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Asking the clergy: What would you tell congregants who ask why God lets tragedies happen?

The deaths of 700 pilgrims in a stampede near Mecca, and a crane collapse in Mecca that also claimed lives -- as well as the recent anniversary of the 9/11 terrorism attacks -- may make one wonder where the power of God was in all of these tragedies. This week's clergy discuss why a merciful God allows such bad things to befall his children.


The Rev. William Brisotti, pastor, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church, Wyandanch:

God doesn't cause it. The 9/11 terrorist attack was human choice; people did that. And not in a vacuum. Obviously, these are things that are going on all the time. They are very misguided attempts to rectify injustices in the world, of which there are many. As Gandhi taught: "An eye for an eye will eventually leave everybody blind." In terms of accidents and natural disasters, whatever the circumstances are that led to 700 people being trampled, it's a result of human failure, related to the planning and organizing of the event. Basically, God made us free, with brains, hearts and a conscience. We're not just automatons. Listening to what Pope Francis is talking about -- a more merciful world, collaborating for good, and what is happening as a result of his efforts to help bring an end to the 50 years of civil war in Colombia -- is amazing. People are in need. You can't, as Pope Francis is constantly saying, become indifferent to human suffering due to the failures of nations. People are being forced to flee. This is not new in the world, and you certainly can help people find security and safety. The old saying is, "work like everything depends on you, and pray like everything depends on God." You can choose to be a force for good and think of making the situation better, not just reacting in a negative way.


Rabbi Yackov Saacks, director, The Chai Center, Dix Hills:

I personally don't know how God works and I don't know anyone who understands God's ways. It is not possible for the finite mind to comprehend the infinite. Having said that, I tell people that life is like coming into the theater in the middle of the movie. You don't know what happened before and you don't know what is happening next. Life is the same way. Judaism believes in reincarnation where our souls have lived before and will live again. This is not our first rodeo. This current life is a temporary hiatus when you compare it to the afterlife and living in the rat race multiple times. By definition (my definition) faith is believing in God specifically when the going is tough. You see, it is very easy to believe and thank God when you just won the New York State lottery. How about when you lose a loved one? Believing in God in trying times is a sign of faith and true grit. King David offers a profound insight. In Chapter 34 of Psalms, King David states "Taste and you shall see that the God is good." The lesson I learn from this is that if one stands outside (God's circle) and is just an observer, then we have the possibility of getting get hurt, angry and resentful. However, when we are intimate (as in tasting/kissing) with God, then we understand that God is good and we rely on that he knows what he is doing and life is not subject to bad luck.


Venerable Kottawe Nanda, head monk, Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center:

Buddhism doesn't say that tragedies that happen around the world have been caused by God. According to Buddhism, tragedies result from the power of bad karma. If someone has to face a premature or unexpected death, it should have resulted from the bad karmic power gathered in previous existences. We don't know as to how much bad karmic power we have, and thus, sometimes, unexpectedly, we have to face dangerous situations or serious illnesses or even sudden death. We teach about the power of karma, so that humans have to do good deeds, and perform meritorious activities, to help people and practice generosity, morality and meditation and so on. We have to not kill others and practice loving friendliness, compassion and sympathetic joy, the mental quality of being happy at others' success. When we practice those things, definitely, those unexpected tragedies will occur less and less in the world. If there is a tragedy, by helping the victims you will gather good karma. Send gifts of food, clothing and money to help them, and their survivors. Don't kill animals or other living beings. On my birthday this year, I saved some animals' lives. I bought some rabbits, which were supposed to be killed, from the butcher and saved them. Buddhism explains that, "All fear punishment, all fear death, taking that as an example, do not harm or kill." We offer our sincere condolence and deepest sympathy to the families who lost their loved ones in the accident that occurred in Mecca. We wish them not to inherit such untimely death in their future existences. Also we wish all of those who got injured to get well soon by the power of truthfulness and Dhamma.

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