Why did not God spare the good Armenian people?

Copyright 1989, San Jose Mercury News

DATE: Saturday, January 7, 1989
PAGE: 9B EDITION: Morning Final
SECTION: Religion & Ethics LENGTH: 22 in. Medium
SOURCE: By THE REV. VAZKEN MOVSESIAN, Special to the Mercury News
MEMO: Commentary


EDITOR’S NOTE: On Friday, Orthodox Christians observed the Feast of the Theophany, one of the holiest days of their liturgical year. Also known as Epiphany, this is the Orthodox Christmas, a solemn celebration of the revelation of God. Normally a festive event, it is a bitter holiday for the Armenian Orthodox, whose country was devastated by an earthquake Dec. 7.
Apart from the physical devastation, the earthquake has shattered many Armenians’ faith. Sunday, as he faces a congregation of 700 families, 20 percent of whom have lost loved ones in the quake, the Rev. Vazken Movsesian, pastor of St. Andrew Armenian Church in Cupertino, will address those issues at a special service. Here is an edited excerpt of his Theophany message. THE most difficult questions people ask a priest have to do with evil. If God is good and God is all-powerful, why is there evil in the world?
And when evil comes in the form of a natural disaster, such as the Armenian earthquake, it seems that there is no one to blame but God.
Far from a feast, this year’s celebration of Theophany will be different for Armenians. Still fresh in our minds is the tragedy in which we lost more than 50,000 people.
Why did not God spare the good Armenian people? Why did He not intervene? Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity. They were the ones who have piously observed the faith for centuries, the ones who defended the faith to death. Why them?
When the history of a people is plagued by such devastation and tragedy, the questioning goes deeper: Why believe in a God who cannot save us from these dangers?
These are questions that I am confronted with daily.
Some people believe God has abandoned the Armenians for some divine purpose and plan. Some doomsday forecasters say the earthquake was part of the ”signs of the times” that the world will soon end. How quickly we are willing to thrust aside reason and logic when hit by calamity.
I do not shy away from the scientific and logical approach.
Why did the earthquake happen? Because the earth shifts.
Why did people die? Because they were trapped in the rubble of buildings that were constructed poorly.
Why didn’t God step in and save the Armenian people? I don’t know. But I venture to say that things just don’t work that way.
In times of crisis, our mental image of God transforms Him into a kind of superman. God is omnipotent, after all. But the order of nature is such that that there is an imperfection built into this world. Lightning causes fires. Drought causes crops to wither. The shifting and settling of the earth causes earthquakes. And sometimes people die.
Other, larger questions loom. Why believe in a god that cannot save you from the perils of this world? Why celebrate the revelation and birth of a God who is powerless against nature?
God is not some kind of superman. God is not there to prevent an earthquake. Where was God when the earthquake happened? He was weeping and hurt like all of us. But the real power of God is seen in the aftermath: in the love and support He provides us.
When we see people throughout the world coming together to aid the Armenians, that is God working. God gives us the capacity to love. We give to others because of that ability to love.
We must stop thinking of God as a great puppeteer who sends disaster to this world to test our reaction. Disaster, pain and suffering are part of an imperfect world. We find God in the peace and love that only He can provide in answer to that disaster.
The Feast of Theophany is the celebration of God becoming man so that man can know God. He took our form and went through all the motions of man. He suffered and died. He did not exempt Himself from this great suffering, for no one is exempt.
When the earthquake hit, we were all hurt. Where was God? We saw Him in the love and support from the four corners of the Earth. We saw a world come together. We saw ”enemies” helping ”enemies.”
God is revealed: a God who understands us; a God who suffers with us; a God who helps and gives us strength during our darkest hour.
This is God being revealed. This is the celebration of Theophany.
St. Andrew Armenian Church does not have a church building of its own. The congregation will celebrate the Feast of Theophany at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at St. Sava Orthodox Church Hall, 77811

Copyright 1989, San Jose Mercury News

DATE: Saturday, January 21, 1989
PAGE: 15D EDITION: Morning Final
SECTION: Religion & Ethics LENGTH: 17 in. Medium
MEMO: Letters


Regarding the Rev. Vazken Movsesian’s explication of God’s role in the recent earthquake in Armenia (”Why didn’t God save Armenia?” — Jan. 7): Either God is omniscient and omnipotent or he is not. We can’t have it both ways.
If he is not, then he is not the Supreme Being, but merely a superior, but decidedly limited, being and therefore not the creator of all things. However, if he is all-powerful and all- knowing, there is no reasonable way of getting around the fact that he is ultimately responsible for each and every event that occurs, including not only all those things we poor mortals call ”good,” but the ”evil” as well. When he created the universe, he foresaw — and included in it — all the suffering human beings would have to endure. He could have arranged matters differently, but chose not to do so.
Therefore, God has to be the absolute sadist, who elects to attain his ends by inflicting suffering on beings whom he created. Theologians rationalize these uncomfortable inconsistencies and contradictions as divine mysteries and God’s holy but inscrutable will.
Will we ever come to terms with the fact that there is no reason whatever to believe in the existence of some anthropomorphic ghost to explain the universe? We know nothing whatever about ultimate causes or purposes. We ”believe” whatever makes us feel good.
Man has created God out of his pathetic yearning for ultimate meaning in his inevitable suffering and death. And when his creation fails him, he resorts in desperation to rationalizations that strength comes from suffering and that all apparent evil will turn out eventually to be good in an ugly disguise. — Leonard Raymond Santa Clara
In his new book, author Hugh Nissenson ponders the question of whether one can hold onto faith in a violent, often horrible world (”Shattered beliefs,” Jan. 14).
Nissenson says he has lost his faith because he is obsessed with the question of why God would allow Nazis to butcher innocent children. The question he ought to be asking is this: Would man let himself butcher children?
Nissenson, like so many others, is only trying to shift the blame and ultimately the responsibility for evil behavior from mankind back to God.
Modern man has created an awesome contradiction. On one hand, he will shake his fist in God’s face, refusing to do God’s will; on the other, he demands to know why God allows children to be butchered.
He has deluded himself into thinking that if God really existed, then it’s his responsibility to intervene and prevent evil.
But God does not intervene because he has given mankind freedom of choice and man will ultimately be held responsible for his actions.
There is a Judgment Day coming, and everyone who has ever lived — including Nazi murderers and those who commit abortion (another evil act of killing children) will be raised from the dead to be judged and sentenced accordingly.
While on his quest, I suggest that Nissenson forget the past and come into the present: Let him examine the question of why does God allow abortionists to butcher children. — Richard Carlson Moffett Field San Jose
Gay minister’s story
How wonderful, your article on lesbian minister Lindi Ramsden (”Gay minister brings growth to San Jose church,” Jan. 14).
So many people think they can tolerate homosexuality as long as they don’t have to actually deal with it. They don’t realize that they are being arrogant and discriminatory.
Ramsden is such a good role model, actively empathetic, even toward people who are uncomfortable with homosexuality.
Thank you for printing a personal story, helping others to be empathetic, too. — Danica Augros



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