I received this email recently in the wake of the devastation in Haiti. I’ve been working overtime this week helping set up the ODW Haiti Relief Fund. We increased our goal to $100,000. If you’re thinking of donating, consider partnering with us. But in the midst of busyness, I haven’t had a chance to answer many of my emails including this one from one of our blog readers. I think it would be good for us – together – to wrestle, answer, question, and believe along.
Read it and let’s discuss. Whatever you do, please don’t mention Haiti and the Devil in the same sentence. But I’d love to hear some of our collective thoughts.
Here’s the email I received:
I wanted to ask you for some help. As someone who knows and believes in God’s amazing love as represented in Christ and His love, I also know that I have doubts in my own faith.
Particularly, I have always struggled to comprehend or to help others understand God’s love when great tragedies like natural disasters happen (or any tragedy). I have just recently visited Haiti within the year and feel crushed at what happened and while looking at a CNN report and the comments that followed I cam across this comment from “bduce”:
“I am going to donate to help the people of Haiti. Prayers and religion do little to help and those that say god works in mysterious ways only have to look at Haiti to question if there is a god. If there were a god, would he have let this happen? If so, then a god like this has no place on earth.”
I want to respond and tell him that God exists, that He loves the people of Haiti, that God loves him (bduce), but I don’t know how to explain it in a way that makes sense.
To me, love doesn’t mean that everything goes right, the way we think it should. Love doesn’t mean that tragedy and sadness will not exist in our lives. To me love is everything, the joy and the sorrow.
As someone who I feel is gifted in communication, what would you say? How do we make sense of God’s role in all of this? Can we?
I know you are busy but I just felt I needed to ask you these questions. Thanks for all that you and One Days Wages are doing to support Haiti and for always fostering discussion.
FWIW, this doesn’t answer the question but I loved this post so much.
59 Replies to ““if there were a god, would he have let this happen?””
“Love doesn’t mean that tragedy and sadness will not exist in our lives.”
I think J is trying to invoke ‘happenstance’. Sometimes, horrible things just happen. Which I would agree with.
But if you’re talking about an omnipotent creator who is all good, happenstance doesn’t make sense. This deity is supposed to be able to control everything. Therefore, if all loving, he wouldn’t allow completely random disasters such as this to take place. You can argue that the things we do to each other that are bad are allowed for free will, which is fine. But a massive earthquake has nothing to do with free will.
I know that if I had omnipotent powers, I would prevent random disasters from happening. Does that make me better than your deity?
This, however, is not an argument against the existence of a god. It is only an argument against the existence of a god that is both all powerful and all good. If the deity in question is not one of those things, it can still exist and have random disasters make sense.
While others have said things much better than myself, I will attempt a bit here.
It is easy for us to say that we want God to control everything in order to avoid catastrophes like the earthquake in Haiti, or events like 9/11. But if God were to take control of everything, we would all just be puppets in his hands. There is no love in controlling every aspect of people’s lives. God is put into an impossible dilemma with humanity as he wants what is best for us, but he does not want to just control our actions like puppets because that isn’t truly life or love.
Now, I do not want to seem cold or uncaring, but there is something else to consider. Our fear of death. While what has happened in Haiti is awful and we need to do whatever we can to help those people, is death something to be feared? Every person who died, would have died at some other time. And much of the rest of the world understands this well, though we often forget it. For much of the world’s population, death is a common part of the life around them, whether it is from disasters, or wars, or disease, or old age, or malnutrition, etc. But yet we, who live without most of these things, are the ones who doubt God’s goodness because of them.
My next thought is that we don’t know the extent of what will come out of this situation in Haiti. Haiti has been in a bad way for a long time, maybe this disaster will finally gather enough symphathy and support from the rest of the world that something may change in Haiti for the better.
If the argument is that a god who has the ability to stop bad things from happening but doesn’t, then he cannot be good. But is that necessarily true? I am a father, my daughter is a year old. This doesn’t give me much experience in fatherhood as of yet, but I know that my instincts will be to overprotect her, whether she is 1 or 25. But I know that to do so would be doing her an injustice, because she will need to explore, to learn unfamiliar things. And I know that she will get hurt along the way, whether it be physically or emotionally. And I know that whatever happens to her can make her a better person, regardless of what tragedy may happen to her. And I will be with her, guiding her when she needs, and letting her loose when she needs, and loving her the whole time. Sure, I could stop all manner of bad things from happening to her, but it wouldn’t do her much good in the end.
Like I said, other people have spoken to this issue much better than myself, but I hope this helps.
“But if God were to take control of everything, we would all just be puppets in his hands.”
Note, we were specifically talking about a natural disaster…not a man-made disaster.
