16 January, 2010

Does Haiti teach us any lessons about God?

One cannot open a newspaper or watch TV without witnessing the unimaginable horror that is Haiti today. As the images of death and destruction assail us, questions about the goodness and love of God comes to the fore for any believer.

Many people are using this tragedy to denounce people of faith as being fools. After all, if we believe that God is all powerful and loving, how could he permit such death and destruction?

Aside from the easy response of challenging such people with the question as to whether they are willing to grant to God the responsibility for all that is good in the world as they logically must if they are going to hold him liable for all that evil, it is essential that we understand that we too are the ones responsible for the role of evil in this life. It is mankind that is as responsible for what has befallen Haiti as God.

I say categorically that we are responsible for what has transpired in Haiti because it is our own participation in sin that permits evil to exist in this world. Each time we face a situation where we must choose to follow the path of good or evil, we are either strengthening the forces of God or Satan. And it is the fact that Satan exists in this world that it is the cause of the effects of sin; death, despair and suffering such as the media puts before us these days in Haiti as with ever other example where evil reigns.

Let us respond with all possible kindness and generosity to the immediate needs of the Haitian people. Click on the Red Cross icon on the top of this blog or offer your assistance in whatever manner you choose to bring our aid and assistance to our brothers and sisters in their time of great need. Let us also commit ourselves to keep from strengthening the forces of evil by participation in sin.

Our Christian faith demands no less.

Click on the title to this post if you want to participate in the debate about the role of in this crisis. It will take you to an article on the Holy Post blog of the National Post where these questions are being debated.


  1. Tim,

    Now Doc Ryan taught you better than this. One cannot sidestep the existence of evil in the world quite so easily. I'll play the devil's advocate for a moment (the pun is unintended):

    If god is omnipotent, then satan only has his power because god permits satan to have that power. To argue otherwise, is to say that god is not omnipotent. Using your own belief structure - god permits evil. That you add agents between god and evil acts in the world in no way diminishes god's responsibility for allowing satan to exist in the first place.

    The Haitian earthquake is a terrible tragedy and the suffering of its people demands our aid and help. But let's be clear, it is only people that can aid Haitians. As of yet, I see no evidence that god has lifted a single fallen slab of concrete, buried a single rotting corpse, or fed or watered a hungry and thirsty child. Each and every time that happens, it happens because a living human being did it. Whatever reason these people claim for doing so does not trump the fact that simple human compassion compels it.

    What I find laughable is that god is routinely given the credit for all the good in the world - yet when anything evil happens - it is always the fault of someone else. I would certainly love that kind of performance appraisal.


  2. G'Day Martin,

    If you remember me in Doc's Thomism class, you might also remember that I was prone to arguing and disagreeing with him. I haven't changed.

    My view is that the one gift that we as humans share that is unique from the rest of creation is that we have been endowed with the gift of free will - the ability to choose good or evil. Thus I believe that evil exists to the degree that we cooperate with his plan. Ultimately it will fail, but this does not diminish our culpability in permitting and fostering its existence.

    To me, the logical extension of this essential gift (I say essential because I believe it to be the defining characteristic of humans - the ability to make moral judgments) is that this gift of the knowledge of good and evil is what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. It was the abuse of this gift (explained metaphorically in Genesis as eating from the tree of knowledge) that brought sin into the world.

    Thus to the extent that we cooperate with sin, evil exists. In the fulfillment of time (individually when we die and collectively when Christ returns) we will "know" God perfectly. It will be then that the acts of our life will be reviewed and God will accept the decision that these acts point to: to be with God for all eternity (heaven) or to live outside of his presence for all eternity (hell).

    Not exactly Thomism 101, but it is what I have come to understand and believe after 20+ years of priestly ministry.

    BTW, I am working off the assumption that you are Martin from Newtonville. Am I correct? If so, drop me a line. My office email address is included in my biographical data at the top of this blog. If I am wrong, let me know that too.

    Trusting that time and life have been good to you, as it has me, I look forward to once again making contact with you (if for no other reason that one can always use a good "devil's advocate" in these types of discussions.


  3. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for asking...it is Martin formerly of Newtonville. Life has also been very good to me. I may drop you a line sometime.

    Now back to the question at hand. I did anticipate that your next counter-argument would be "free will".

    As I mentioned above, no matter how many intermdediaries (i.e. agents) you place between god and evil acts in the world, god is still on the hook. After all, god created all of these agents (including your free will) and the mechanisms that govern them. Therefore god is ultimately responsible for the outcomes, or else god is not omnipotent and omniscient.

    Moreover, the Christian god is supposed to be just, and a basic quality of the just is to punish the guilty and to hold the innocent blameless. How does punishing the innocent of Haiti (or anywhere else) achieve justice? Your explanations of satan and free will would be more in keeping with the alleged nature of god if the earthquake only hurt the guilty...but as far as I can tell, many innocents are also suffering.

    I suspect that you will end this dialogue claiming that we cannot know the mind of god and we must simply accept the mysterious divine plan of pain and suffering.

