A tragedy such as what the Haitians have experienced cannot go unaddressed, particularly when there is some piling on by attention seekers and, worse, supposedly Christian voices. As I have shared with many in the congregation over the last three + years, it is in such tragedies where God’s sovereign hands are most visible. The resources required to overcome a natural disaster on the scale of the Tsunami of 2004, of hurricane Katrina, or even this earthquake are formidable. No less necessary, however, is the determination or perseverance to see the rebuilding through to the end. Sometimes, the devastation wrought by disasters can make all our efforts seem futile and impotent. But, for those who trust in God’s promises, such efforts and faith are required. And so we labor and labor and labor, knowing we might never see the fruits of our labors until He comes again.
Can God be present in such a catastrophe? He not only can be but He is. As the days and weeks unfold, we will likely hear amazing stories of survival, of sacrifice, and of provision. Similarly, we will also hear stories of tragedy, of lamentation, and of wondering why God spared this person and not that one. There will be stories of celebration, there will be stories of survivor guilt, and there will be stories of anger directed at God or government or still others. To be sure, the recovery for Haiti will be long and draining. And the costs will be tallied not only in dollars and sense, but in human lives.
That’s why the idiotic statements of purported Christian leaders such as Pat Robertson ("the Haitians made a pact with the devil") and pundits such as Rush Limbaugh ("we’ve given enough—it’s called our income tax") must not only be considered but spoken against in our own ministries and our own circles. Rush Limbaugh’s comments are certainly less problematic for Christians who want to present a God of love and mercy and justice and righteousness and whatever else we like to celebrate about Him. After all, Rush is part entertainer/part self-declared arbiter of truth. He says things to garner attention and to promote a political agenda. I do not know whether he holds himself out as a Christian, but I do not believe he has ever held himself out as one who disciples others. And who knows, maybe the Venezuelans and Cubans will hear his criticism of their lack of giving and respond in kind.
No, there more dangerous voice, and the one deserving of more criticism from our perspective, out to be that of Pat Robertson and other “Christian leaders” who pounce on such catastrophes and label them as God’s judgment on this people or that people. We heard such comments around the time of Katrina with respect to New Orleans. We hear them often about the natural disasters in California, I cannot remember them for sure, but I imagine we heard them about the Tsunami.
Part of our Gospel message that we carry forth into the world each day is that Jesus bore the curse of all our sins on the cross that amazing Friday before Easter so long ago. He became sin so that we might become His righteousness. Part of Jesus’ work and ministry was to take upon Himself the curse of the torah. He bore the punishments required under the law. That is why we no longer stone adulterers or unruly kids, that is why we no longer have to put to death murderers or repeat manslaughterers, and that is why we no longer execute God’s judgment on blasphemers. He has already paid the penalty! All we need to do is repent of our sins and ask of Him the grace not to fall into sin again. It really is that easy! The Good News really is that good!
Of course, as this tragedy unfolds around us, the movie Avatar is garnering tons of money. Psychiatrists are noticing an increased occurrence of depression among those who see the film and find themselves back living in the real world once the movie ends. Pandora seems so perfect, and our fragile island home is anything but that. Events such as the Haitian earthquake serve to remind us that creation does groan under the weight of sin. This world is not perfect. To be sure, much of that groaning is our fault. We strip resources, we create imbalances, we subjugate rather than steward. And God reminds us that this is not as it should be. We had a garden of Eden, and we rejected Him. We had eternal life, and we elected death. We had a God who walked and talked with us in full communion, and we created a gulf between us by our sin. And still, His love for us was such that He made it possible for us to be restored. And He is powerful enough to make all things right.
Is God in this Haitian tragedy? Absolutely. He will inspire us and other to amazing works and ministries in His name. He will bend to His purposes those things we meant for evil. And where there is death and dying, He will be there crying with us as He did for Lazarus, empowering us to minister to His glory, redeeming and restoring all things!