If the world existed in such a way that there were no natural disasters, how would we be puppets?
“If the argument is that a god who has the ability to stop bad things from happening but doesn’t, then he cannot be good.”
The argument is that he cannot be ABSOLUTELY good. He can be pretty good, or even mostly good. Just not completely good.
The traditional Christian response, which I will agree with, says that when sin entered the world it affected not only humans, but all of creation. So I don’t think you can separate natural disasters from human made disasters. How would you categorize human influenced climate change or sinkholes cause by bad mining. So, I would say sin exists, therefore bad things happen. It is a consequence of sin. God doesn’t just ignore those bad things that happen, but works through them to redeem all of humanity and some believe all of creation will be redeemed to a sinless perfect place.
well said. that’s my take too.
First point, did you read the last part of my post? I acknowledged the difference between natural and man-made, and the last part of what I said focused on the natural. While I cannot predict what natural events may happen around my daughter, I know enough about the world to help her avoid them.
Where would it stop? If God would stop a natural disaster from happening, then why wouldn’t he stop a man-made disaster from happening? The premise for God stopping natural disasters is to prevent the suffering of innocent people, correct? Well, innocent people suffer and die because of man-made events as well, why wouldn’t God also cover those events? In my view, it is a bit of “all or nothing” though I hate to say it that way. And like I said before, growth for human beings often happens in periods of crisis.
I was in an adult learning program to get my degree, and one thing I learned is that humans, adults in particular, learn best in crisis. So while it isn’t pleasant, suffering can and does often lead to positive things.
God has his own plan for putting the world right. Just because bad things happen does not mean that he isn’t good.
And a “God” that cannot be absolutely good, but kinda or pretty good, would not be God. If God can only be kind good, then he can also be kinda bad. Which makes him no different from us, which makes him not God.
“While what has happened in Haiti is awful and we need to do whatever we can to help those people, is death something to be feared?”
It is not death that I fear. I fear for the living. For the people who have to wake up (if they were even able to get any sleep at all) and deal with this horrific situation each and every day for the rest of their lives. For the people who have to mourn for those and that which they lost. For the hungry and thirsty. For those who have nowhere to go at night.
These are the people who make it hard for me to understand God’s goodness. I know though that God’s ways are not our ways, and thus, I will continue to trust that there is purpose in such tragedy.
What you have said is brilliant.
I agree with Andy M. Just because God does not or cannot stop bad things from happening does not mean that he is bad. I believe that God has nothing to do with these disasters. It is all in Satan’s hands. Remember, in the Bible, when the children of Israel were burning their babies in sacrifice to Baal? God said “I neither commanded it, nor spake it, nor did it even come into my mind.” God does not want bad things to happen to his children. He loves us.
While we are on the subject of love, God loves us very differently than we love one another. God loves us with a type of love called agape, which is Greek for a self-sacrificing love. This is a love that no human on Earth, save one, posesses. Only Jesus ever had that love.
I believe that bad things not only happen because of Satan, as was proved by the story of Job, but by our own sinful nature. We all inheirit the sinful nature from our parents, who in turn got it from their parents, and so on until we go back to Adam and the Garden of Eden. The three major sins committed by Adam at that time were 1)lust of the eyes, 2)lust of the flesh, and 3)the pride of life. Just FYI.
Last, God is powerful. He is the Creator, He spoke the universe into existance. We did nothing. We shouldn’t be disrespecting God and expect him to save us from our mistakes. Our purpose here on Earth is to praise Him, not sit around and blame him for the evils we or Satan have committed. Trust in God, place faith in him. He sent his son to die for his beloved for a reason. Those of you who feel that the omnipotent, omniscient God is not in control, and that he is completely callous to the pains of our world, please rethink your theory he doesn’t care.
Also, I would like to add that my parents spanked me to dicipline me, to teach me a lesson. They did this because they love me. They didn’t like to spank me, but it was necessary in order for me to learn from my mistakes. Please don’t conclude that I am saying this was God’s diciplne for Haiti, but understand that If God didn’t care, we’d be alot worse off than we are right now.
I think Jesus put it in the best terms at one time:Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tommorow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
-Matthew 6:30, 13:58 (KJV)
This is a great article to read in response to that question: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/opinion/14kidder.html
It’s by Tracy Kidder, the man who wrote “Mountains Beyond Mountains” about Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti.
The best sentence, and the one that speaks most to the the email’s author and to the post of morsec0de’s: “…while earthquakes are acts of nature, extreme vulnerability to earthquakes is manmade.”
