In theory - Rabbi Joshua Grater

Recent disasters like Hurricane Ike, the earthquakes in China and Taiwan, and even the recent Metrolink accident can overwhelm people with emotions like fear, anger, frustration and even dread. What do the Scriptiures tell us of coping with the aftermath of these disasters, and how can we become better people as a result?

Disasters, be they natural or human caused, are some of the most defining moments in human existence.

How we respond in the face of tragedy can often speak volumes about the character of a certain person, community or nation. Whether it is a hurricane that devastates a town; an earthquake that levels a city; the recent Metrolink crash or 9/11, the human family is often at its most compassionate, most giving, most open and most beautiful during a crisis or tragedy.

And on the one hand, that is amazing and inspirational, for it shows us how resilient and strong the human spirit is. But, on the other hand, why should we have to wait for tragedy to strike to know our neighbors, help a stranger, volunteer our time, change our bad habits or be uber-kind? It seems to me that we often wait until tragedy strikes to realize our greatest divine gift: being compassionate and loving to the people around us. If there is anything we can learn from tragedy, it is this: Why wait until it strikes to be our best?

I am often asked, “Where is God in these tragedies? How could God let this happen to innocent people?” I don’t believe in a God that “allows” these things to happen. For me, God is found in the aftermath of the tragedy, in the caring and love that communities extend to each other, in the tears of those who are in pain, in the hope and strength that people find to rebuild their shattered lives.

As the Book of Kings teaches, “God is in the still small voice after the terrible storm.” I believe in a theology that includes randomness; I believe in a God that shares the pain of these tragedies, even as I believe in a God that permits human free-will, thereby limiting the power God has to prevent these tragedies.

Nobody deserves tragedy, it is not a punishment. It is a part of life on Earth. As is the healing that comes afterward.


RABBI JOSHUA GRATER is spiritual leader of Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center. Reach him at (626) 798-1161. RABBI JOSHUA GRATER is spiritual leader of Pasdena Jewish Temple & Center. Reach him at (626) 798-1161.

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