Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Haiti - A Modern Sodom and Gomorrah?

A personal note:

It has taken me a while to blog on the Haiti situation, not because I did not think it important. It is just that the last week has really pushed the boundaries of my faith as I reflected on the destruction and human suffering. I have also not edited out some of the humour. It is not meant to be disrespectful of the suffering nor I hope will it detract from the overall sincerity and sadness that is pervasive in my thoughts. The satire and parody still make some points: "many a true word said in jest." Yesterday, the BBC ran an article that reflects some of the conflict that has been in my mind: Why does God allow natural disasters?

A week ago as the destruction of the Earthquake in Haiti became apparent on the Internet and on news channels. It has filled the front page newspaper columns for days. I found myself wondering if we could all pause, put our differences aside and respond to our common humanity.

Not so! Within hours I hear that the Rev. Pat Robinson was highlighting God's judgement on the people of Haiti for a pact they made with the devil to over throw their French slave masters. It was as if he was saying the earthquake was some form of a modern Sodom and Gomorrah for something that happened 200 years ago.

Silly me; this is a much more reasonable explanation than plate tectonics could ever be!

The Internet came alive with people cursing Christians and their God.

Blaspheming the Name Of God

One atheist commentator wrote that God must have been aiming for the gays in New Orleans but missed. I appreciate that to many Christians, this is blasphemy. However, the Bible does warn in Romans 2:24 that if believers keep quoting the Law at others, they will blaspheme the name of God.

I recently read this in an on line debate:
Some time back, a pastor friend shared how someone from Rainbow Coalition had contacted his church for funding for AIDS awareness. His response can be found in Romans 1:24-32.
I know, it took my breath away when I read that to!

It’s a pity this person's "pastor" did not continue reading Romans into chapter 2. He may have found something to consider himself: Romans 2:3-4 and verse 24 above. Yes, statements such as Pat Robinson and this person's pastor quite rightly provoke the response non-Christians have towards the Gospel and Christians these days. I'm afraid us Christians sometimes bring it on ourselves!
Aside: As for HIV, I really wish some Christians would stop trying to shock people with scaremongering and creating moral panic. HIV is quite an equitable virus. It does not mind if you are straight or gay. Interesting, the HIV infection rate in Lesbians is one of the lowest in the world. HIV is God's judgement on homosexuals? I think not!
Thank God For Science

I also have to admire Pastor Pat's grasp of modern macroeconomics:
  • Haiti - sinners therefore poor
  • Dominican Republic (next door) - righteous therefore rich
There I spent years in boring macroeconomics lectures studying Keynes, when all I need to do was open my Bible.

Fortunately we live in a time when science has been able to explain plate tectonics and economics. There is little need to triviliase life this way.  I thank God for the scientists & others who have been able to answer many questions and explain more each day of how nature works and society functions.

These discoveries have been an immense blessing to humanity, especially in the form of modern medicines, forms of media that make us aware of crisis situations, and the ability to fly aid there so fast.

However, science has not answered all the questions yet. We still do not know how to predict these occurances.

God's Blessings On The Righteous Only?

If this was a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, what then of Christian workers who lost their lives? Why did God not arrange for a Lot type exit from Haiti on Aerof-lot? If anyone did turned back to look at the destruction ... well you would have more salt for those awful peanuts they server just after take off.

Indeed in as much as the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous, so to do natural disasters affect us all.

Without plate tectonics we would not have land to live on, minerals would not come up from under the earth to fertilise our crops and feed use, and we would not have magnificent mountains and scenery to appreciate.

What Was God Thinking?

However, I do not know why God uses the potentially destructive plate tectonics to grant us these benefits. Why would God allow this planet to evolve this way? Surely God could have arranged for the same benefits in a less risky way?

We need to be honest: we do not know. The Bible reminds us that God is sovereign and in control. God does not miss. God is ordering all things to the good of those who love God and are called according to God's purpose.

Timing Is Everything

Yes, the Christian understanding is that creation is fallen and broken. Most suffering is because we have rebelled against God and in the process hurt each other.

These doctrines may help explain the macroeconomics situation. However, they do not easily explain natural disasters.

Maybe natural disasters are a sign of God's judgement; maybe they are a reminder of the new heaven and the new Earth that is yet to come? The Bible has this consistent dichotomy between a holy and just God on the one hand who holds us accountable for the freewill we have been given; and a loving and merciful God on the other who forgives us for misusing our freewill. I have always maintained that we can never fully appreciate God's mercy and love without first understanding God's holiness and justice.

However to highlight these doctrines by using the suffering in another country is to deny our common humanity; our common ability to do the things we aught not to do, and not do the things we aught to do.

To highlight these doctrines in light of a particular social agenda at this time lacks sensitivity. Pat Robinson and others have been doing it with their conservative - almost capitalist - agenda.  The gay rights lobby could also do this: Haiti is dominantly a Catholic country that has denied gay people legal recognition of their long term relationships. Would it be appropriate for gay rights lobby therefore to say this was God's judgement on them for their intolerance? Most certainly not!

In the end - to the independent observer - it would appear that God is indecisive or confused in cause. We should not try and tell people what we think is going on in God's mind.

To highlight these doctrines at such a time is like a sermon on hell at a funeral and a discussion of divorce in the best man's speech.

Where is God?

We are left asking, why does God not do anything about it? The answer is that God has - in Christ's atonement on the cross.

For some they may feel this is not enough. They want more direct action.  However as pointed out in the BBC article at the beginning, if God did, it would take away our own responsibility and free-will.

The story goes of a man who is told by a passer-by to leave his house as flood waters are coming. He says to the person that God will help him; there is no need to worry.
The flood waters do come and the man has to climb onto the roof of his house. Someone comes by in a boat and offers to rescue the man. The man responds again, that he has faith in God and there is nothing to worry about. He turns down the offer.
The flood waters rise and become torrential. No boat can save him now. Fortunately, a helicopter flys by and offers to rescue him. Again he shouts back, that he believes in God and that there is nothing to worry about. He pushes the hoist away.
The flood waters rise even more, covering the house and the man is swept away to his death.
When he gets to heaven, he is angry with God. "I was faithful! Why did you not save me?" he remonstrates. God says, "I sent you a person to warn you. I then sent you a boat; followed by a helicopter. What more did you want?"
God is working His will through us and everyday things. We sometimes cannot see it or understand it. The Bible teaches us that God is just and fair. Even when we cannot understand, we continue to work with what God has given us to answer the questions we have.

In concluding this blog I realise that I'm still left with more questions than I have answers. While I desire a rational explanation, I need to be humble and leave room in my mind for God to be God. This is not a blind faith. I'm not called to be obsequious in my following of Christ. My faith is based on knowledge of a sovereign, just, merciful and loving God; a faith that waits patiently for all things to be revealed.

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