The earthquake itself might have been happenstance or random, but Haiti’s vulnerability as a country — the reason why the devastation has been so profound, is not happenstance or random. It’s the result of oppression by and corruption of countries more powerful than Haiti. (This is not to say that Haiti’s government is completely innocent — there has been corruption there as well). It’s the result of countries that could help turning a blind eye to Haiti’s problems for decades. Relief workers are great and so needed right now, but preventative measures are more effective.
The goodness of God does not mean that God steps in and blocks our free will. God’s power does not mean that God will prevent us from making our own (often sinful) decisions.
For more on this, including a discussion on Hurricane Katrina, read Jon Sobrino’s “where is God in the Earthquake,” a phenomenal book.
Absolutely! This is why I feel those of us who have plenty share some responsibility for the devastating effects of this quake: http://rachelheldevans.com/haiti
i like that.
reminds me of David Brooks piece in the New York Times today, “The Underlying Tragedy.” read it.
Like the tsunami, hurricane katrina, and any natural disaster in under-developed and forgotten countries/areas:
Disasters like this ARE our fault.
No, we cannot prevent hurricanes, tsunamis, or earthquakes. But we can prevent poverty. We can prevent masses being huddled in disaster zones because they have nowhere else to go. We can prevent the “Haitis” of our world. But we don’t.
Saying there can’t be both an all-powerful and all-loving God in light of events like this is a cop-out of our responsibilities to the human race. We (more or less) understand the amazing power of nature and how/where it works. God made it awe-inspiring, and that awe has given us the sciences in our attempts to understand. That awe has given those of us with resources the ability to predict disasters. That awe gives us warning systems, earthquake-safe buildings, and emergency medical resources.
This is not God’s fault. This is my fault. This is our fault.
I’m sorry, but no matter how rich and prosperous you are, with the technology we have today a 7.0 earthquake is going to be a disaster.
I totally agree. My point is simply that it is only our own fault for building huge cities in disaster zones. As Americans we are not exempt from this, just look at New Orleans. And people say that San Francisco is just waiting for another huge earthquake.
The key difference is that in wealthier areas we have warning systems and ways to alleviate suffering. Loss of life may still happen in disasters, but nothing like what has happened in Haiti or in the low-lying villages affected by the tsunami. If a 7.0 earthquake hit San Francisco, I highly doubt tens or hundreds of thousands of people would die. And I absolutely know that nearly all of those people would have access to immediate relief.
Damage to our cities may be great, but buildings can be replaced. Lives cannot be replaced, and it is our fault for not appropriately protecting those lives.
i’d simply add, that in CA we build with proper engineering for earthquakes. in Haiti, the buildings- government, hospital, schools, etc were built without reinforced steel beams, so they were hopeless. we are a nation of money and education, so we’re lucky like that. we haiti rebuilds, we’ll want to share what we know about building on/ near fault lines, and the means to get it done.
“On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died. This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story.” -NYTimes
just picked that quote up from julie clawson’s blog
Actually you’re wrong. Infrastructure can make all the difference. Let’s go with the conservative estimate: 100,000 people died in Haiti from a 7.0 earthquake. San Francisco was hit by an 8.2 in 1906 and only lost 2000 people. 1906! That’s how abysmal Haiti’s construction and engineering were. EVERY engineer is saying these numbers were preventable are you really going to contradict science?
….The argument is that he cannot be ABSOLUTELY good. He can be pretty good, or even mostly good. Just not completely good…..
God’s absolute goodness is displayed in the person of Jesus Christ. He said, in this life you will have trouble…But He came to show God’s infinite wisdom and loving goodness in that while we are, right now, sinners He died that we might be set free from the law of sin and death. Death reigns in the lives of humanity. Jesus is the only one who conquered death so that we who believe in Him might have everlasting life. To be reconciled to God the creator, is the ultimate goal in all human life. Whether that life ends in a peaceful bed at home or on the bottom floor of a building that collapses. The hurt and wounded appear to have been saved, physically and miraculously at times, so that they too might have an opportunity yet to know Him.
“God’s absolute goodness is displayed in the person of Jesus Christ.”
Sorry, but I don’t see a guy who constructs a whip to beat the merchants in the temple until they leave to be ‘absolutely good’.
Unless those merchants he’s beating are absolutely bad.
Scriptures does not say that he beat anybody. It says he drove them out. Now, if someone came into a church with a whip, it wouldn’t take much to get people moving out the doors, and probably wouldn’t take him actually hitting someone.
I won’t say I know what did or did not happen, but nothing in scripture says that he beat the merchants.
I said it once, I’ll say it again:
God’s own SON came to die for a reason. Jesus Christ went through ultimate suffering, just to be declared not ‘absolutely good’? Imagine, you have not only been tortured physically, but mentally and emotionally too. And at the peak of your suffering, you call out to the one person who has not turned their back on you before, and you receive no answer. No comfort. You are comletely and utterly alone. I feel that that is the worst thing imaginable. For your own parent to turn your back on you? Even when you are in a great deal of pain?
