Haiti and the Goodness of God: A Letter

This is from a response I wrote to a friend about Haiti and statements made by several Christian leaders attempting to explain why such a tragedy as Haiti could occur. I decided to share it here because it reflects a lot of what I have been thinking about Haiti in the past few days. The following are links to the statements I’m responding to.

Jim Wallis: God Suffers With the Suffering, Huffington Post, 14 Jan 2010

Pat Robertson:  Haiti ‘Cursed’ by Pact With Devil, New York Times, 13 Jan 2010


I think the first problem we (and by we I mean Christianity as a whole) have is that we look for the answers before we are the answer. Whenever such tragedies occur, it is part of our nature as humans to look outside of ourselves to find answers to problems and tragedies that are bigger than anything we can deal with. And in looking outside of ourselves, we are drawn to ask the why questions. Why did God allow this to happen? Why would a good God cause such a disaster? The same questions that we ask any time our world is shaken (in this case, quite literally).

As Christians, we find ourselves in a tricky situation whenever the world flies out of control. We claim to follow an all-powerful, all-loving God. A God who could, if He wanted to, stop such a tragedy as the Haitian earthquake from happening. And we find ourselves up against the very questions we have been asking of God and His world since the earliest believers sat down to write our Scriptures and follow this God that is I AM.

The problem we run into is that we act as if God needs us to defend Him before a world shaking their fists to the sky in anger and desperation. We act as God’s PR agents, trying to make it make sense so that our faith and credibility doesn’t crumble in the face of hundreds of thousands dead by the apparent hand of God. And thus we have some, like Pat Robertson, attributing this disaster to a God who judges and a God who hates sin. And thus he justifies such tragedy based upon the apparent sins of a “pagan” nation. On the other hand, we have Wallis and others calling upon us to remember that God suffers with the suffering, loves the poor, and cares for the widow. In both of these cases, each is trying to justify God in allowing this to happen based upon their own perspectives and theologies of the character of God.The problem with this approach is, of course, that God does not need us to speak for Him. When we act as if He does in fact need us to be His PR agents, we end up only justifying our own insecurities and our own perspectives of God, explaining the incomprehensible.

In response to your status and my comment earlier, the first and best thing that we can do as Christ’s Bride and Body in the world is to embody the love and compassion of Christ to the Haitians. Right now the Haitians do not need us to tell them why this has happened to them. Explaining your theodicy does nothing to free people from rubble or provide safe shelter for the millions who are displaced even as I write this. It has been rooted in our modern pattern of thinking to ask the big philosophical questions first and figure out how to actually live out the answers to those questions later. But the answers to those questions will not save Haiti in its current state. What will help the Haitians most right now is relief, water, food, hands, not our theological justifications and religious answers. As the Church, we are the Body of Christ to the world, the Body of a Messiah who was broken and humbled for all. We find ourselves confronted with the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick strangers that Christ identified himself with. The question will not be how well we were able to defend God in the face of this crisis. The question we are and will be faced with is “What did you do for the least of these?” Let us pray that we will not find God declaring “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirst and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me… I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Mt. 25).

Does God suffer with the suffering, as Jim Wallis suggests? Will God judge the sins of His creatures, as Robertson suggested? In both cases, there is support, but to take one approach or the other is to deny what the other approach speaks of the nature of God.

Do I want to serve a God who, in wrath and judgment, kills tens of thousands in a sweeping act of judgement? In my limited perspective, I can say that following such a God would be very difficult. But on the other hand, do I want to serve a God who holds no right to declare the righteous from the unrighteous? Such a being would not be the God that I have come to know in Christ.

Do I want to serve a God who suffers with the suffering, cares for the poor, mourns with the widow? Such a God who in greatness can dwell with the marginalized is one of the beauties of the Christian faith. But a God who only suffers with the suffering, but never works to relieve that suffering, or a God who dwells only with the suffering, a God who does nothing but suffer? What joy could God truly promise His children if there was nothing but suffering with God? Another beautiful truth of Christian theology is the communal love, joy, and peace that is found in the triune God, a peace and love that we are welcomed into as the Bride of Christ.

God does not need us to justify the things that happen here on earth that seem to contradict our understandings of Him. If He did, He would not be God. And while attempts at the answer to these questions may bring us temporal comfort, they do nothing for the Haitians as they dig their families and loved ones out of the rubble of their already impoverished lives. Ours in this moment is not to question God, but to question how we can embody His Love to a world that is still reeling from the effects of the fall. In some cases, all we find that we can do is to donate money. Some groups may find they can do more, and should. In either case, God has allotted a level of blessing to each, and according to that level of blessing, individuals and bodies of believers should seek to be a blessing.

I found myself browsing through Job as I watched some of the Haiti coverage. The entire book is wrapped up around the idea of why God allowed such a tragedy to happen to Job, and each one has his answer to the why question. Each has his own perspective on the nature of God and the rightness or wrongness of Job in the issue. But at the end of the book, after everyone has had their say, God steps in and blows their explanations away. To their questions, God quite literally says, “Pull yourself together man!” (Job 40:7 in Hebrew says “gird up your loins). God never explains himself, and he doesn’t need to. He is in control and it is His to control. It is ours to trust Him and live according to what we understand of God from what He has communicated to us. We are not told why God allows earthquakes to kill thousands, or tsunamis to wash away entire islands, or terrorists to fly planes into buildings. But if we truly believe and trust that God has communicated to us the things we need to know, then we must trust that that is enough. In the meantime between now and when He explains it (if He ever does), it is ours to love, to die, and to bring physical and spiritual restoration to a world broken in every sense of the word.

One thought on “Haiti and the Goodness of God: A Letter”

  1. Excellent piece, Jonathan. What is it about we as Christians that makes us feel like we have to explain and defend God’s actions. When we do, we invariably give inadequate and incomplete explanations. “Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counselor?” God has explained all He wants to explain for right now. It’s enough for us to make a decision as to whether or not we will trust Him.

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