When St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Miami Beach gathered on Sunday, nine of its families were missing from the pews.
Twelve families belonging to that Florida congregation live at Champlain Towers South, the 12-story condominium in Surfside that suddenly and tragically collapsed last week, but only three of them are accounted for. Only three of those families joined with the rest of the church, praying and hoping for the return of the other nine.
Those families are just a few of many who are not yet found following the deadly collapse. With 11 people now confirmed dead, more than 150 others remain lost: a retired Filipina immigrant, a Jewish widower who had lost both parents to COVID-19, a devout Catholic woman from Cuba, a distinguished plastic surgeon, the father of a 12-year-old girl. Friends, family, and neighbors. People who never imagined the danger that would befall them.
That’s how tragedy strikes: unexpectedly. It’s always possible, sometimes imminent, and that can drive us to paralyzing anxiety or to unrestrained hedonism. It lurks behind normalcy and hangs over pleasure.
“How can God allow bad things to happen to good people?” It is a question we all wrestle with. Atheists cling to it as a disproof of God, and it nags the Christian’s mind when hypothetical tragedy becomes too real, sometimes threatening to undo him with doubt. Much ink has been spilled over whether God can exist amid the so-called “problem of evil,” but no matter what response that question yields, the constant of evil and tragedy remain.
Christians, who often respond to tragedy a bit differently than the watching world, are no more immune from calamity and sorrow than their unbelieving neighbors, of course. Sometimes it seems the opposite is true, with the righteous mourning as the wicked prosper: One man accepts his post-accident fate of paralysis as another man accrues his second DUI, and a pair of faithful parents mourn infertility year after year at the same time a reckless young woman enters a Planned Parenthood to dispose of her unborn child.
Uprightness doesn’t ensure health, wealth, and happiness, and it
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