Say, for example, Morsec0de, you have children. You love these children a great deal. So much so, that should any body hurt them, you would be extremly angry. That is how Jesus felt when those merchants were trying to take money from his people.
I agree with John. There are troubles in this life, but as always, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. I don’t mean faith that he will…save you, so to speak, in your mortal life, but faith in your everlasting life. This also does not mean that you have to have faith in God in order to gain everlasting life, but to have faith and trust God, because he got the job done when we could not.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
-Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV)
I clicked on this eagerly, to see what Eugene might have to say on the subject, mostly because this is a question that is asked of me time and time again by people in life. From my mother, who so devout in her faith, still struggles with this, and my husband-to-be, who non-believer he might be right now, is open to learning. How do you answer it, when most Christians I know still struggle to find reason.
I wanted an answer, and though near-thirty I might be, I still retain the naivety that pastors know all and might enlighten the world. I clicked to read more and found instead of answer, a question posed for discussion.
I’ve been thinking about this all morning, with half-formed thoughts floating nebulously through my head, coupled with a frustration that I am unable to connect the dots, and even now, I’m not quite able to put things together much more coherently than 2 hours ago. I’m not an eloquent writer to be able to explain my thoughts as effectively as others.
First, I feel that all the answers that may be posited here are an act of God in itself. My belief in Christ and in the Bible lies in one of God’s absolute gifts to us: the luxury of choice. For me, this ultimately means that there will always be more than one view point on any given subject, more than one interpretation with none of them being necessarily wrong. It may just be wrong for you, or the guy who makes my coffee in the morning.
We will never understand the scope of or realize His true plans. We will also never quite understand the forces at work in the world other than God. This was a God, who in the Old Testament, gave Job over to Satan, so that Satan could test the limits of Job’s goodness; a goodness that, I believe, God never wavered in belief of. This was a God, who had to send His only Son to man, to sacrifice Him to save us.
My grandfather passed away from liver cancer when I was twelve. It devastated my family, and the branches of my extended family now no longer speak to each other, when at one point in our lives, we were incredibly close. As a Christian, I struggle with how this could be a part of His plan for us; how he’d let something happen that could potentially end up in the breakdown of a close family. Only now, almost twenty years later, am I beginning to feel I can even begin to comprehend miniscule aspects of why He allowed this to occur.
I know, for many, this will sound like the cop out answer. That there is, in fact, some kind of plan, and we just can’t fathom the depth of it. That we are, at least in the now, unable to see so far into the future to see what happens after this. That God allows natural disasters to occur, even if He might not be the one creating them, and even if they might not be a part of His original plan, because He can look past the initial pain and suffering to find a shining point of absolute goodness that emerges from despair.
But aren’t the tiniest aspects of it bubbling to the surface now? The little things? The way the world is coming together to support Haiti, who for years has been oppressed by a poverty not of their making? Right now, I see a world where the individual and this me-centered line of thinking is slowly becoming the driving force of many many decisions, rather than community and world concern; I see this world, that breaks my heart, unite right now to do incredible, magical, compassionate things in the short span of 3-4 days. And cynically, there are people who may believe that this is just now. Just a brief moment in our otherwise selfish lives: for are there many people still thinking of the typhoons that ravaged Thailand years ago? And even Katrina is becoming just a memory for many. Bit it’s my naive belief that the world that can come together to stand by each other once, might be able to continue to do that. Continue to shift towards being people of compassion towards one another permanently, rather than by individualistic needs.
This might not answer the question for many, if not most people, of why God lets bad things happen to anyone, let alone good or bad people. The idea that this may be part of some plan might sit ill with some. Others might think that God doesn’t have the power to stop other forces from bringing bad things into our lives, or that this is His way of punishing us. And yet for others, this will just cement their knowledge that there is no God in the world, for a just and loving God would never make people suffer, whether He caused the act or someone else did.
But, I believe in Him. And I trust Him. And I hope, each time, that the world will come out of this stronger, more united, and more loving towards one another.
verse4… those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
I don’t know that there is ever a “good” answer for this. The problem of evil is a pernicious one, and one that is not likely to go away because we discuss on this blog.
A current of thought that is getting more traction is the assumption we make that being all powerful means being all controlling. Is it possible that God can be all powerful and all good without being a control freak? Is it possible that God took a great deal of risk in creating the world as God did and giving people complete freedom? To me, the testimony of Scripture is simply that God made the world good, however God did that, and ever since then people have messed it up such that the world as we experience it is not the world as God intended it. This is only a problem if you believe that in order for God to be all powerful, God has to meticulously control all things and in order for God to be all good, God has to meticulously control all things in a way we would recognize and describe as good. Check out Greg Boyd’s work for other ways to think about God’s power and goodness relative to human will.
