Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti’s Fault

The reason that a massive earthquake struck Haiti this week is found in the geological characteristics of the area in which it is located and not in a legend about a deal with the devil made by one of the leaders in the Haitians’ drive to rid themselves of French rule over 200 years ago.

As explained in a story on NPR, Haiti is situated on the boundary of two tectonic plates, the North American plate and the Caribbean plate; as the Caribbean plate moves about a quarter inch per year in relation to the North American plate, stress builds up until it is finally released, which causes an earthquake. Since this was the first major quake in that area in around 200 years, a great deal of energy was released.

If you need an explanation, then, for this awful event that claimed, by the most recent Red Cross estimate that I have seen, some 50,000 lives, it can be found in the facts of nature.

Pat Robertson offered a somewhat different explanation on a 700 Club telecast when he said,

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal.

Robertson went on to say that Haiti has been cursed ever since. I won’t bother to comment (much) on the historical inaccuracy of Robertson’s statement (the French ruler at the time was Napoleon Bonaparte, not Napoleon III, although I guess Robertson covered his bases somewhat with “or whatever”), his assigning of the possible actions of one group at one time to the Haitian people as a whole (although there are accounts of a voodoo ceremony that gave impetus to the rebellion), and his rather shocking willingness to give the devil the credit for giving the Haitians liberty from the French.

If we follow Robertson’s logic, then given the way that the American settlers of European descent treated the Native Americans, we’d better watch out; I mean, there was Manifest Destiny and all, but you can make a pretty good case for doing devilish things in God’s name as being worthy of a mighty serious curse.

Now, to be fair, as a damage control spokesperson for Robertson tried to explain, Robertson did not directly attribute the earthquake to the “curse,” but he sure did give the impression that the quake was the latest manifestation of the evil that the Haitians brought on themselves through their “deal with the devil.”

Still, when a disaster strikes, should one of a Christian’s first responses be to try in any way to lay the blame on the people whom the disaster has struck?

I know what some of you are thinking: the Bible contains stories about God destroying places and the people in them as judgment of their sins. That is correct. I am not saying that there are not consequences for actions and I am not saying that God is not interested in justice; I am saying, though, that we, being fallible and frail, are all too capable of putting two and two together and coming up with five when it comes to such matters.

Where were we, after all, when God laid the foundation of the earth, not to mention when the Haitians won their freedom from the French?

This much I do know: I know that my Bible teaches me that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and that “in Christ God was reconciling the world unto himself” and “in (the Son) the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”—I know, in short, that Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God, which means both that all of Scripture is fulfilled in him and that all of Scripture is to be interpreted through him.

So I must take very seriously passages like the one found in Luke 13:

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did’ (vv. 1-5).

Jesus said that to ask about the guilt of people who suffered relative to that of people who didn’t was to ask an inappropriate question. He went on to say that we are all at risk because of our sins, the implication of which is that we are each better served to consider and deal with the sins of which we know we are guilty rather than to spend time speculating about the sins of which someone else may be guilty.

And then there is John 9: “As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (vv. 1-3). Again, Jesus says that questions of fault or blame are inappropriate; what matters, as the subsequent words of Jesus reveal, is that we who follow Jesus function as conduits of the works of God—God’s grace and mercy and love—in light of the situation in which people find themselves.

In other words, when a tragedy occurs, our place is not to judge sin or to assign blame; our place is to deal with our own sins and to extend grace, love, mercy, and help to the victims of tragedy.

So there you have it: we can say with absolute certainty that the nation of Haiti was struck by an earthquake because it sits on a fault; but, based on the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have no cause or call or justification to say that it was because its people were at fault.

So if we think we do—well, then, about whose fault do we really need to be concerned?


Lydia said...

Amen! Great basis for a sermon we all need to hear every so often. said...

Hi Mike, just curious if you would be ok with this rewording of your last paragraph. For me, it is an important addition. And please forgive the forthcoming link.

"So there you have it: we can say with absolute certainty that the nation of Haiti was struck by God with an earthquake through the means of a fault on which the nations sits; but, based on the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have no cause or call or justification to say that it was because its people were at fault."

Michael Ruffin said...

Hey Philip. I don't know that I would be comfortable with that. It would depend on how you define "was struck by God...". I am comfortable with the idea that God's creation of the world--or its continuing evolution after God's initial creation of it, that evolution being, of course, a continuing part of the creative process-- left it with tectonic plates and the geological faults that accompany them that inevitably result in earthquakes. So, if by "was struck by God" you mean that the earthquake happened as a result of the forces of nature that God put in place, then ok. If you mean that last Tuesday God said (perhaps as part of some eternal plan), "I think I'll hit Haiti with an earthquake today," no, I'm not comfortable with that.

Honestly, though, I really think that my proper focus is on what I and others need to do in light of the fact that it did happen. Regardless of the cause, it happened. My only response to it should be compassion in action as an expression of God's love and mercy. said...

Thanks Mike for your comments. You and I are in full agreement as to our response to the disaster, both in what we should and shouldn't do (as it relates to citing specific reasons for the earthquake).

However, you seem to hold that the cause, whether it be a random act of nature that is outside the eternal decrees and purposes of God or an act that is directly from the hand of God, is unimportant. I'm just not sure how we are to be compassionate as "an expression of God's love and mercy" if we step back and punt in our attempts to help those affected understand the presence of said love and mercy in the reality of the earthquake itself. Perhaps for us typing on our keyboards in our homes with roofs over our heads, it is easy to think of our response as more important than the cause. I wonder if the same is true for the mother who lost her children, her home, and her future. I may be wrong, but it seems the question of "where was God in this?" might be a pretty important question for that mother and one for us to think long, hard, and Scripturally about. This seems to be a great example of how theology is incrediby practical, not just academic nonsense. Both our response and the cause might be so entangled as to be inseperable. It's a great pastoral issue.

In any event, thanks for reading my overly long comment. I appreciate your article and your heart behind it. Blessings!