What horrors behind “mysterious ways”

The local catholic school organizes a day’s outing with three classes of third grade. They plan to visit the local zoo and have a picnic. The school bus goes off a cliff and crashes in the valley below. The driver, four teachers and 57 children perish in the crash.

The community is devastated by this tragedy. The local priest, in his sermon, says that god works in mysterious ways.

Randomness seems to be one of the hardest things to understand and accept. Everything must have a meaning. When we find none, we still try to shoehorn the tragedy into something bigger, god. Since it does not make sense, the only solution left is that “god works in mysterious ways”.

After the first reaction of denial comes anger. By wrapping the tragedy into god’s will, even with the “mysterious” part, you cannot really express your anger. You cannot be angry at god. How can you get through your grief?

But it is also saying that there is some greater good in the grand scheme of things. That the end justifies the means. Somehow, the death of those children is part of god’s plan. What about every other tragedy or injustice? Should we ignore civil rights abuses, tyranny, torture? Could there be some sequence of events that make these horrors worth it?

Say it is the distant end result that matters, how do we know what to do? If everything horrible is part of the plan, what should we do? If we had saved those children, would we have gone against god’s plan? Should we have blown up the school to further god’s plan?

We know better than that. We know in our gut that doing something horrible for the best intentions is still horrible. You cannot do simple accounting to justify being bad because you will make it up later. If you believe we will be judged on our actions, you don’t believe that it will be on the average. Sum up the good, the bad and the horrible and if it averages out a little good, it’s OK.

There is no mysterious plan that justifies the horrors of the world. There cannot be.


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