The real tragedy of Haiti is not the earthquake – it is the economic and cultural devastation of a country that resulted in poverty, overcrowded living conditons and substandard buildings and infrastructure. When an earthquake such as this one happens here in So. Cal., or San Francisco, or Japan, the tragedy is deep, but no one asks “how could God let this happen?” It is understood as part of the natural deal we make to live on this planet – natural disasters occur.
IMHO, God is crying with all of us who are watching the devastation unfold. But as much as God is crying for the people of Haiti, God is crying for each of us, that we allowed any of his people to live in such conditions and look the other way. The earthquake is not the tragedy – we are.
I am in total agreement with you. Ignored as a country. We should all be asking ourselves how “we” corporately let this happen.
MY ANSWER IS GOING TO BE A LITTLE UNORTHODOX AND UNFRIENDLY:
From a scientific perspective it’s like asking why it rains when we don’t want it to. We live in a world with natural phenomena. Maybe since we understand more about how weather systems work we don’t get so upset when a hurricane strikes. Earthquakes are poorly understood by a lot of people, and they still aren’t fully understood by geologists. So when a natural phenomena wreaks some horrid disaster it’s foolish to question it in a world where natural phenomena are absolutely necessary to the sustainability of the earth. Earthquakes are important to the tectonics of earth, and if we didn’t have them life on this planet wouldn’t be possible. Simply put: THE WORLD NEEDS EARTHQUAKES to keep going.
A BETTER QUESTION WOULD BE:
It takes an incredible amount of arrogance to be told by all sorts of engineering experts that if Port-au-Prince’s construction had been more sound that nowhere near the devastation we are seeing would have taken place, then to turn around and blame God. PLEASE!!!!! The only person we should be looking at is ourselves!! Disney, Wal-Mart, and JC Penny all exploit cheap Haitian labor, which is welcomed by every corrupt regime because there is almost always some nice-and-easy ancillary payout for them on the side so they can exploit the country’s poverty. It is every Westerner’s fault that the Haitian disaster took place. No one else. God had nothing to do with the Haitian disaster. Earthquakes just as big or bigger take place in developed nations and the death toll usually doesn’t pass 1,000 people, sometimes not even 100.
I’m sorry I just don’t buy the “We can’t fathom God’s plan” answer. Actually we can fathom his plan: it’s called LIFE! Life couldn’t exist without earthquakes, hurricanes, viruses, bacteria, and even death! It’s time to ask ourselves why the poorest in the world always bear the worst of the world instead of scratching our heads and wondering why god could allow such a thing!
Nathan- I really appreciate your comment and I completely agree. I’ve been steeping myself in news regarding the aftermath in Haiti and my heart is so angry and broken. I saw a video of a man screaming and sobbing and I too want to scream and sob. I pray that the spirit of God would move through us during this dark time. We can do marvelous things through His power. In fact, marvelous things are happening right now in Haiti and all over the globe to help Haiti. Examples: Alaska Airlines offers free 737s to aid workers, radio/ TV stations, children and professionals are raising money and prayers, the nations of the world have united together in the relief effort and on and on. The energy is immense.
Sometimes we can’t control what happens to us, but we do have some control over how we respond. No matter who you are, you can do something.
kathryn: proud of you and derek. will be praying for all of you.
he’ll be fine and safe. really wished i could be going with him tomorrow. i was willing to carry his backpack.
this is the best answer in this entire thread. succinct, humble, practical and i agree with every thing you say. thank you, nathan.
Nathan, I really appreciate your answer. There’s a lot of attempts to respond to the question here and your perspective is the one that I find compelling. Thank you.
Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah! Nathan, I have only heard better words somerwhere else only once before: A Primitive Baptist Church. That was right on the money! Life, it is one of the greatest gifts, and we should support it, not crush it beneath our toes and then blame it on God. Thank you. I feel so elated that someone else understands my thoughts.
I’m a committed Christian, and I’m still not sure there is a good answer to this. I’ve struggled with it more often than I care to admit. The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know why God would allow something like this to happen to his creation.
Eugene – I know you made us promise not to mention the devil…but theologian Greg Boyd, (in his book “Satan and the Problem of Evil”), has actually made a pretty good biblical case for why Satan might be behind natural disasters (NOT because of any historical “pacts,” mind you).
