Last week my friend asked me to lead the discussion for the “Next Gathering” a group of budding theologians who meet for a couple of hours once a month to discuss theology in a slightly more formal setting than just over hot wings and drinks. My colleague asked me to give the preacher’s response to the crisis following the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
At first, when it happened, I really didn’t know what to say about Haiti. I don’t have relatives down there, I don’t have any Haitian friends, nor do I have any Caribbean friends who had talked about knowing someone there. Combined with the fact that I don’t have cable and I wasn’t treated to teh 24 hours news cycle that I’ve been hearing has covered this story extensively, I wasn’t treated to the graphic pictures and satellite images of the devastating aftermath. Therefore, I remember remarking to a friend that for all intents and purposes, I wasn’t all that moved by what happen.
I realised that I wasn’t moved because it wasn’t real to me. Even as the death toll climbed rapidly, I still really wasn’t moved. I hadn’t really talked about it–because it wasn’t real. Then that same morning as I mentioned it to my friend, it was my first time talking about it and I really wondered that age old question that many believers face at one point or another in their life: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
This is an age old question we often times ask ourselves when we’re faced with personal disasters of a car crash that kills a whole family, or a house fire that kills two old people who were the life of the neighborhood. Or even we ask it when we see great natural disaters–the kind that no one foresees or can predict. Generally we ask them when faced with death or when the quality of life is threatened. When we’re faced to have to deal with the absence of God in a situation we sometimes have a crisis of faith. It is here at this crisis moment the preacher is supposed to offer a word from God.
Please understand a few things. The “word” from God is not just what the Bible reads. Be careful when a preacher defines the “word of God” as solely what’s written in the Bible. When the prophets of the Hebrew Bible spoke what “thus saith the Lord” they were not referring to some compilation of writings that were a few thousand years old, but they were speaking on what God had posited into their spirit; after getting an overview of the situation, the prophets went into their secret place and listened to what God had said to them. The true prophet, in the Old Testament sense, didn’t usually side with the status quo. That’s why when Amos was recorded as saying “Woe unto those in ease at Zion” he was attempting to unsettle those who were comfortable in doing what they had been doing.
To answer the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” requires one to have an innate appreciation for humanity and human life.
This was clearly not where Pat Robertson was when he made his comments.
Robertson clearly sees the Haitian people as bad people. So naturally in his mindset, bad people will experience bad things happening to them. Mind you this is the same mindset that prompted Barbara Bush to remark that the individuals and families that had sought shelter in Houston’s Astrodome following the aftermath of Katrina were doing better than they were in New Orleans. It is this capitalisitic mindset that has kept nations like Haiti at the bottom. This deep-seated belief that hardwork will pay off is tied to Christianity; the belief that blacks are inherently lazy and we don’t take advantage of opportunities totally negates the fact that it is NOT a level playing field.
And also, as Christians, when one believes in the remarks from Pat Robertson and his ilk, we are spouting the embedded kataphatic doctrines that we generally don’t question. Such as:
- God is all-powerful and all-knowing
- God knows what we’re going to do before we do it
- God has planned out our life (even though we generally believe in free will)
- God loves us and cares for us, but God is a just and a jealous God (whatever the jealous part means)
By the same token we assign the apophatic forms of theology to God as well:
- God is not confined to our concepts of time
- God is not a creation as humanity understands it
- God is not evil
- That neither existence nor nonexistence applies to God
I could go on, but you get the picture.
What happens when we apply these set rules to God and don’t question them, we’re left asking the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and we’re forced to apply those rules to our everyday existence. Concerning Haiti, we’re left either taking a Pat Robertson approach of saying that they did something to deserve what happened to them, or we’re left in the lurch trying to figure out what happened.
So, if I can take a minute and tell you what this preacher’s response is.
Seeing as how I do believe that God is active in the lives of us today, I have to believe that somehow God was up to something with the earthquake in Haiti. I am not trying to paint God as some vengeful God that caused this earthquake to happen to show the Haitians a lesson, nor am I trying to paint God as some masochistic deity that sits up high and has fun with the little creatures that have been created. No, I don’t know. I don’t know what the lesson or the meaning or the causation behind what would cause family members here in the United States and abroad to go into panic mode as they try and find out what happened to their loved ones on the western half of this Caribbean island. I don’t know why people are forced to walk around in a daze as everything they ever knew was reduced to rubble.
And seeing as how I don’t know why this earthquake happened, I do know that the vast tragedy in Haiti could have been prevented.
Western civilization, namely the United States need only rewind the tape four and half years back to Katrina and be reminded the devastation following Katrina in New Orleans was because the levees broke. In other words the city that suffered 80% flooding could have been prevented if the levees had been built properly. So if the United States and western thought had NOT treated Haiti like some awful stepchild, then perhaps the lack of water and the lack of food and the lack of supplies making it to the island would not be such an ordeal.
I think the lesson for those of us who are benefactors of Western civilization’s wealth and as denizens of the Empire of the United States is that God is exposing how treatment of the “least of these” and force a critical consciousness in the minds and hearts of those so far removed from the grinding poverty of such an independent nation. We’re worried about Haiti post-the earthquake of last week, but that stops far short of worrying about Haiti post-independence in 1804.
Let the record show that in the 20th century when the United States occupied Haiti that they established a shaky financial government that left the country another $40,000,000.00 in debt no longer just to France but to the U.S. as well, giving the U.S. an excuse to always be involved with Haitian affairs. Let the record show that this country, the United States fully supported and supplied money and arms to the Duvalier regime of both Papa Doc and Baby Doc from 1957 to 1986. Yes, this country, the United States supported the despotic government of a meglomaniac who saw himself as Jesus Christ incarnate and the U.S. supported him because of his tactical criticism of Cuba and Communism in the Western Hemisphere. Let the record show that this country, the United States entered Haiti in 1994 following the ouster of Aristide, for the first time. Let the record show that this country, the United States in 2004, forceably removed Jean-Betrand Aristide, the legally elected president of a the Democratic Republic of Haiti and exiled him to the Central African Republic of Congo. After all of the U.S.’s shady dealings with Haiti over the last century, how DARE Pat Robertson get his fat, nasty face on television and say that this happened as a result of dealings with the devil!
We, in the Western world, particularly those who are reading this are enjoying creature comforts such as electricity to power the computer or handheld device. You’re probably in a climate controlled environment be it in an office, a train coming home from work or in the comfort of your home. Given the time of day, you’re wondering where you will go to eat with the following options of the kitchen, or getting in your car to run to get some fast food or the closest carry-out spot. Nine-times out of ten, you’re fully clothed wearing garments that aren’t patched and that don’t have holes in them.
So how dare we act as if God caused this calamity to happen to the “least of these.”
This was not a natural disaster but rather the result of our gross negligence as fellow humans. We always act as if natural disasters are some major sign that the world is coming to an end. Please! Natural disasters have occured all throughout human history. We get shocked when four hurricanes hit Florida within a two month time period of 2004, but yet and still no one asks the question, well why did people settle in a land that suffers such great natural calamity. The same for those who live in New Orleans–Katrina aside, living in a flood prone area something on that magnitude was bound to happen (although I’ll fully argue that Hurricane Katrina in 2005 should not have been that time). It’s like saying that God is trying to tell you something or that the world is ending when an earthquake happens–but you live in California!
As people who have more, we’re expected to do more. So in the words of Nike, Just Do It.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL