Do any of you readers know Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Star”? A Jesuit priest is troubled by the discovery that the Star of Bethlehem was a supernova that destroyed a civilization. He asks his God:
… there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?
One Ignatian impulse is gratitude. We might give thanks for the Star of Bethlehem. And certainly we should be grateful for the incarnation it heralded.
Another impulse is compassion. Sometimes, as Atheist Max is ready to tell us, compassion seems to conflict with the notion of a loving God. Sometimes, it is fitting to shed tears for an event that involved suffering, even if good came out of it in the end. And sometimes, we just feel the compassion and shed the tears anyway.
The image is of a 1994 supernova near the galaxy NGC 4526; credit here.
A few months ago, a book group I belong to decided to tackle this short story. The question we returned to again and again at the meeting was “why did this particular example of the ‘problem of evil’ shake the Jesuits faith more than any other instance?” The concept of gratitude never made an appearance. I will need to wrestle with it more, but my gut tells me it is not an appropriate response, at least not at first. A prayer asking for enlightentment on why such a thing had to occur? If no answer, then a trust in Providence that there is a reason why. Then perhaps gratitude would have a foundation to stand on.