In the end, I’m with Nathan, jmylander , and Christina on this – We have only ourselves to blame for the conditions in which these neighbors of ours were living.
such discussions are timeless aren’t they? as if a definitive conclusion would fundamentally change anything. perhaps, it is our way of discerning a cause -whether god or ourselves
the reality is, shit happens. whether it is a family who dies in a car accident, an orphaned child who suffers from severe malnutrition, a parent who beats and rapes their child for 20 years while locking them in the basement, or thousands perishing in a natural disaster, there is suffering and death in this world.
I believe the question we should be asking ourselves is not so much in the “why?,” the “how come?,” “who’s to blame?” “why would god allow this?” or even the issue of fairness. rather, given the reality that plagues all of humanity, the question is, what is our response to such things? for those who profess in a god who created all things, is over and in all things, we pray, hope and believe that god is present in the midst of tragedy and loss…. and most often, god’s presence is felt and known through people, through us. what are we doing? how are we present to those around us in the midst of their suffering?
the harsh reality is that no matter what we think about god, whether god is partially good, half good, 75% good or perfect, god can do whatever god wants. if you don’t believe there’s a god, god’s still gonna do whatever god wants.
we need to worry about our part…. how we can be present to those around us. some additional reflections on this: http://gailsongbantum.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/be-still-and-know
I’ve been blogging on doubt lately, and last week, I brought up the fact that obviously bad stuff happens, supposedly though a loving God is in control. I still feel confident in a loving God, even with this disaster. Because although a 7.0 earthquake will naturally cause some suffering, I believe human actions have greatly intensified that suffering. We’re all waking up to the fact that we’ve had this incredibly poor nation at our doorstep, one that was bound to be devastated in an inevitable event like this.
Besides that, we just know that the earth is ‘cursed’ because of our actions (i.e. Garden of Eden, not in 18th century slave revolts.) The earth groans for redemption, and until then, it’s an inhospitable place. So, there you go, another facet of our responsibility.
Sure, bad stuff happens that we can’t control. That’s the way it’s always been. I always question people who always believed in God until something bad happened to come into their life or someone near them. It was all right, as long as it was someone else’s life that was falling apart. Now that they’re actually affected, God must not be real!!!
In the gospels, Jesus promises us two things. In the world, we will suffer. And we will have eternal life. The earthquake is the suffering part. The other stuff we have to take on faith, and wait.
I want to try this one. Perhaps this may sound a little academic, but really we need to ask the first question then. What is good, what is being good.
We’re talking about a God who has asked his own people to declare war on other cultures and take land for their own. (In the old testament) And I guess the same thing happened here, the Earth was asked to declare a small war on Haiti.
What I want to say is. Haiti happened, and it sucks for a lot of people. There is also a possibly facist government shaken and joy overflowing in the Red Cross office where 58 million dollars of donations means that people all over the world have taken the rare step of turning good intentions into concrete steps.
There is beauty in ugly.
the question of theodicy, which is what you are doing when you ask, “how can a good, loving, and powerful God allow such travesty to happen?” is ancient and never quite satisfying to all. this problem becomes particularly troublesome to those without faith in any god, let alone the God of the Christians. no matter what theological (academic or otherwise) proposition one purports, those who believe will and those who don’t won’t.
perhaps a different route might be more helpful. God doesn’t need anyone’s defense. God is God, regardless of whether or not feeble (and very finite) human brains can fathom God’s existence or not.
for Christians to try and provide answers in times of disaster and peril is to really do more damage and perhaps even participate in the “evil” that has occurred, whether it is nature caused or human evoked. for all anyone can end up saying is that God is either uncaring, powerless, or uninvolved. or, we end up saying that somehow the victim deserved the calamity, e.g. pat robertson’s idiotic comment. furthermore, “theologizing” might sooth one’s intellect, but when the pain is real and raw, it only acts to add insult to injury.
perhaps the way to “prove” God’s love, goodness, and power in times like these, is not to provide answers, because there really are no answers. the problem of suffering and evil, “why do bad things happen to good people?” is not a problem to which we need to have answers. instead, we, Christians, are called to act – to come along side of those suffering and embody the love of Christ.
to act as Christians can take many forms: donation, prayer, sympathizing, walking along side of the sufferer, sitting in their midst, crying with them, etc. the way in which we live out our faith, particularly in times like these, prove in whom we have faith, and the gospel which we try to share. to respond in utter compassion is to bear witness to the love of Christ. action driven out of love for God and for humanity, which can transform lives and the world; that proves the existence of a loving, powerful, and good God.
you sound like you went to a good seminary?
j/k we were schoolmates at princeton seminary. thanks for these thoughts.
Wow, he posted a strong statement. I wouldn’t know how to answer him either. I don’t want to come off as a religious nut and say God love you and love Haiti, but so and so.