    The problem is Tim, we do know what caused the earthquake. It is the forces of plate tectonics. No mystery here. What does mystify me is how anyone could think that individual sins impact plate tectonics. I am amazed that anyone would feel that there is a force called satan who moves the earth's crust in some bizzare ratio of sin.

    Rather than use this horrible disaster to somehow rationalize a belief in satan and sin, I would encourage you to use your position to encourage your congregation to respond to the real human needs of the Haitian people. Shameless and poorly thought out propaganda is not a good substitute for encouraging your congregants to give as generously as they are able.

    On this last point, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and presume that you did preach a homily this Sunday that called people to send money and other material aid to the Haitian people. Simply human compassion compels it.


  4. Martin,

    Starting at the bottom and working my way up your points:

    1. You are absolutely right that I did preach about responding to the needs of the Haitian people.

    2. I understand that plate tectonics was the physical cause of the earthquake. However it was no more than a secondary cause of all the death and destruction. San Francisco suffered a 7.0 earthquake a few years back with 60+ people losing their life. The same magnitude event caused in excess of 50,000 deaths in Haiti. Why? Because as the poorest country in the western hemisphere, they have suffered at the hands of colonial powers and indifference from richer nations. We send their refugees who float to American shores back home to face misery, poverty and even death (as this tragedy makes clear). These conditions in Haiti are human in origin, not divine. Thus it is quite acceptable to say that sin is the cause of the death and misery in that poor land. (read David Brooks column on this subject in the NY Times)

    Now, let me anticipate you (although I never was very good at that). You might turn again to the argument that since God created everything, including man, then he is ultimately responsible for all that exists, good or evil (though something from your previous post tells me that you might not use this terminology to express the same reality as I am trying to do). Perhaps I might suggest that you are interpreting "free will" differently than I am, at least in how it affects of relationship with God.

    I believe that "free will" is what it means to be created in the "image and likeness of God". Having thus granted us this gift, God cannot then compromise it by sparing us from the consequences of the exercise of this gift. This is why I stated earlier that when we face Christ as judge, it will not be an event where we are found to be guilty or innocent, worthy or unworthy. Rather it will be a review of our life to see what it reveals about whether we wanted to walk the path of God, or go our own way. One way leads to an eternity with God; the other to an eternity without God. Even Doc would admit that these are the essential definitions of heaven and hell. Thus God permits us to choose our own path - ergo, we are the agents of our own fate. There is no reason to be concerned about the mind of God or any other mystical reason for the existence of evil.

    But what of Christ's redemptive act? I believe that prior to the incarnation, the opportunity to fulfill a path to God was blocked by sin. His death and resurrection opened for us again the possibility of fully choosing to cooperate with grace. Again, we are the agents who get to choose whether or not we cooperate with grace or not.

    So Martin, while I have not expounded at length as to my view of sin, redemption, grace and evil, I am not working out of a "shameless and poorly thought out propaganda", but a well thought out system of thought that for me explains the role of sin in these events as well as being compatible with RC teaching.

    You should see me get going when I apply E=MC2 to this schema. It fits hand and glove.

    This is why I asked you to send me an email if and when you are so moved. I have been unable to find many people who can intellectually follow the arguments I am formulating. You will be such a soul.

    Best wishes, and I hope to see you often in these pages.


    PS. Have you kept in touch with Tim C? Is he still with the SFM's or did he find some other path to peace in his life?

    This understanding comes from believing in the preternatural gifts that were lost with the advent of sin. It is not that death did not exist - clearly it always did. Rather it was the complete understanding of the place of life and death

  5. Martin: Evidently computer skills are not my forte as somehow the final paragraph of my post got stuck in the wrong place. It should follow the paragraph that begins "But what of Christ's redemptive act?"


  6. Tim,

    You raise an excellent point. There are undoubtedly man made factors contributing to the extent of earthquake damage and the consequent suffering of the Haitians.

    Nevertheless - this observation is beside the point. The primary cause (plate tectonincs) has no man-made cause. Regardless of the building codes, social infrastructure, or political institutions - many innocent people will suffer from a severe earthquake.

    At the risk of over simplifying your original post, you essentially asserted that:

    a) people's sin strengthens satan
    b) satan shakes the earth's crust because we make him strong enough to do so
    c) people's sin caused the earthquake

    Using your own belief structure Tim (and I am granting you the existence of all these spirtual agents) you contradict the ominpotence, omniscience, and justness of god when you say satan has this power to harm us. According to your own faith, god set it all up, so he is necessarily responsible for all of its outcomes. If god really were just, he would not give this power to satan. In such a scenario, free will is preserved, natural disasters are consequently averted, and god could still punish the actual sinners (instead of the innocents) at his divine pleasure upon the sinner's death.

    I see that your next post anticipates my argument by re-defining satan. Let me examine those arguments and I will get back to you.

  7. No, you summarize my argument incorrectly.

    a) people sin strengthen satan
    b) this sin corrupts creation
    c) corrupt creation causes disasters like earthquakes

    Do you believe that if Christ returned today and the earth was transformed into a paradise of grace, that the plates would still be moving or that multitudes would still die as a result?

    This seems to be the logical conclusion of your argument.

    There is no need to redefine Satan.



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