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January 18, 2010

Why Did God Allow Haiti's Earthquake?

Haiti Quake There's an impressive amount of theologizing about Haiti's earthquake happening in the larger culture.  Last week the New York Times published an editorial called "Haiti's Angry God" in which an American aid worker took the Haitians she works with to task for praying during the post-quake fallout.  To her mind, they should ask harder questions about a God that would have allowed such suffering to their country.

The estimable Lisa Miller, who writes Newsweek's "On Belief" blog dealt with similar theological questions, giving the final word to Bart Ehrmann, a theologian who once believed in God until abandoning faith when he couldn't answer why God would allow suffering.

We see many Haitians praying, despite all.  I heard a National Public Radio piece last week from Haiti in which the professional man being interviewed was asked by the interviewer what he wanted their listeners to do.  Pray for Haiti, was his answer, and I was impressed that they didn't edit that out.

And one famous American preacher has weighed in on why the quake happened, suggesting that Haiti's voodoo and devil-worshiping past is reaping its reward.

For what it's worth, I think the Bible is clear that, at least, the last perspective is off-track.  The heart of the great biblical book on suffering--Job--critiques Job's false friends who are determined to figure out why Job is suffering.  It's as if they can't live in the tension of seeing someone else suffer without establishing that somehow the sufferer deserved their suffering, so we, the onlookers, are safe.  It won't happen to us.

There's a direct parallel in Luke.  Jesus is told about a tower (the Tower of Siloam) that has fallen on and killed eighteen people, and he's asked who sinned that such a thing happen.  His point?  That's the wrong question.  In John 9, we're told about a man born blind, and, again, Jesus is asked whose sin caused this disability.  And, again, he says that's the wrong question.

God_at_WAr The best thing I've read on this subject is Gregory Boyd's God at WarBoyd says that it's our Greek influence that makes us need answers to suffering and evil.  The issue, he says, isn't intellectually figuring out evil.  That will lead to two bad outcomes: torment (as Bart Ehrmann discovered) and complacency.  To Boyd, the world is a thick spiritual battle.  When we confront suffering and evil, our task is not to analyze the suffering and evil, it's to fight it.  To fight it spiritually.  To work for justice and compassion. 

Some years back, one of our daughters was near-death for some months.  Many, many people prayed for her and her condition improved to the point that she was healed.  A doctor on her ward was so impressed that she contacted the science and faith reporter for a major national magazine, who interviewed us.  He asked us why we thought our daughter had gotten sick, given that we were pastors and presumably godly people.  Now it's not that we hadn't entertained that question.  Had we been spiritually targeted because we were trying to work for God in a spiritually-dark place?  But, in the end, our answer was that we didn't ask why, that we had enough problems without asking for that kind of torment.  Why us?  Well, why all those other families on the NICU at Children's Hospital?  Maybe they weren't pastors, but had they done something to "deserve" having a horribly sick child? 

The question, it seems to me, is--as the Bible reiterates and Gregory Boyd talks about so powerfully--the wrong one.  "Why" never offered anyone any comfort, any power or any answers.  What offers comfort and power is God.

So let's not over-analyze "why God allowed" Haiti's earthquake.  Let's not demonize the Haitians as having somehow caused their unimaginable suffering.  Let's, instead, do exactly what so many Haitians are asking for.  Let's pray for Haiti, offer aid to Haiti, maybe offer ourselves to Haiti.

What do you think?


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