I would want and try to explain in the best possible way with encouragement and facts. But honestly, like you I wouldn’t know how to answer. Some have provided great point of views as well. *sigh* My heart breaks for Haiti. All I can do is donate and wish there was more to do. 😦
What if we as a people in order to experience this miracle of life we have to live in an imperfect world, imperfect like we are. Life would not be as precious without death, Light could not exist without dark. What if this world actually is only a small part of an eternal world.Maybe expressed as a dimension? As it says; for God so loved the world he gave his only son, for whoso ever believs in him should not perish but have everlasting life. What if him is us. Like my Friend Dennis Weaver who liked to quote Pogo said ” I have seen the enemy & they is us”What if our faith in a better world actually created a better world. What if our deeds here in this imperfect world caused the future world. I am wrangling with the idea of God letting children get hurt, & feel sad that I am questioning the is. The bottom line is those of us who are alive can make free will choices. & somehow that matters. I choose to believe that this is not the only world of existence, but what we do here matters even in the face of tragedy. I choose to believe that there is a better world available now, & in the future now, as promised.
I think there are many clues that there is a omnipresent is that can control such things as the formation of our moon , & the magnetosphere that protects us from extreme solar radiation.It is too incredible to be happenstance. Somehow in order to live in a wonderful seemingly imperfect world we must experience what seems to be imperfect happenings in our own perspective. & how we strive to create a more perfect world is maybe our salvation.
For natural disasters and death to be the one thing that determines one’s decision if God exists, reveals how shallow & self-protective one’s theology is. The willingness to ignore all of creation, all the intangible, weighty, and immeasurable presence of love, faith, hope, joy, forgiveness, pain, redemption, passion, etc, and the realities of life that surpass nature- because our small created brains can’t comprehend in our western linear mindsets one aspect of God…. I would have to claim it is shallow. I say self-protective, because there’s a reality that people don’t want to hear in this world and it’s that creation does not, and will never revolve around mankind. It has always been for the glory of God, even the eternal love that God has for us through the Cross of Christ, is for His glory. I’m sorry if this is painful to hear, but theres a bigger reality to God’s will than just us, YET, we are the image bearer’s of God and through Christ we have been given the calling to bear witness to His spirit on this earth. We are unimportant yet important – and all throughout the bible we will see this harmonious tension. For example, God is sovereign and knows all before it happens, yet God still answers when we plead and pray to Him even in predetermined history. He has everything planned out yet he lets us play and partake in the planning. Disasters happen, yet God is perfectly good and always will be. There is no one who aches more than God Himself for this disaster, and for us to say He didn’t do His part, is to say that we know more about this created ball of dirt than our creator does.
I may or may not have answered much of the question, but for me, I’m going to accept the reality of the harmonious tension in this world – and my hopes is that we don’t overshoot God’s sovereignty or ignore God’s existence to the point that we become immobile self serving people. This harmonious tension, was created so that we cling to the power of God, and our creator, and I pray that everyone does exactly that in prayer instead of just clicking a donate button. Ultimately, I know God will bring glory even in this situation to Himself, and redeem this nation to their full identity and destiny because I know God has a destiny of fullness of Joy for them. May we never forget we fight a spiritual battle more than one that involves flesh and blood, and only till we face the music in the Spirit in our prayer closets, will any earthly and natural thing make sense. Let’s first begin to know the God that we point a finger at, because God will never be figured out logically, but only revealed to us spiritually in prayer.
God, pour out your spirit in Haiti and cut the global church’s heart to pray and send.
Thanks Pastor Cho for posting the letter and your efforts to help Haiti through ODW.
In reading the responses I am grateful for the balm they offer to (I have to say it) Mr. R’s words. The worst part is that while he is being pilloried many others have said similar things when tragedy strikes non-white nations.
The only answer I can offer to the quesions in the original letter is that as a believer I must trust God in all things. It’s OK to feel angry at him, cry out in despair, even try to ‘figure it out’ logically. What matters most is to turn TO Him and listen for His still voice. The answers for what I should do come when I wait to hear Him, when I don’t waste time asking why is this happening.
Knowing this I still waste plenty of time pouting on this imponderable worry.
A little more …
The posts above do a fine job of answering the letter. I am adding my words to remind myself to keep trusting.
For me Mr. R’s comments perpetuate a bias that has defined American Christianity in the evangelical tradition. Nested in the gifts of education and health care often brought by missionary church planting, is a core of ethnocentric narcissism (many call it racism). Disguised as piety or purity, this poisoned apple taints the sweet fruit of the wonderful work of so many Christians working with churches and para-church organization.
Worse, this human failing creates a new generation of believers who don’t accept themselves, and erroneously think they can one day become pure. This is heresy. Since all things human are imperfect, we will always have sin & even the poor with us.
What we do in response to this reality is our faith lived out.
