Book: Where the Hell is God?

In a moving presentation on Tuesday, Australian Jesuit Father Richard Leonard spoke about his recently published book 'Where the Hell is God?' He explained that when his sister Tracey was only 28 years of age she was involved in a car accident that left her a quadriplegic. Now aged 50, Tracey’s life long injuries mean she has to be washed, clothed, fed, turned and toileted throughout the day. At the time of the accident, Tracey’s mother was heard to ask “Where the hell is God?” Father Richard explains that in the face of terrible suffering, we are often tempted to ask the same question. His book, who’s title is taken from his mother’s exclamation, looks at some of the difficult questions and challenges to our faith that arise in the face of tragedy. It also maintains the view that our Christian God is a loving God, who does not inflict suffering on the world. Rather, it is argued that part of God’s love is to allow humans free will to make mistakes and to err and experience suffering, and likewise to help, to heal and where possible to prevent suffering.

 During his presentation Father Richard described Tracey as “one of the finest people I know” saying “even at the time of the accident she had already lived in Calcutta for three years and nursed he poorest of the poor at Mother Teresa’s House for the Dying. She had returned to Australia and got a job working with the Sisters of Our Lady of Sacred Heart, running a health centre for Aboriginal people.”

He shared deeply personal insights into how his family responded to the tragedy.  He portrayed how Tracey maintained her humour in the face of her loss, and showed great courage in the face of her suffering. He also spoke of the many and varied responses that came from members of the public in attempts to comfort him and his family and / or make sense of the tragedy.

The examples he gave ranged from divine retribution for some terrible thing that Tracey must have done, to views that Tracey being infinitely blessed through her suffering which would be rewarded in the next life. He showed that where there is a risk of feeling completely alienated from God, it common to create reasons, excuses, logic to explain what has happened and make sense of it. But extending this logic from an individual circumstance, to the other members of society as a whole usually undermines that reasoning.   

“God does not directly send pain, suffering and disease. God does not punish us, at least not in this life” Father Richard said.  “Deadly and destructive things cannot be in the nature and actions of God”. He quoted from 1 John 1:5 where we are told “God is light, in him there is no darkness”, and explained that therefore “dead and destructive things cannot be in the nature of and actions of God”.

Jesus is about life not death said Father Richard; construction, not destruction, forgiveness not retribution, healing not pain. God is not a tyrant.

“God has created a world which is less than perfect, else it would be heaven, and in which suffering, disease and pain are realities. Some of these we now create for ourselves and blame God. I have lost count of the number of people who have said to me, ‘I cannot believe in a God who allows famines to happen.’ I think God wonders why we let famine happen. God is responsible for allowing a world to evolve within which the effects of moral and physical evil can create injustices. But God is not responsible because we refuse to make the hard choices that would see our world transformed into a more just and equal place for everyone”

Richard Leonard concluded that God is involved in the daily drama of our lives.”God waits patiently for an invitation to enter our lives at whatever level we want. Christ meets us where we are, embraces us and holds us close when the going gets tough, and helps us find the way forward, even and most especially, on that last day when we find the way home.”

For much of the presentation, Father Richard spoke with a light heartedness and humour that was uplifting and somehow added poignancy to the suffering that he described. His sister shares his gentle humour. On hearing that her brother wanted to publish a book centred around her accident Tracey was reported saying “there’s no such thing as a private conversation with you!” Making her story public, and with his very personal voice that is both humorous and serious, Father Richard’s book provides a very compassionate and grounding look at man and God’s place in relation to suffering.

Where the Hell is God is published by HiddenSpring, priced at £10.00. It is available through the ICN Amazon shop.

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