At every vespers service we sing “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.” In the wake of the death we have witnessed recently, particularly the monster of a tornado last month in Moore, Oklahoma, words like these become the unutterable cry of the heart. It was an EF5 tornado, the strongest category with 200+ mph winds, and estimated at over one mile wide, which destroyed two elementary schools at dismissal time and wiped entire neighborhoods off the map. Parents and rescuers were left to search for children, other loved ones, and pets in the rubble, working against time, power outages, and road closures to save those whom they could. At the end of the confusion and chaos, the final death toll stood at 24, including 9 children.
What kind of God lets this happen? We could ask the same thing about the EF5 tornado that struck Moore previously in 1999, killing 40, or the EF5 that struck Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011, killing 162. Indeed, we ask the same thing about all manner of disasters of any origin. How can God allow this? Why doesn’t God do something?
The mystery for us is that God has done something. Fr. Thomas Hopko summarizes: “John Chrysostom has a sermon where people say, ‘Why doesn’t God do something?’ And he says, ‘What do you want Him to do?’ And then he went through this whole litany of everything that God does: He creates the world, we fall. He sends the prophets, He gives the Law. He gives the Commandments. Finally, he sends His own Son. Ultimately, he is crucified. What more is there? So when Jesus, hanging on the Cross, says, “It is fulfilled (tetelestai in Greek, sometimes translated, “It is finished”), it doesn’t simply mean it’s the end of the story. It means that it’s the total accomplishment of everything. Everything now is done. Nothing more can be done.”
The whole world—not just humanity, but the entire created order—was corrupted because of us. Before the Fall, there was no sin, and there was no death. Before the Fall, the destruction we witness from these disasters could not even be contemplated, for, without death, there is no true disaster. In the Fall, not only man is corrupted, but all of creation. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned,” as St. Paul puts it in Romans 5:12. And, lest we condemn Adam, we must acknowledge that each of us would have sinned in the same way, insisting on our way rather than God’s, and the same destruction would be the result.
God has done something. He ascended the Cross. He partook of the death He did not create, suffering it as one for whom nothing could be more alien. He, too, cried out, “Why have You forsaken me?” with the groaning and anguish that went far deeper than ours could. He, too, cried from the depths. Life Himself entered into death in order to wage war against it, in order to liberate us from it.
Where is God in all of this? On the Cross, His arms open wide in the embrace of His beloved. Those who have reposed have entered into a death that is not permanent because of this embrace. “For as in Adam, all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Editor’s Note: Fr. Basil wishes to acknowledge Chad Bird, who wrote an article that inspired this one. Fr. Thomas Hopko’s talk, “Word of the Cross” can be accessed here.