Thursday, 14 January 2010

shaking the ground

No one can have been left unmoved by the harrowing reports coming out of Haiti following the earthquake which has shaken the very foundations of a nation. At least that is what I would have thought until I heard some of the nonsense being spouted by Pat Robertson, a well known and influential figure in the U.S.haitiA., speaking on the Christian Broadcasting Network. Commenting on the devastating tragedy, Robertson claimed that Haiti was suffering the consequences of a ‘pact with the devil’ and went on to state the following:

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it… They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal. … ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other… They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God and out of this tragedy I'm optimistic something good may come. But right now we are helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable.

I really don’t know where Pat Robertson has dredged this rubbish about Haiti’s pact with the devil up from, but he is spouting a classic piece of theological claptrap which suggests that the people of Haiti are suffering this tragedy because of their sinfulness. On that reckoning there are plenty of other nations that should be quaking in fear.

haiti 2 When a disaster as momentous as the earthquake in Haiti strikes it leads people to ask questions about God and his purposes; the same was true of the Asian tsunami in 2004. We would be inhuman not to find ourselves wrestling with these questions and just as inhuman to dismiss such suffering with the glib suggestion that it is the victims’ fault. There are no neat and tidy answers, which is why Theodicy (how we understand the goodness and love of God in the face of evil and suffering) remains such a challenging topic within Christian theology.

One of the most helpful reflections I’ve read over the last couple of days is a piece by Craig Uffman editor of Covenant titled Where was God in the Earthquake? Uffman draws on the work of David Bentley Hart who wrote The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? and who makes the following statement:

we are to be guided by the full character of what is revealed of God in Christ. For, after all, if it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil, and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God.

Uffman goes on to comment:

As we participate vicariously in the tormented tears of young girls, lost and alone in the Haitian darkness, as our hearts pour out tears for the thousands of sons and daughters and mothers and fathers who have died so suddenly and shockingly, and as we turn to our task of being the loving and living hands of Christ in response to this tragedy, let us never forget the urgent truth about God that it is our vocation to proclaim: God does not will our sickness or our death; God does not will that evil be done; God has conquered evil and death through the Cross. This is the meaning of the empty tomb. This is our Easter faith.

Where Robertson is right is in suggesting that we need to help the people of Haiti in their unimaginable suffering now. We can do this by acting on the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury:

In this time of catastrophic loss and destruction, I urge the public to hold the people of Haiti in their prayers, and to give generously and urgently to funding appeals set up for relief work.

The Church Times blog has details about the appeals launched by aid agencies including Christian Aid and Tearfund and information about the Disasters Emergency Committee can be followed at @decappeal/decmembers.

Here’s a prayer I found particularly helpful to use as details about the earthquake emerged Tweeted by Gerard Kelly @twitturgies.

#Haiti For those whose world has imploded: God have mercy. For those who have died and those dying still: have mercy God.

Update: There is a fascinating account of the history of the story behind Pat Robertson's claim that the people of Haiti made a pact with the devil by Heresy Corner. However, I disagree with the article's assertion that Robertson wasn't suggesting that the earthquake was in some way a consequence of this pact and therefore a judgement on Haiti, otherwise why did he bring it up? (via @His_Grace )

Giles Fraser explored the topic of Theodicy and the earthquake on BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day on Friday 15th January.

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