Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
A couple of nights ago there was the most terrible fire in a twenty-three storey tower block in London called Grenfell Tower. The fire was started by an electrical fault in someone’s fridge and should have been contained within a few flats but it was a hot night and windows were open so flames leapt onto cladding that had recently been installed on the outside of the block. The flames leapt up the side of the building as if a flame thrower was being used and, within 15 minutes, much of the building had been engulfed. The residents at the top of the tower block had no chance of escape because that sort of fire was not supposed to happen and there was no way to rescue them. The whole country is still in shock.
Donations started to flood in and community leaders asked for help during the next day. I don’t live in London but I live nearby and I was able to get to the community centre within an hour to help sort the donations of food and clothes. Everyone was still in shock but I knew that anger would soon follow. The residents in the block were mostly the poorest of the poor and questions were being asked how such a tragedy could occur in a first world country.
On my way home I stood in front of the incinerated block. The experience was nothing like seeing it on the news or in a newspaper. It was an eerie tomb. The police were already saying that the severity of the fire was such that they may not even find remains for identification. The tower block had become a living crematorium. I was shaken to my core. On my way home I stopped in a catholic church near the railway station and went to see Jesus. I was angry and asked him over and over again – “Where were you? Where were you?” I have often asked for the gift to be able to pray ‘in the mind of God’ so that my prayers are always in His will but I couldn’t find Him at all that night.
The next morning it was announced that the cladding used in the refurbishment of the building was illegal in the US for buildings over about three or four stories because the cladding core was made from inflammable polyethylene. The block cost about 10 million pounds (just under 13 million dollars) to refurbish and it would have cost another 5000 pounds (about 6400 dollars) to buy the more fire resistant panels. I realised that I could have paid that from my savings and saved all those lives.
Suddenly I became very angry – so angry that I wanted to punch someone. I do not know anyone involved and I am not personally affected by the tragedy but my anger was overwhelming. Then I realised that this was God’s anger. He was telling me that He was not distant from what was happening but that His anger was as incandescent as had been the fire.
I went to Mass still looking for answers but I was overcome with sorrow. Weeping I left Mass having found no comfort. Then Jesus spoke to me – “You asked me where I was during that fire? I was there with each and every victim. I experienced the fear, the panic, the pain; I was with every little child calling for Superman to come and rescue his family and with every parent crading their child as the smoke got thicker and the flames got nearer. I experienced everything just as I experience the hunger of the famine victim and the panic and fear of the war refugee. I wasn’t just crucified once. You asked to pray in the mind of God? Well this is what it’s like – so be careful what you ask for.”
I’m not sure I find this message comforting because the emotion is still too raw but I have my explanation. This was not an act of God but an act of man at his most venal. God is angrier than all of us put together and Jesus is bearing the pain.