Wednesday, 20 January 2010

God and the Haiti Earthquake

The Haiti earthquke is a tragedy on any account. Natural disaster meets human disorganisation. As always on these occasions, the question soon appears on the horizon of where God is in it all. Various things have been given by good church leaders, but a couple of people have said to me over the last weeek that they've all been a bit unsatisfactory. So I thought I'd have a go.

The world God made in the beginning was good, but not complete. It was ‘perfect’ in the sense that we say a baby is ‘perfect’. It was just as it was meant to be. However it has to grow, to be shaped, controlled, learning obedience, just as a child does as she grows into maturity. Even more so since the fall, when it seems even the earth itself shares in the brokenness of sin – the earth no longer co-operates with humanity, making work and survival toilsome and hard. (Gen 3.17-19). Genesis tells us that humans were placed in the world with the primary purpose of ‘filling’ and ‘subduing’ (1.28) the earth, not to exploit it, but to bring it order and shape & enable it to become what it was meant to be (2.15, 19).

As the story proceeds, it says that humankind typically refuses to play that role and we refuse our God-given role as stewards and tenants of creation under God’s rule, setting ourselves up as the rightful owners and rulers of the world and our lives, as Genesis 3 tells us. As a result humanity is now part of the problem as well as part of the solution. In fact, if there is a threat to the survival of the planet it comes more from human weaponry and the desire for power – the numbers killed by the Haiti earthquake pale in comparison to the 8 million who died under Hitler, the 20 million deaths under Stalin, or even the 4 million who died in the civil war in the Congo in recent years.

So, not only does the creation have to be controlled and subdued as it grows, but also humans themselves have to grow back into that maturity of character God intended for them. And that is what is made possible for us in Christ.

Jesus Christ is the clearest picture we are given of what it means to be fully and perfectly human. And what does he do? He stills the storm, calms the waves, heals the sick and raises the dead, bringing order and control to the world. He is given power because he will not use it for himself. And it is by becoming like him that we can be entrusted again with the power to rule over and subdue the earth without exploiting and abusing it and each other. Power without goodness is a dangerous thing. (Incidentally, all this makes sense of a whole number of things – evolution as God’s intended means of the development of creation, the movement of tectonic plates to gradually create land and sea over time, the important role of science and technology as a God-intended means of bringing order to the world, and the central need for individual spiritual growth into maturity in Christ.)

Earthquakes happen frequently off the Pacific coast of the USA. Yet they rarely cause this scale of disaster. The difference is that early warning systems, careful building and a communication infrastructure ensure they cause little damage. The fact that they were not in place in Haiti may be due to false priorities among those governments, or the miserliness of richer countries in being stingy with aid before the tragedy. But the development of such technology is from a Christian perspective, exactly part of God’s providential care for his world through his human stewards and agents.

God's chosen means for continuing to bringing order and maturity to this world out of the chaos from which it came, is humankind – his image, intended to reflect his nature. And so he also calls us to grow in the qualities which will make us truly share his image – love, compassion, self-sacrifice, generosity, kindness, wisdom – qualities which will enable us to care for, bring order to and control his world wisely. And these we can most fully learn in relationship to God himself in Christ.

Ultimately the Bible does not try to offer us a neat easy answer to the question of suffering. We could speculate – such events teach us courage and compassion; they warn us not to worship nature but to worship God; they keep us in our places by humbling us and stopping us get too grand ideas about ourselves. But at the end of the day, although they can give some sense and comfort, maybe none of these fully satisfy. What we are given in the Bible is an assurance that God is good and can be trusted as much as we can trust that the sun will rise tomorrow as it has done today. But the final reason we can trust him is because of the very thing we celebrated the weeks before the Haitian earthquake – his gift of Christ to us – his coming to us in human flesh as a pledge of his compassion, power and love right in the middle of a world like this.

More to follow on this one....


  1. I'd say your understanding is pretty good. God does not send diasters such as this. It is unfortunate that, for whatever reason, Haiti was such a poor country to begin with. Perhaps our (western, affluent nations) neglect of them has added much to their misery and unpreparedness.

    I believe the Bible does given an answer to the question of suffering, although, like you say, it is not really neat and easy. In fact, it takes some work to understand it. But the message is there that God does not send suffering or calamity and actually seeks to protect us from Satan the destroyer and the ravages of nature. There are really good insights about this at this site from where you can even request a free copy of a book "Light on the Dark Side of God.

    I liked your analogy that the newly-created earth was good like a baby(yet immature) would be. Keep the good thoughts coming.

  2. The best insight I have read on any natural disaster yet. Thanks Father Graham.
    Man's nature is always torn between the desire to be god, or love God. We fell when we decided to be our own god and as a result suffer judgement and consequences.
    Many have said Haiti was judged by God because of its heartless and corrupt government and animistic faith and practices (Voodoo). I wonder if that is so. I do know that my own bad consequences of my trying to decide how to live came with consequences that left me returning to Daddy. Being a spiritual knucklehead and being selfish came with consequences I could recognize. I had to stop living with pigs and head Home.
    Haiti... I pray will stop living with pigs. It has gotten them nothing but misery.
    The West is very generous. As we have seen the more church going a society is, the more giving it is. If all gifts are given in love perhaps Haiti will seek the Nature that inspired the gift.
    If Haiti remains stuck in a sty, I fear that it is a self inflicted consequence. It sure would be nice to gather in all the miserable people as a mother hen gathers her chicks. It is interesting that ex-pat Hatians are realizing their greater potential outside of Haiti. In France, Britain, and the U.S. unhindered Hatians are thriving. In Haiti they can't maintain a dual citizenship, open a bank account. Well placed Hatians fear being supplanted by returning ex-pats.


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