choice of the people murdered?

An Oslo police officer told AP that Norway experienced its first “Oklahoma City” tragedy.  Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian accused of Friday’s domestic terrorism, used a bomb in downtown Oslo and later a gun to murder campers on Utoeya Island.  The death toll has reached 76.

Increasingly, the police have described Breivik as a “right-wing Christian fundamentalist.”  According to Oslo’s police chief, Breivik made anti-Muslim web postings, self-identified as a conservative Christian, and had connections to right-wing political groups known for xenophobia, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. 

Beyond Norway there are wars, homelessness, and the horrific famine now threatening the lives of 12 million men, women, and children in Somalia.  I don’t agree that we have as much free choice as some think.  Free choice is overrated.

With that said what loving, compassionate God allows such awful things to occur?  People of faith have and continue to wrestle with this question.  Religious leaders will be confronted by a parishioner mourning the senseless loss of a loved one.  Or they may be asked about a friend or husband’s newly acquired lifelong debilitating injury that seems so unfair.  The sensitive person trying to console the one in grief or pain doesn’t say, “It is God’s will.”  In my opinion it is the most insensitive and inappropriate response.

Faith takes work.  In light of Norway’s tragedy and the famine(s) that ravage Africa it sometimes takes a lot of work.  Often it would be easier not to believe. 

After many years of reflection, observation, perspective, reading about “free choice,” and trying to understand why bad things happen to people, I decided to let it go long ago.  I try not to walk into the “Why God?” zone.  Dante said that hell can be an endless conversation with oneself.  Going into the “Why God?” zone can easily get you there.

During times like the Norwegian tragedy, famine in Somalia, and the aftermath of Japan’s nuclear disaster, the Book of Job and Elie Wiesel’s play The Trial of God come to mind.    

Job, God’s good and faithful servant is tested.  His life is turned upside down.  He expresses anger toward the Creator.  Yahweh’s response humbles Job: 

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Tell Me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements?  Surely you know.  Or who stretched the line upon it?  To what were its foundations fastened, or who laid its cornerstone, when the stars were made and all My angels praised Me in a loud voice. 

I shut up the sea with doors when it burst forth and issued from the womb.  I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in mist…Have you come upon the fountain of the sea and walked in the tracks of the deep?  Do the gates of death open to you for fear, and did the doorkeepers of Hades quake when they saw you?

Wiesel’s The Trial of God especially strikes a haunting, endless chord in my soul.  I reflect on it often.  If you haven’t read it, please put it on your list.  I recommend the edition with an Introduction by Robert McAfee Brown and an Afterword by Matthew Fox.

As a teenager in Auschwitz Wiesel watched three prominent Jewish scholars put God on trial for crimes against creation and humankind.  He couldn’t bring himself to write about the experience so he based the play on a seventeenth century pogrom in Ukraine. 

The Auschwitz trial took several nights.  God was convicted.  After a long silence following the verdict and despite the hell that surrounded them one of the scholars said: “It’s time for evening prayers.”   

© Paul Peter Jesep

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About Paul Jesep

Paul is an attorney and corporate chaplain. He experiences the world as a Christ-centered Sophiologist. Paul believes the Holy Spirit is Holy Sophia (Divine Wisdom). He embraces Holy Sophia's invitation as a partner and co-creator for a better world balancing logic, faith, science, religion, spirituality, and common sense. Paul is also an Orthodox priest and served as the U.S. designated spokesperson and governmental representative on behalf of His Beatitude Metropolitan Myfodii of Ukraine, who died in 2015.