Q. I am a lifelong Catholic, and I find myself having a crisis of faith. The age-old question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to innocent people?” becomes harder and harder to answer in the wake of so many natural disasters. An atheist said to me recently, “If your God is all-powerful and all-loving, as you say he is, he could have stopped the Oklahoma tornado with a mere thought. Why didn’t he?” How do I answer that? (Columbus, Ohio)
A. The easiest answer to the atheist happens also to be the most honest one: We don’t know. To pretend that we have, while on this side of heaven, a clear and comprehensive “theology of tornadoes” is foolish.
Moral evil, even, is easier to understand than natural disasters: St. Augustine, among others, argues that God allows our evil actions because to prevent them would undermine our freedom, and the benefit of free will outweighs all of its ill effects. But disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, are more difficult to explain. Clearly we believe that God could control them if he wanted — in Chapter 4 of Mark’s Gospel, after Jesus had calmed the waves, the apostles ask, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
Catholic teaching would suggest that disharmony in nature is one of the consequences of original sin; this is the approach taken in No. 400 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which lists as one of the results of Adam’s fall that “harmony with creation is broken; visible creation has become alien and hostile to man.”
As Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami once explained, natural disasters “can suggest that our planet itself is ‘in rebellion’ against the original order of a loving Creator God.”
I prefer to think, though, that a full explanation eludes us. My natural reason tells me that God exists: The rising of the sun each morning convinces me that a master planner is in charge. That conviction is ratified by my faith in the risen Jesus, whose core message was about a Father in heaven who loves me and wants my happiness. On that solid basis, I’m content to deal for now with some ambiguity, like Job. (Job, remember, was beset by all manner of ill fortune, and when he demanded an explanation, God’s reply was, “Where were you when I founded the earth?” (Jb 38:4).
The German Jesuit theologian Father Karl Rahner was right: The incomprehensibility of suffering is part of the incomprehensibility of God himself. If I could understand, at this point in my journey, everything about God, he really wouldn’t be God at all.
Q. I have been asked many times why Catholics end the Lord’s Prayer with “deliver us from evil,” while Protestants continue on with “for thine is the kingdom,” etc. Is it because the additional phrase was not said by Christ when he taught the prayer to the apostles? (North Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
A. The original manuscripts of the Gospel (Mt 6:9-13) end the Lord’s Prayer, as taught to the apostles by Jesus, with “deliver us from evil,” and this has been the Catholic version of the prayer. All the official “Catholic” texts of the Bible down through the centuries — including the Vulgate, the Douay-Rheims, the Confraternity Edition and the New American Bible — have never appended the additional verse, and Catholic and Protestant commentators are in general agreement that it was never a part of the original text.
As early as the year 100 A.D., though, the doxology beginning “for thine is the kingdom” had been added to some manuscripts, and it was included in the Didache, a first-century manual of morals, worship and doctrine in the church. (A doxology is a short hymn-like verse that exalts the glory of God.)
The doxology found its way into the standard Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer during the 16th century Reformation in England under Queen Elizabeth I and has remained a part of it ever since.
In the Catholic Mass, after “deliver us from evil,” the priest recites the prayer that begins, “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil …” before saying, with the congregation, the concluding doxology.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.
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