As images from Haitian earthquake continue to flood our TV screens, and as calls for aid grow louder and louder, it’s only natural that we pause and ask ourselves, Why did this happen? Where was God in all of this? Couldn't He have done something?
For years, questions like these threatened to unravel my faith. In the aftermath of the Asian tsunami of 2004 and the Pakistani earthquake of 2005, I found myself struggling to believe that God was good, present, and real. When well-meaning friends told me that these disasters were just God’s way of punishing sin, I recoiled at the thought of God finding honor and glory in the suffering of little children. For a time, I came close to giving up on the Christian faith.
While I haven’t found answers to all of my questions, I have since come to believe that if the God of the Bible is true, then He loves his creation and no one is forgotten or disposable to Him. He doesn’t desire sin, pain, and destruction. These things are the result of a broken world, filled with broken people, harassed by a broken yet powerful Enemy.
This shift in my perspective was accompanied by a greater sense of responsibility. I was moved by Mother Teresa’s simple response to the question of God’s goodness in light of suffering. “If sometimes our poor people have had to die of starvation,” she said, “it is not because God didn’t care for them, but because you and I didn’t give, were not instruments of love in the hands of God, to give them that bread, to give them that clothing; because we did not recognize him, when once more Christ came in distressing disguise—in the hungry man, in the lonely man, in the homeless child, and seeking for shelter.”
Saint Teresa of Avila put it this way:
Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out;
yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good;
and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.
You might wonder how this applies to something like a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, something so entirely out of our hands.
Well, in an interview with CNN, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States described his country as “a catastrophe waiting to happen.” Haiti has the lowest per capita income of any country in the western hemisphere. More than three quarters of the population live in extreme poverty. In addition to suffering from disease, malnutrition, illiteracy, and political upheaval, the people of Haiti deal with one of the worst infrastructures in the world. Most live in flimsy, breakable homes, homes incapable of withstanding an earthquake of this magnitude.
These people have been living in abject poverty right under our nose—less than 700 miles from our shore.
While we spent millions on weight-loss pills, our neighbors were dying of hunger. While we bemoaned the fall of our inflated financial institutions, our neighbors were struggling to find shelter for the night. While we filled our homes with Christmas presents in celebration of Christ's incarnation, our neighbors watched their children slip away into despondency, as hunger and sickness overcame their little bodies.
Christians love to debate whether homosexuality is a sin and if gays should be allowed to marry. Perhaps it is time to debate whether such gross inequity is a sin and if we should allow ourselves to continue to grow richer while our neighbors are so poor.
(We need only look to Isaiah 58 for our answer.)
Now, I’m not trying to take anyone on a guilt trip. These are things I thought about last night, as I looked around my living room—at my TV, my Wii Fit, my shelf full of books, and my Alabama Crimson Tide Snuggie. I wondered how many Haitian children I could have sponsored, how many vaccines I could have paid for, how many sturdy homes I could have built.
In Richard Stearns’ excellent book, The Hole in Our Gospel, the president of World Vision explained, “It is not our fault that people are poor, but it is our responsibility to do something about it.”
As the Apostle Paul put it, "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written, 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.'" (1 Corinthians 8:13-15)
We have already failed Haiti. The question is—Will we do it again?
Some questions for you: How do you process disasters like these on a theological level? How do you respond to disasters like these on a practical level?