Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hating Haiti: How not to Victimize Victims

I think we need to carefully consider our reactions in the midst of tragedy. For those who believe in an all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing God, we feel a great urge of responsibility to explain catastrophes as planned events from God. Whenever tragedy strikes it is human nature to ask “Why?” I think when we hear this question we think we need to formulate an answer lest we look foolish and admit our ignorance to such mysteries.

Therefore, for those believing in the infinite God with the ‘all’ attributes, tragedy must be the exact plan of God for something better. So we scrounge through the Old Testament and find a story where a terrible natural disaster occurred, which was caused by God to punish a certain people (the flood in Genesis, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues of Egypt, etc.). This then leads us to jump to one more hypothesis, ‘what was the sin committed?’ Many have claimed that the Twin Towers were ruthlessly struck because the lack of homosexual restraint in our country, others that Hurricane Katrina was because of the loose living in New Orleans, and some suggest that every soldier killed in Iraq is again because of ‘the homosexual agenda.’ I am not saying that God does not punish because we know that the LORD is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18). God does discipline those whom he loves (Proverbs 3:12). However, I am saying that we need to be careful not to make the same mistakes that Job’s friends made.

The story of Job (pronounced with a long ‘O’) is tragic. Job has everything, many children, lots of land, many workers, many cattle, and good health. In one day Job loses it all, his children are killed, his cattle stolen, his workers murdered, and his health flees as he develops sores. Job’s friends come to see him after hearing what has happened, and when they spot him far off they begin mourning, and continue to sit in mourning with their friend in silence for seven days! Job’s friends do the first thing that we all should do when we see others facing tragedy, mourn with them, and be present. However, after the days of silence Job’s friends try to convince him that his tragedies must have happened because of some sin or fault, and he is being punished. That’s where Job’s friends go wrong, and are told so in many words as the narrative continues on.

I believe we all make similar mistakes in the midst of tragedy. Every bone in our body becomes anxious to answer ‘Why?’ God finally responds to Job, but God never responds with an answer, and sometimes we never know why things happen. Who can understand the mind of the LORD? (Isaiah 40:13). The truth is we do not know why bad things happen. We have to stop thinking we need to be God’s public relations committee and look for fault somewhere else. We do not know the answer to “Why” and even if we did it would not make the situation better. Being present and praying in silence is what we need to do in the midst of tragedy. Quiet sometimes seems awkward, but it is in the quiet that God speaks. By all means help fix the tragedy when mourning is over, donate money, time, and expertise when the time comes. But in the midst of mourning, we cannot fix, we cannot concoct an answer to the universal ‘why?’, we can only be present and love.

However, there is an answer to why Haiti is suffering terribly; there is an answer to Katrina, the Tsunami, and other natural disasters. These answers do not help our grieving, but if you must know, the answer is sin. Sin affects our lives, our relationships, our jobs, schools, and yes, even weather. Sin affects creation. When Adam and Eve were caught eating the forbidden fruit, they were hurt by sin. Sin hurt their relationship with God, each other, and creation. The ground was made more difficult to bear produce. But we cannot say Haiti’s sin caused the earthquake because we do not know that. Paul says “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait til the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the men’s hearts” (1 Corinthians 4:5). To blame the Haitians alone is to miss the point. It is not Haiti’s sins that caused the earthquake, but it is our sins. The sin of humanity caused Haiti. It is not Haiti alone who needs to repent, but the entire world. And our comfort, it lies in the event of the resurrection of Jesus from Nazareth.

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