Monday, February 15, 2010

How Could God Allow the Tragedy in Haiti?

From Where the Rubber Hits the Road

Fr. Tim Moyle presents this treatise by Dr. Bruce Tallman, a Spiritual Director from London Ontario, well known in Catholic circles.  
Bruce Tallman, Dr. Min.
Spiritual Director
"Helping people grow in faith and love since 1983"


If we ask how God, who is supposedly all-knowing, all-powerful, and
all-loving, could allow the disaster in Haiti, it leads us to a larger question: why does God not prevent all accidents, illness, famine, and war? Why does God allow suffering in general?

Pat Robertson, an ultra-conservative televangelist from the United States, said that God was punishing Haiti for "making a pact with the devil." Some Haitian preachers are claiming the same thing on the streets of Port-Au-Prince, talking about Sodom and Gomorrah, the biblical Flood, and Judgment Day.

A few years ago, some Christians maintained that, because New Orleans had a reputation for being "sin city," God sent hurricane Katrina to punish them. A few centuries ago, John Wesley stated his belief that the great Lisbon earthquake in the 1700's was God's wrath against sin.

Such explanations must be categorically rejected. It reminds me of the biblical story of the woman caught in adultery. When asked if she should be stoned to death as the Law of Moses demanded, Jesus replied "Let
the one who has never sinned cast the first stone." All her accusers eventually dropped their stones and walked away because they knew they had sinned too.

When a tower fell and killed some construction workers Jesus asked his disciples if they thought these men were any more sinful than anyone else? If God struck Haiti, New Orleans, or Lisbon for their sins, God would
have to do the same to all of us. God is not on the side of one person or nation over another. God is always on the side of the crucified, no matter what their nationality, race, or religion.

God did not want the double tragedy of an earthquake in Haiti, one of the poorest countries on our planet. A more widespread explanation for Haiti's woes is that foreign countries isolated Haiti when its slaves revolted and gained independence, it has had a string of brutal and corrupt governments, and Haiti is geographically located in a hurricane zone and on a fault line.

God does not want or cause suffering in general either. We know that God allows human freedom. God also apparently allows a certain freedom in the natural world. Most of the time nature serves us well, but natural
laws will proceed even if humans are in the way. God did not cause the earthquake in Haiti, the shifting of tectonic plates did.

Getting back to our question of why God allows suffering, we have to also ask: to what extent should God eliminate suffering? Should God eliminate all pain? Pain, which is part of nature, serves us well in most cases. For example, if you put your hand on a hot stove, the pain tells you to withdraw it. If God eliminated our ability to feel pain, we would quickly destroy ourselves. Pain is also a great motivator. Most medical and
social breakthroughs have come from a desire to alleviate or prevent pain.

Most of us have experienced a broken heart at some point from being spurned by someone we loved. To eliminate all pain, God would have to make us into robots who could not do unloving things like rejecting people. However, then we also would not be able to love, since love requires free choice.

Pain also serves us well spiritually. The ecstasy of gaining love and the pain of losing it makes us more humble, wise, and compassionate. Suffering should not be glorified, no one should purposefully seek it.  However, we can make use of it as a great teacher.

Just as we suffer if our children suffer, God must suffer with us. In fact, that is what the cross, the central icon of Christianity, is all about. It declares that God knows what it is like to suffer as a human being. God suffers with us. The cross is the universal symbol that God is not in bliss, off somewhere else while we suffer on earth. God is right in the middle of our pain. Sometimes though the suffering is so senseless that there is no adequate explanation. As Rabbi Harold Kushner said long ago, sometimes all you can do is drop your theological explanations and just be with people, hold them in your arms, and cry with them in their grief. That's what God does. God does not leave us alone in our sorrow.

The international response to Haiti has been, I believe, due to God moving peoples' hearts and consciences to reach out and help take this crucified nation off its cross. The response has been like the beginnings of a resurrection: God overcoming horrific pain and death.

Perhaps, if the international aid continues, Haiti will be fully resurrected as a much safer and stronger nation than before. Let us all pray that this is what happens.
I am sure that people like Pat Robertson really believe what they are saying about God's punishment.  The difficulty is not with his faith in Jesus, but in his lack of background to refine his thoughts.  Sola Scriptura is the bane of Christianity, since there is no foundation.  In the Catholic Church, we have the scriptures, which we love, but have the 2,000 years of tradition to build on, where teachings must be supported by scripture.

Than you Dr. Tallmann for wise counsel.

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