Where Is God in the Haitian Earthquake? (Revisited)
Two weeks ago, I was frustrated by hearing good Christians talk about the earthquake in Haiti in ways that seemed to blame the Haitians for the disaster. Now I will concede as readily as anyone that part of the tragedy of the January 12 earthquake was caused by human choices. Choices like living on a known fault line in substandard housing. While individuals in Haiti may have had little choice in that, there has been a history of human choices that have led to Haiti being the most impoverished nation in the western hemisphere. And this history of abuse and neglect did make the results of the quake all the more devastating.
But what I heard was different. I heard it being taught that the earthquake in Haiti was the direct result of sin on the part of Haitians. And as this directly countered Jesus’ clear teaching and added unnecessary insult to unspeakable injury, I didn’t want to leave my congregation thinking this response was biblical.
What I did was to create a short video, which I posted at our church’s YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/user/kingofpeacekingsland
I sent a link to our church’s email list and posted a link at my Facebook page. Since then, the video has been viewed more than 13,000 times on YouTube. In addition, I have sent out copies of the file so that it could be used in churches as far afield as Connecticut and Arizona. And perhaps most importantly, the video has been posted and reposted by Haitian immigrants to the U.S. on their Facebook pages.
I promise you that the video is not that good. My words fail to fully convey all I wish I could in the midst of this tragedy. And I think that a video to my congregation was seen 1,300 times more often than I expected is because the Holy Spirit used it to get the healing words out that were needed.
The heart of the message is that Jesus spoke plainly in the 13th chapter of Luke’s Gospel about this exact issue. Jesus was preaching repentance, telling the crowds that they needed to turn back from evil and turn toward God. He was warning them to interpret the present times rightly. And then some asked him about a terrible tragedy. The Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, killed some Galileans, mixing their blood with the sacrifices they had to offer to God in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Jesus asked the crowd if they thought that these Galileans were the worst sinners in Galilee? Then he added another tragedy. Jesus asked the crowd if they thought the 18 killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them were the worst sinners in Jerusalem. Then he answered, “I tell you, no!” Jesus then would not be diverted from his teaching on repentance. For while Pilate’s actions and the tower falling were not God’s punishment, those who died were then liable to God’s judgment that comes for all when we die. Jesus warned the crowds to repent.
This teaching of Jesus fits so directly with the earthquake in Haiti. Do you think that those killed in the earthquake were the worst sinners in the western hemisphere? Jesus would say “no.”
So then if God did not cause this tragedy, where was God when the earthquake happened? Anyone who keeps up with the news from Jesus’ day and before until the newspaper you hold in your hand has ready proof that God does not act to undo all human tragedies. Yes, God can and does enter into human history. Miracles can and do occur. But these do not happen at every turn, undoing all the harm done by nature and humans. Jesus also addressed this directly in the 4th chapter of Luke’s Gospel when he said, “There were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the Prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed, only Naaman the Syrian.”
Don’t hear me wrongly as speaking against the power of prayer and how God can and will heal. I am not limiting what God can do. I am just acknowledging that Jesus demonstrated that not all are healed and not all tragedies are averted. But this is not to say that God is conveniently busy elsewhere when people suffer.
We know that God was present by the power of the Holy Spirit to all Haitians as the earth quaked. Those who have been rescued from the rubble after an impossible number of days have routinely reported being strengthened by their faith in God. They endured days with no food or water, knowing that God would rescue them. And how did God rescue them? Through their fellow Haitians and the many foreign rescue workers who descended on the ruined buildings to pick their way through the wreckage to those still alive.
Many times, the way God enters in to human tragedy is through the Body of Christ. That spark of the image of God within us is what has caused an outpouring of love and concern to the Haitian people. So while God was present to the people there directly in the same way that God is present to you as you read this column, God also used many human hands to accomplish a divine purpose. God has been present to our brothers and sisters in Haiti through that divine impulse that has been working through regular folk to redeem this tragedy.
I think the reason why my recent message traveled as far as New Zealand and to lots of points in between is because deep within, Christians already understood that there had to be something wrong with blaming Haitians for the earthquake. We should no more do that than we should label those who died in flooding in Atlanta earlier this winter as the worst sinners in our state.
No, God did not shake the ground under Haiti. But neither did God prevent those natural processes for taking place. As Jesus taught the crowds who gathered around him, disasters, both natural and manmade should show us how our mortal life is fleeting. This is the time for getting connected to God. And it is also the time for those of us who have that relationship with God to live into our love of God by loving our neighbors as ourselves. And now and for years to come, our neighbors in Haiti are going to need our loving support rather than condemnation.
The above is my religion column for today's Tribune & Georgian.