What a tragedy!

A reader, so disappointed by the ending of The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot, decided to read the book again in the hope that the ending would be different!

So the story goes, and whatever the truth of it, it illustrates our disappointment over tragic endings. I was one of the many who turned to the news last Sunday morning in the hope five-year-old Rayan, who had fallen down a 100-foot deep dry well in Morocco, would at last be rescued safe and sound. Hundreds had kept vigil during the five-day rescue attempt and now the moment arrived when he could be safely extracted from his little prison. Jubilation! But, alas, only for a moment: the child was dead.

People on the spot, and watching around the world, went numb. They knew it might turn out that way but they hoped ‘against hope’ that there would be a happy ending. There was consolation in the show of human solidarity across boundaries and Pope Francis pointed to the ‘beauty’ of this. But there was no escaping that awful feeling of pain and disappointment. How wonderful if he been found alive! But he wasn’t. The world moved on and the story dropped from the headlines.

Yet knawing questions remain. Is that really the end of the story? Is tragedy just what the word means; an awful human disaster and it ends there. Herbert Chitepo and Thomas Sankara are assassinated. Josiah Tongogara and Princess Diana die in road accidents. Cyclones and tsunamis kill thousands and destroy homes and livelihoods.

We are caught between wanting our planet, our only home, to be a place of happiness and happy endings and realising that it has never been that way and tragedy is our constant companion. I often go back to St Thomas Aquinas: ‘God does not want evil but he permits it. And that is good.’ When I first heard these words, I was shocked. It is good that God permits evil? I do not know if Thomas elaborates. I suspect he doesn’t because who can? You cannot get your mind around the reality of evil being ‘good’.

Yet we often get hints that tragic events lead to some good result. I won’t try to give examples: There is a starkness in the concept that does not bear too much analysis. We just have to stay with the paradox. We see ‘good’ people suffering tragedies and we see ‘bad’ people seemingly enjoying life without suffering. But tragedy, pain and disaster are like the shards in the potter’s workshop. They are the price we seem to have to pay in order to create a wholesome humanity.

13 February 2022  Sunday 6C   Jer 17:5-8    1 Cor 1512…20    Lk 6: 17…26    

Post published in: Faith

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