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EDITOR'S CORNER: On shaky theological ground Robin Russell, Jan 22, 2010
By Robin Russell Managing Editor
Haiti has got to be doing something wrong.
The impoverished nation has been beleaguered for generations by poverty, disease including AIDS, government corruption and an assortment of natural disasters that just keep coming.
Clearly last week’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake was evidence of God’s judgment, right?
If you watched the coverage of the devastation in Haiti, you’ve heard that sentiment. Even as the bodies piled up from the horrific quake that staggered the nation’s capital, some—including Christians—moralized with a quick explanation.
Television evangelist Pat Robertson, ever at the ready, drew sharp response when he said the nation’s troubles are the result of a pact made centuries ago with the devil, and “ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another. . . . We need to pray for them a great turning to God.”
Even a Haitian self-appointed preacher was reported to have proclaimed the earthquake punishment for a long list of sins. “We have to kneel down and ask forgiveness from God,” The New York Times reported him as saying.
Why do we feel so compelled to “explain” a disaster? We work so hard to make sense of tragedies; the thought of a random catastrophe is unpalatable.
Ah, the illusion of a well-controlled life: If only we behave right, our lives will be blessed. How easily such magical thinking can pervade our theology! We live in a broken world, yet we fight so very hard to ward off the mystery and the grief.
Does God judge sin and injustice? That’s part of the Christian hope—that one day everything will be set right. But we seldom, if ever, have the prerogative to say when and how that might be happening. There are too many nuances, too many innocent people involved, too many wrongs that are left “unjudged.”
Still, it’s so tempting for some to play armchair theologian when things go wrong.
After Hurricane Katrina, for example, New Orleans’ voodoo mystique, bawdy bars and gambling were blamed for reaping the destruction. Never mind that more churches were destroyed than casinos—and that the devastation somehow left the infamous French Quarter untouched.
Volumes of theological works have been written to tackle the age-old question: How can there be a good God amid a world of such intense suffering? But instead of covering our mouths and falling to our knees, we scramble to come up with a reason.
Those whose lives have been particularly cushioned (so far) seem the quickest to blame suffering on sin: My life is blessed, after all. What’s your problem?
Those who have suffered greatly, however, recognize that some stuff just happens; that the sun shines on—and the earthquakes strike—the righteous and the unrighteous alike. And that our role as people of faith is to respond with compassion.
I have a friend whose husband was killed while working at the U.S. Embassy in Kenya when a terrorist bomb went off back in 1998. Since then, a 4-year-old girl she adopted from an orphanage there died of AIDS.
Yet my friend never questions why bad things happen. Her faith is intact—even unwavering—and she is among the first to respond when others are hurting or in need. She headed to Haiti a week after the quake as part of a medical relief team, saying it will be healing for the Haitians and for herself.
Her example gives me much-needed perspective. It teaches me to have a more mature faith—even amid the rubble—that God is still good, and seeks that none would perish.
Television pundit Jon Stewart, normally the most snarky of commentators, pulled out a Bible last week and cited all the verses of comfort that Mr. Robertson could have used, instead of his blithe words of condemnation.
Among my favorites is Isaiah 54:10: “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”