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It's my own fault, writing a book titled Where Is God When It Hurts? In the more than three decades since publishing it, I've been asked to address the question dozens of times and in daunting circumstances—none more daunting, perhaps, than what I faced last year.
In March I visited churches in the Miyagi Prefecture of Japan, one year after a tsunami slammed into the island with the velocity of a passenger jet, snapping railroad tracks and scattering ships, houses, and airplanes across the ravaged landscape. In its wake, with 19,000 dead and whole villages swept away, a busy nation with scant time for theological questions could think of little else.
In October I spoke in Sarajevo, a city in Bosnia and Herzegovina that went four years without heat and electricity and with little food and water as it endured the longest siege in modern warfare. Ten thousand residents died from daily sniper fire and grenades and mortars that fell from the sky like hail. "The worst thing is, you get used to the evil," one survivor told me. "If we knew in advance how long it would last, we would probably have killed ourselves. Over time, you stop caring."
Then, after Christmas, I accepted perhaps the hardest assignment of all—not in terms of quantity of suffering (can it ever be quantified?) but in the sheer intensity of horror. I addressed the New England town of Newtown, Connecticut, a community reeling from the murder of 20 schoolchildren and 6 teachers and staff just days prior.
An ambulance driver captured the mood in Newtown well. "All of us on the fire and ambulance corps are volunteers," he told me. "We don't train for something like this—nobody does. And my wife is a teacher at Sandy Hook. She knew all 20 children by name as well as the staff. After hiding out during the carnage, she had to walk past the bodies of her colleagues in the hallway."
He paused to control his voice, then continued: