There is an age-old question among religious skeptics: “if God is so loving, why does he do terrible things?”
I consider myself very spiritual but not religious in an organized-religion kind of way. I am not a student of theology, and frankly I ended my religious studies at age 13. But I do have a theory based on my beliefs about the meaning of life and that we are all here to learn spiritual lessons.
For a “brief moment” after a disaster, mankind is all good…we forget our differences and competitions. We become selfless rather than selfish, gluttonous and lazy. We suspend our focus on our personal challenges and instead become aware of the far greater challenges that others face…or that we all face. We forget our raw animalistic survival skills as our empathic and loving hearts reign.
I believe that part of our journey as humans is to overcome the negative traits that led Eve to taste that tempting apple and send humanity down a path of sin. I think we are all here trying to return to that state of love, peace, generosity and community, and we get a taste of it with each challenge. We pass each test and then, to use another biblical reference, slip back into the kill-or-be-killed ways that, for example, led Jacob to usurp Esau’s birthright through greed and deceit.
There have been many examples of humanity coming together after times of strife, especially in modern times. As frightening a period as it was, the months after 9/11 and the horrible killing of thousands of Americans were among the most unified and community-focused that I—and many of us—have ever experienced in the US. Flags were flying over every house. Trucks were filled with more donations than New York city could handle, and first responders came from all over the country to assist with the search and cleanup in NY, DC and Pennsylvania.
But that didn’t last. Soon after, life slowly returned to “normal” and the debates resumed about the politics of the Iraqi War and people forgot about the nearly 100,000 men and women who were risking their lives in the cleanup efforts, let alone the 400+ NYC police and firemen and 40 passengers on flight 93 who lost their lives trying to save others that day.
Similarly, after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy (also called Superstorm Sandy), we saw neighbors helping neighbors…senior citizens and the infirmed being carried from their homes. Race, class, gender, religion…differences didn’t matter. Humans were helping humans.
We have seen the same thing outside the US as well. After the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986, the US provided medical and humanitarian aid despite the fact that we were still in the midst of the Cold War.
Similarly, Americans donated more than $3 billion in aid after the Southeast Asia tsunami of 2003…and more than $700 million, along with search-and-rescue assistance and medical aid to Japan after the 2011 tsunami, even though Japanese pride and relative economic strength had them initially politely declining assistance.
Every day, there are examples of angels and heroes who sacrifice their own needs in order to help strangers—victims pulled from burning cars…people protecting youngsters from bullying…those who provide financial aid to strangers…and even the family of a slain police officer organizing a food drive to feed people in need.
It’s inspiring and reassuring to know the depth of generosity and care that exist in the human spirit. It helps me feel safe knowing that we have been through conflicts and crises before, and that deep in our core, the goodness of humanity has historically overcome the petty differences of everyday life.
Right now, when the world is so divisive…and angry words and acts dominate the airwaves…we need to rediscover that human spirit that rises above the divisions. There are many examples of generosity and sacrifice that exist every day—across races and religions. Let’s acknowledge those and celebrate the people who are working to build up our society rather than tear it apart. Share positive images and stories that are the real narrative of the vast majority of Americans…a narrative that looks to create a wonderful place to live through a community that works hard to create it.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.