This homily was offered on September 11, 2008, at St. John the Apostle Mission Station in St. Francisville, LA.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

One of the greatest arguments, in the secular world, against the existence of God is the so-called “problem of evil.” This problem asks the question “with a God Who is good and loving, how can evil exist in the world?” Why does a God who is love allow evil? And to be very timely, the specific question of natural disasters—why does God’s creation cause such evil (death from earthquakes, floods, hurricanes)? In another phrasing, where was God as people died in Hurricane Gustav, or Hurricane Katrina, or any of the other terrible natural disasters that claim the lives of so many people in the world today? As people who have recently been affected by Hurricane Gustav, some much more than others, that question very often comes to mind—what is God’s role is causing or preventing these tragedies?

The Orthodox Church doesn’t try to answer that question in a way that would provide solutions to all the various aspects of the questions. That would be nonsense; as we hear expressed in the Scriptures: who is man to question God (Job); who is man to understand the mind of God (His ways are not our ways). It would be foolish to think that we can understand and explain God. But there are some things we can definitely say, beginning with placing all events in the context of God’s revelation to man, using the two feasts we celebrate this month—

Nativity of the Theotokos
On this day the woman who is to be the mother of the Promised Messiah is born. The fullness of time is fulfilled, God’s promise to His creation for redemption has begun, and is completed with the birth of Jesus Christ. From this feast we very clearly see that God’s concern is for His creation, and for our betterment, salvation. With sin, death and decay and destruction enter the world, but the promise and eventual fulfillment of the Messiah is God’s word to His suffering creation—what we suffer in this life is not of God’s plan, and it won’t be like this forever, a new heaven and a new earth are promised.

The Exaltation of the Cross
The Nativity of the Theotokos shows God’s concern and His care for our salvation, and the Cross shows how far God is willing to go for our sake. He takes on our humanity, lives our life, and even experiences death. God, Who would never undergo suffering, allows Himself to suffer as we suffer. We don’t have a God high in the sky, oblivious to our sufferings and our situations—our God became one of us, and is joined intimately to us for eternity.

Now, with this context of how God cares for man, we can offer an answer to the question “where was God?”—because of the Cross we can offer the answer that the Fathers of the Church offer: He was there with His people in the midst of the storm. He goes through it all with us; we’re never alone. The pain our Creator feels at the loss of each human life far outweighs the pain we feel even at the loss of a very close loved one, and He experiences this loss many time over every day.

The evil in the world is caused by us, by human sin. As we read in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (8: 19-22). All of creation is damaged because of our sin—tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes—all of these are caused by our sin in the world. Our choices, our sins, have messed everything up, the world is broken.

The natural disasters, there’s nothing natural about them. They are un-natural, because that’s not the way God’s creation was meant to work. God gave us free will, andwe must reap the consequences of our choices—separation from God and death. And as the crown of God’s creation, our separation causes all of creation to be removed from God, and apart from God it all falls apart. God is not the author of sin and death, we are. But what can, and what does, God do for us in times of evil and tragedy—He’s there with us! We never go through anything alone, we have recourse to God primarily in prayer, but also in worship, or weeping, or singing, or screaming, even. God is there to bear our burdens with us. We’ll only deal with the evils of life alone if we choose to be alone.

So, for the problem of evil—the evil exists because of our sin. But God loves us, and He doesn’t make us go through anything alone—He bears the burden with us. Fr. Thomas Hopko says that any God Who would create the world we live in, a world full of evil and sin and death and suffering, if a God would create this world and then not enter it, not take it upon Himself and offer redemption—that God would be a tyrant. But our God is not a tyrant, but a man-loving God, who takes all the evils of this world upon Himself on the Cross, for our deliverance and salvation.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!