As I write this letter, the last few people are being pulled alive from the piles of stacked concrete on the island nation of Haiti. By the time you read this letter, relief efforts to assist millions of displaced people will be reaching the point of exhaustion. Why? It is the perennial question when a disaster of such a magnitude strikes. But it’s also the question when our individual disasters happen, and even those disasters that nobody sees, hears or will ever remember. Why would God allow this to happen?
I don’t know.
If I pretended to know the answer to that question, you would see right through me. I don’t know. God knows, and He has given us clues as to why these kinds of things happen. But why Haiti on January 12th at a magnitude of 7.0? I don’t know. The clues point us to a perfect God and an imperfect creation. Sin has corrupted both man and this world, causing death and destruction for the rest of time until God restores it when Jesus returns. The first time Jesus came, he brought a way for restoration to happen within us as our sins are forgiven by God. The second time Jesus comes, this corrupted world will be made perfect again. Like I said, it doesn’t explain Haiti, but it does give us a way to understand what’s happening.
Not good enough.
For a lot of people the basic explanation I gave is not good enough. We heard televangelist Pat Robertson say the Haitian people are “cursed” because they “swore a pact with the devil” to get out from under French rule. So for him it’s not good enough to say, “I don’t know.” Instead, he wants to speak for God when God has not spoken. That’s risky business. Then you have the complete other side of the issue. There are people like the renowned atheist Richard Dawkins who find the entire Christian perspective not good enough. He writes on his Haiti relief site:
“Preachers and televangelists, mullahs and imams, often seem almost to gloat over natural disasters – presenting them as payback for human transgressions, or for ‘making a pact with the devil’. Earthquakes and tsunamis are caused not by ‘sin’ but by tectonic plate movements, and tectonic plates, like everything else in the physical world, are supremely indifferent to human affairs and sadly indifferent to human suffering. Those of us who understand this reality are sometimes accused of being indifferent to that suffering ourselves. Of course the very opposite is the truth: we do not hide behind the notion that earthly suffering will be rewarded in a heavenly paradise, nor do we expect a heavenly reward for our generosity: the understanding that this is the only life any of us have makes the need to alleviate suffering even more urgent.”
No gloating here.
I’m sorry if I disappoint Mr. Dawkins, but there’s no gloating here. If anything, I feel somewhat responsible. As a part of the human race, I know that my sin contributes to the corruption of the world, which God justly punishes. As a sinful human, I did not help to improve the living conditions for the people of Haiti. I am ashamed that the catastrophe feels so distant and that my insignificant problems still occupy the majority of my prayers. So, if suffering and generosity were to punch me a ticket to heaven, then I’m left at the gate. Good thing God was so generous to send Jesus to suffer in my place. Good thing He gives faith and life and salvation. Good thing He is a forgiving and loving God… even if I don’t always understand why.