Bruce Tallman, Dr. Min.
"Helping people grow in faith and love since 1983"
HOW COULD GOD ALLOW THE TRAGEDY IN HAITI?
If we ask how God, who is supposedly all-knowing, all-powerful, and
all-loving, could allow the disaster in Haiti, it leads us to a larger
question: why does God not prevent all accidents, illness, famine, and war?
Why does God allow suffering in general?
Pat Robertson, an ultra-conservative televangelist from the United
States, said that God was punishing Haiti for "making a pact with the
devil." Some Haitian preachers are claiming the same thing on the streets
of Port-Au-Prince, talking about Sodom and Gomorrah, the biblical Flood,
and Judgment Day.
A few years ago, some Christians maintained that, because New
Orleans had a reputation for being "sin city," God sent hurricane Katrina
to punish them. A few centuries ago, John Wesley stated his belief that the
great Lisbon earthquake in the 1700's was God's wrath against sin.
Such explanations must be categorically rejected. It reminds me of
the biblical story of the woman caught in adultery. When asked if she
should be stoned to death as the Law of Moses demanded, Jesus replied "Let
the one who has never sinned cast the first stone." All her accusers
eventually dropped their stones and walked away because they knew they had
When a tower fell and killed some construction workers Jesus asked
his disciples if they thought these men were any more sinful than anyone
else? If God struck Haiti, New Orleans, or Lisbon for their sins, God would
have to do the same to all of us. God is not on the side of one person or
nation over another. God is always on the side of the crucified, no matter
what their nationality, race, or religion.
God did not want the double tragedy of an earthquake in Haiti, one
of the poorest countries on our planet. A more widespread explanation for
Haiti's woes is that foreign countries isolated Haiti when its slaves
revolted and gained independence, it has had a string of brutal and corrupt
governments, and Haiti is geographically located in a hurricane zone and on
a fault line.
God does not want or cause suffering in general either. We know
that God allows human freedom. God also apparently allows a certain freedom
in the natural world. Most of the time nature serves us well, but natural
laws will proceed even if humans are in the way. God did not cause the
earthquake in Haiti, the shifting of tectonic plates did.
Getting back to our question of why God allows suffering, we have
to also ask: to what extent should God eliminate suffering? Should God
eliminate all pain? Pain, which is part of nature, serves us well in most
cases. For example, if you put your hand on a hot stove, the pain tells you
to withdraw it. If God eliminated our ability to feel pain, we would
quickly destroy ourselves. Pain is also a great motivator. Most medical and
social breakthroughs have come from a desire to alleviate or prevent pain.
Most of us have experienced a broken heart at some point from being
spurned by someone we loved. To eliminate all pain, God would have to make
us into robots who could not do unloving things like rejecting people.
However, then we also would not be able to love, since love requires free
Pain also serves us well spiritually. The ecstasy of gaining love
and the pain of losing it makes us more humble, wise, and compassionate.
Suffering should not be glorified, no one should purposefully seek it.
However, we can make use of it as a great teacher.
Just as we suffer if our children suffer, God must suffer with us.
In fact, that is what the cross, the central icon of Christianity, is all
about. It declares that God knows what it is like to suffer as a human
being. God suffers with us. The cross is the universal symbol that God is
not in bliss, off somewhere else while we suffer on earth. God is right in
the middle of our pain. Sometimes though the suffering is so senseless that there is no adequate explanation. As Rabbi Harold Kushner said long ago, sometimes all you can do is drop your theological explanations and just be with people, hold them in your arms, and cry with them in their grief. That's what God does. God does not leave us alone in our sorrow.
The international response to Haiti has been, I believe, due to God
moving peoples' hearts and consciences to reach out and help take this
crucified nation off its cross. The response has been like the beginnings
of a resurrection: God overcoming horrific pain and death.
Perhaps, if the international aid continues, Haiti will be fully
resurrected as a much safer and stronger nation than before. Let us all
pray that this is what happens.
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