"I don't know," I said.
When I first started teaching I was afraid I wouldn't know the answer. I've come to love the questions I can't answer. For starters, it means the student is thinking, often deeply, about the subject. How exciting. Second, when the subject is Theology there is a lot of mystery. The study of God requires humility, the acknowledgment that there is a Supreme Being whose ways we humans will not always understand.
"If God is good, why are there hurricanes?," a student asked. It's a great question. Moral evils are more easily explained by way of free wil,l but the problem of natural evils and human suffering is hard to reconcile with a good God. "Do you think he is mad at us, do you think he is punishing us?," the student asked. An easier question.
In the Church's wisdom there is a crucifix in the front and center of every Catholic classroom. I pointed to it and explained: If God wanted to punish us, he had the perfect opportunity--as He hung from the cross. But what did he do? He prayed for the people who were killing Him. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Indeed. Rejecting the greatest love the world has ever known.
No, Christians don't have the luxury of an easy answer for the problem of pain. Believing in a God who would cause pain and suffering in order to smite His children into behaving is not consistent with the Good News, the fullest revelation of God. A good God cannot, would not, beget bad. Ever. We must find another explanation for natural evils, one that that makes sense from the foot of the cross. One that knows a God who enters into our pain and suffering and carries it on His back. One that understands that He wills us, at very real expense to himself, to spend a blissful eternity with Him.
Why do bad things happen to good people? I don't know. But I can assure you that God is good. I know that He has unconditional love for His children and that His ways are often beyond our ability to understand. I also know that when we "offer up" our suffering, as we like to say in Catholic Land, when we unite our suffering to His, trusting in his ability to make good come from it, we rise victorious with Him. And when we ease others' suffering we participate in building His Kingdom here on earth. Bring it!
For the record, they did. To be exact, our school's students raised more than nine thousand and one hundred dollars for hurricane victims. And there's no counting the value of their prayers to a Good Father on behalf of their suffering brothers and sisters.
Say it with me: God is good. All the time. This I know.