God’s absolute goodness is displayed in her complexity. His ability to be many things simultaneously. She has provided a world where a vast range of emotions and experiences are possible.
As humans we tend to have limited definitions of goodness. We tend to define good as happy or painless. Even so our experience tells us that our superficial definition of goodness is false. Why we must ask, do we find stories, books, songs, movies that have no conflict so unsatisfying? Almost all art that is conflict free leaves us wanting. Conversely stories with conflict and suffering and overcoming obstacles draw us in and feed our soul.
Superficially we may say we want to live in an earthquake free world, but God knows in our heart of hearts we don’t.
As horrible as natural disasters are, they provide everyone an opportunity to be someone complex.
We can now ask questions that were not available to us before. Who were we before Haiti’s earthquake? Who were we that allowed this devastation to happen? Who are we now and what actions are we taking? Are we someone who ignores a neighbor in need? Have we been someone who ignores a neighbor in need? Are we now someone who helps a neighbor in need? Who will we be in the future?
Are we separate from each other or one people? Are we separate from the Earth or a part of its workings?
And of course…Who is God?
Through these kinds of questions throughout history we have gaged our spiritual, social, economic and emotional growth.
An absolutely good God would allow “good” and “bad” things to happen simply because the alternative would be stagnation.
“God’s absolute goodness is displayed in her complexity.”
“She has provided a world where a vast range of emotions and experiences are possible.”
Please tell me those are typos.
Pastor Cho has engaged a profoundly important question and the various responses have been, for the most part, honest, thoughtful, painful and helpful. I have plucked a few (out of context etc) to show the diversity and difficulty of this question:
“God’s absolute goodness is displayed in her complexity…
God will never be figured out logically…
The reality is, shit happens…
Life would not be as precious without death…
God had nothing to do with the Haitian disaster. Earthquakes just…happen…
Is it possible that God can be all powerful and all good without being a control freak?…
God allows “good” and “bad” things to happen because the alternative would be stagnation…
There’s a bigger reality to God’s will than just us…
don’t waste time asking why is this happening…
There is beauty in ugly…
god can do whatever god wants…
for Christians to try and provide answers in times of disaster and peril is to really do more damage and perhaps even participate in the “evil” that has occurred…
There is, in fact, some kind of plan, and we just can’t fathom the depth of it…
This is not God’s fault. This is my fault. This is our fault…
The goodness of God does not mean that God steps in and blocks our free will…
We just know that the earth is ‘cursed’…
The earthquake itself might have been happenstance or random…
God’s ways are not our ways….
So, I would say sin exists, therefore bad things happen…
God is put into an impossible dilemma with humanity…
God is God, regardless…”
I don’t have a better response than any of these, but I just want to add a couple more things to take into consideration. We can imagine a world without suffering and pain, but it would have to be a different world than this one, without a natural order, without us. The differences between God’s world and the ‘natural world’ are differences of perception and language. As many have argued (Aquinas, McCabe) God and the Universe are not two things, God is not a thing at all. Now to try and address some of the comments above: Complexity does not equal goodness or badness, neither does simplicity. God is not limited by our logic, but God is not illogical. ‘Shit happens’ is an expression of our ignorance, not God’s lack of control. God’s own life makes life precious; it is not contingent on death. Nothing ‘just happens’ God actively and always sustains all creation. God is not a “control freak” but allows creation to share in God’s own freedom; there is no other kind of freedom. Asking, “why Haiti happened” is not offensive to God; it is an expression of our God-likeness. God cannot contradict God; the Trinity is perfect wholeness. Our ‘free will’ may not oppose or thwart God’s will, but it is always an expression of it. “God’s ways” are knowable, because God is in us and we are in God through and with Christ. Evil and “badness” are different things. There is no evil in God, evil is a lack, and God cannot lack anything. The ‘badness’ in the world is there in perfect proportion required to sustain the created order and it’s natural laws. To change the proportion is to not have this material world at all. Humanity never poses a “dilemma” for God, that would mean there is some limit to God’s understanding. And, what of Pres. Obama’s statement “…but for the grace of God there we go?” I find that reasoning as flawed as Pat Roberson’s. Yet, even with the many unanswered questions and so much imperfect reasoning and theologies (including my own), that so many here have engaged Haiti’s suffering with such profound compassion, generosity and grace, is enough of an answer, for now. Let me add a quote from the last diary entry of Etty Hillesum, (a young Jewish [Christian?] woman) before she was killed at Auschwitz: “When I suffer for the vulnerable is it not for my own vulnerability I suffer? I have broken my body like bread and shared it out among men. And why not, they were hungry and had gone without for so long. We should be wiling to act as a balm for all wounds.” Blessings, Daniel.