Saturday, January 23, 2010

Theodicy and the Haitian Earthquake

A natural response to disasters like these is to ask 'where is God?' This is a very old response, going back to Job's wife, who urged him to 'curse God, and die' (Job 2:9). But the answer, of course, is that we can see God in miracles like these, the rescue of children buried under rubble for a week, and in the way he inspires good and courageous people- Haitians, Americans, Israelis, Venezuelans, Cubans- to lay aside their differences, at least temporarily, and work together to succour the helpless.

Shortly after the fall of Jerusalem, which was for Jews of the time a catastrophe even bigger than the Haitian earthquake, inasmuch as it destroyed not just a city, and hundreds of thousands of human lives, but the very center of their history and faith- an anonymous Jewish convert to Christianity, meditating over the fall- amid blood, fire, and anguish- of what his people had considered the holiest site in the world, said, "Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Hebrews 13:14). Indeed, for as the Lord said, "In this world ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:33). The Christian faith, which is shared by almost all Haitians (Catholicism is, in fact, the state religion of Haiti) is not a religion of starry-eyed optimism. As my high school headmaster was fond of saying, hope is not optimism. The Christian faith begins with a stark assessment of the fact that this is a world characterized by pain, suffering, fire, flood, earthquake, plague, hunger, thirst, poverty, and oppression. Rather than running away from that fact it seeks to make sense of it. When Christianity becomes a feel-good gospel about how God's in his heaven and all's right with the world, and in which all our problems can be taken away, in which 'God helps those who help themselves', and which theologians rhapsodize about the beauty of the design inherent in nature, and say that such a beautiful world could only have been made by God- this may be many things, and may even be inspiring and pleasant, but it is no longer truly Christian. The symbol of our faith is of God Incarnate nailed to a cross, and every Good Friday- every day, in point of fact- we are called to remember that this is a fallen world, under the domination of evil, and the 'prince of this world' (John 14:30) or in Paul's words, 'the god of this world' (2 Corinthians 4:4) is no friend to human hopes, joys, or aspirations. The earthquake in Haiti, which victimized some of the poorest, most desperate, and most long suffering people in the world, is just more proof.

This world isn't a world to be accepted as it is, it is a world to be struggled against: to be changed to the extent we can change it, and to be transcended to the extent we can't. We have this assurance though, that God grieves over the state of our world as much as we do, for He watches over the fall of every sparrow. And we can rest secure in the faith that when we do our best to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and help rebuild a damaged and devastated country like Haiti, he is with us, and we will never be forgotten.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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