SHU Turns to God in Third Colloquium of “Reflecting on Sandy Hook” Series

Father Anthony Ciorra, right, addresses the question "Where is God?" during the third colloquium of the "Reflecting on Sandy Hook" series. At left is Professor June-Ann Greeley.

News Story: April 17, 2013

On Wednesday, April 10, Sacred Heart University’s Human Journey Colloquia program sponsored the third of a four-part series, “Reflecting on Sandy Hook.” The discussion focused on the need to understand God’s role when tragedy occurs. Moderated by Professor June-Ann Greeley, the event featured four panelists: Anthony Ciorra, a Roman Catholic priest since 1973; David Coppola, adjunct for the Department of Theology and Religious Studies with a background in pastoral care and counseling; Wayne Detzler, ordained minister affiliated with the United Church of Christ; and Suri Krieger, a rabbi representing liberal reformed Judaism.
Tragic events like the Sandy Hook massacre lead many of us to wonder why such irrational evil occurs and, in the face of this evil, where is God?  This is a difficult question, with no firm answer, but it’s certainly a topic that bears thought and discussion.

 “There are no set answers; there is no way to really answer these questions. What we want to do tonight is share with you thoughts and experiences from individuals who have pastoral experiences,” said Greeley during her opening remarks.

“All four panelists are people of faith, but each works differently to wrap his or her brain and soul around the idea of believing in a just and loving God in the face of human suffering and evil. In theological terms, this is known as theodicy—justifying God before the reality of evil,” Greeley said. “While all the panelists are theologians and well able to address these ideas academically, we would like to step away from the abstraction of theology and take a hard look at the reality of evil and tragedies like Sandy Hook. Therefore, the panelists will speak mostly from their pastoral experiences, their real-life encounters with human suffering and how they themselves, as people of faith, considered God while dealing with such tragedy and despair.”

As they shared their stories, one common theme dominated the discussion. Each expressed the need for presence and listening between individuals as a form of healing. “In the area of ministry, I have found the most important thing is being with people. People who are suffering are not always looking for lengthy theological explanations. Just being there with those who suffer can be more important than searching for where God is,” said Ciorra.

Coppola offered several insights into how he views God in the midst of great tragedy. He affirmed Ciorra’s beliefs, reiterating that many times the most important thing one can do is listen. He discussed how the truly good people in his life have experienced pain of some kind. “A lot of what happens in the world that we call evil or bad is because of the choices that people make out of fear, ignorance or selfishness. However, the ultimate irony for me is that the most beautiful and holy people that I know have experienced loss and pain. This is a terrible paradox. It is not that God desires us to lose our children or experience pain or disease, but somehow when confronted with these things, it brings out the best in us and makes us deeper,” he said.

While each panelist shared his or her personal method of dealing with such sadness, they also offered advice on the small things that we can do to help one another. Detzler finds his peace by sitting with families during a tragic time, while Krieger turns to stories for comfort.

“We can ask the question again, God where were you during this massacre? For me, I just can’t relate to this question. I do not relate to a God who is a conscious being who directs traffic and makes decisions for human kind. We all have our ways of trying to deal with tragedy. One of my ways is to look at stories. I can often find a message in a story that can help me understand,” she said.

The evening raised many questions and left the audience in a reflective state. Krieger brought the group together by singing a healing prayer to conclude the evening.