Q & R: God and Haiti …


My heart is breaking as I sit in ease today and listen to the screams of the broken in Haiti in my head. They are inescapable! Have you written anything about such huge tragedy as it relates to the nature of God being love?

Reply after the jump.

R: This question is so important. I know I can’t do it justice in a short blog post, but I can’t say nothing either. I have written on the subject of pain and faith in several of my books, and the subject comes up again in my upcoming book. A few brief – and insufficient – thoughts …
Earlier today I was listening to BBC’s “World Have Your Say” show where people shared how the Haitian earthquake makes them lose faith or how they integrate it with their faith. Let me share two approaches to integrating tragedies with faith in a loving God that I don’t recommend, even though they’re common. (I won’t even address the horrible approach that a famous televangelist recently demonstrated – which involves blaming the victims. That misguided approach deserves only pity, not a response.)
First, many people say, “God is in control. There is a reason for everything. It’s all part of God’s plan.” Although there is perhaps some tiny grain of truth to their statement, it can be so easily misconstrued and misapplied in horrible ways. As one person on the BBC show said – Are you trying to tell me that God decided to smash little babies and children and grandmothers under slabs of concrete in order to accomplish some other purpose? (After which, some might add, God will send them straight to hell for yet more suffering?) Is God so uncreative and unjust that God can’t find ways to do things other than throwing human lives around like so much garbage?
It’s a small difference in words, but a huge difference in theology, to say this instead: “God is with us in everything, and God wants to help us to overcome every evil with good.” If we focus on reasons – plans set in motion in the past, I think we get in trouble. If we focus on possibilities – how we can cooperate with God in the present to bring healing to pain and comfort to suffering, then I think we are far more redemptive. I think this is what people actually mean sometimes when they say “God has a reason,” but I think it would be more helpful if they talked in terms of the present and future instead of depicting God as a mastermind planning these things from the past. I don’t see God’s agency in that controlling, mechanistic, deterministic way.
Second, people often ask, “Where was God when this happened?” The question can be asked in such a way as to blame God or to expose God as uncaring or incompetent. Perhaps we’re better off without the controlling and noncompassionate versions of a deterministic god that many people refer to in these circumstances. But once you dismiss any idea of God altogether, are you better off? Is there more hope? More faith? More love? Or less?
That’s why I think a better approach is to realize that in our compassion, God is there. In the heroism being shown by neighbors near and far, God is there. God is there, suffering with those who suffer – isn’t this a deep dimension of the Christian doctrine of incarnation? God is weeping with parents and children, God is suffering with the wounded and dying, God is laboring with those who serve and rescue, God is giving with those who give and grieve from afar. Wherever there is compassion, God is there. God is even there with those who are grieving their loss of faith in a controlling, capricious god …
So in your breaking heart, in your empathy and compassion for those screaming for help in Haiti … I see the love of God is being expressed in and through you. And through all of us who soften our hearts to join God in caring, sharing, feeling, responding, giving, sacrificing, God is there. That’s the only response that seems anything close to satisfying and believable to me. I hope that helps.