Saturday, January 23, 2010

This Christian Life: Haiti

Warning: You may find this blog highly controversial. I hope not, but the possibility exists. Realize that it is a work in progress and offered to you as a way to stimulate your own thoughtful discipleship.

In recent days, the natural disaster in Haiti has grabbed the world's attention as well as a flood of relief efforts. There was even a telethon last night featuring the constellation of media saints seeking to raise money for the relief effort: American Consumer Religion at its best.

It has also, however, drawn the speculations of theologians, pundits, commentators and media mega-egos. These men and women speculate on the theodicy question: why did this event occur? If there is a God, why do bad things happen to innocent people? The most notorious of these speculations was given by Rev. Pat Robertson - an ordained Southern Baptist minister, king of his own media empire and holder of a strange quasi-charismatic view of God's justice. His view is that the Haitians were "cursed by God" for "making a pact with the devil" in exchange for their freedom from French rule in the 18th century. Although the CBN - host company of the 700 club - has denied that Robertson claims the earthquake was God's vengeance over the Haitian pact and is indeed pouring out material support for relief efforts (; face it - the inference is there.

I must say that if indeed that is what Robertson is inferring, I could not disagree with him more strongly. Robertson's understanding of God and my understanding of God are 180 degrees. But I also disagree with his secular critics too, who would infer that natural disasters prove that either a) God doesn't exist at all or b) if there is a God, he is a cruel tyrannical judge! Contra Roberston, I do not believe that God is judging Haiti for its supposed pact. Contra his critics, I not only believe that God exists, but that God loves Haitians.

So what is my take on Haiti?

1) The world in which we live is a shadow of what God designed and is bringing to completion.

What began as the "Garden of Eden" was affected by the "fall" of humankind from God's presence. Indeed, Paul makes the following statement about creation in Romans 8:19-22

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

So in a fallen creation, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and other natural disasters are the results of a "groaning creation" - a creation out of control. Suffering simply happens in the midst of "fallen-ness"...

Note: Although I affirm God is "in control", I also believe that creation, like humankind, is fallen and in need of redemption. This is why disease, disaster and death are the norm. So in the same way that human beings are separated from God, so is creation. Jesus commanded the seas and the winds, and they responded to His bidding (Matthew 8:23-26); nevertheless, there is also a biblical record of storms not being calmed; indeed, being allowed to run their course (Acts 27:13-44) - and even this was for God's glory! Thus, it is fair to assume that though God is in control, in a fallen world, nature is allowed - for the most part - to run its course. Not to please the will of a cruel, vengeful God, but that human beings might understand that it is only through faith in God that they can live abundantly.

2) The Haitians - as a whole - are no more culpable than any other nation. Jesus makes this point in Luke 13:1-5: Just because a disaster inflicts harm or death does not necessarily mean that it is divine punishment. Ultimately, each human being will be judged by God separately for his or her sins - Matthew 25:31-46. If a pact was made, then those who actually made the pact will be accountable for its consequences. God loves Haiti and desires that it be reconciled to him as well the other nations. (1 Peter 3:8)

3) Although Israel cried out for justice from its oppressors, the God of the Bible works in the forces of history to accomplish His purposes. More than any of her oppressors, Israel herself was the object of God's judgment for her unfaithful, adulterous ways. Over time Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome faded into history. But God's own people are uniquely identified by their faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the task which God has called us.

4) What's really at stake here is not whether God is judging Haiti (a wrong answer to the wrong question!) then, but whether or not God's people will respond to suffering in the world as God has asked it.

5) God's people are cross-bearers in a world out of control. With joyful resolve, impelled by the agape love of God towards our neighbor, we bear the cross on the road of suffering. We serve those in need as an act of worship in order that the world may know that there is a God, who loves them, cares for them and seeks to bring this world to its completion at the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. Until that time, we labor in our world in the power of the Spirit, hopeful for the return of our Lord and His Kingdom of Love.


  1. Controversial? Really? All I've read is a reasonable response to religious, theological, or secular extremests, which is a fair response!


  2. Hi Jay - I basically agree, but I also feel like we who put forth this perspective sidestep the many condemnations of the OT prophets of other nations based on their idolatry. Does God work judgment in history? Are we saying that this was just in the OT? What is the new covenant logic for saying that is no longer so? I don't have the answer.

  3. I don't think there is actually a conflict in a sense. God's judgment does work in history, but is it up to us to define God's acts of judgment? This would seem to be Robertson's position - He wants to declare something as a judgment which would conflict with the Christological ethos in the New Testament. Of course, that is my bias - a Christological one that seems to dethrone all of the powers!

    For example, most Americans would disagree that the attack on the twin Towers on 9/11 was God's judgment; yet this is - I believe - how bin Laden - and even a few Americans -would characterize it. Thus, I would say that it is not our place to declare what is judgment and what is not in light of the New Testament ethos. Our loan responsibility is to be faithful to the mission.