God, Haiti and Hard Questions
John C. Rankin (January 15, 2010)
In the face of the Haiti earthquake, bad theology is easily put forth.
And this is not merely an academic question. I have many friends doing good work in Haiti. My second eldest son [and the woman later to become his wife] was two miles from the epicenter of the quake, working with an orphanage, and he is now serving a hurting people. Two of my other children have volunteered there. A longtime friend and medical doctor is now confirmed as safe – he has been devoting his services to Haiti for years. Another friend of mine has been serving meals to over 2,000 children every weekday in Haiti, going back two decades.
There are two extremes of bad theology:
- On the on hand: Haiti is cursed by its Voodoo history, the earthquake is the result of such a curse, and God lets it happen to teach people a lesson.
- On the other: God doesn’t give a damn about human suffering in general, or God hides, or God does not exist.
One measure of bad theology is that is does not satisfy the soul, and it cannot sustain the rigor of tough questions. This brings us to the question of the nature of good and evil.
In Genesis 1-2, we find the only written record of a good order of creation. The Bible starts with the assumption of trust – between God and humankind, between man and woman, on outward. We are made in the image of God, to enjoy his goodness, share it with one another, and be good stewards of the good creation.
In pagan literature, broken trust is assumed to begin with, as internecine war rages between the gods and goddesses. They are also capricious toward humankind, making us their slaves. At the origins of pagan religions, they have no record of a good and unpolluted order of creation. Secular constructs have a godless caprice written into the universe, but with far less interesting stories. Islam is different with its monotheism, but it too does not articulate a good and unpolluted order of creation.
Thus, the very concern for good is a uniquely biblical one.
In biblical terms, we face the question of the balance between God’s sovereignty and human freedom. In pagan terms, the language ultimately devolves to fatalism where freedom is not possible.
Here is a biblical sequence, capable of withstanding the toughest questions:
- The God of the Bible, Yahweh Elohim, in his unlimited power, is good and free.
- Part of goodness is the gift of human freedom.
- We are made in God’s image, and we are made free to say yes or no to God’s goodness.
- Only the sovereign Yahweh Elohim is great enough to give us freedom.
- Freedom is the power to choose the good; slavery is the inability to choose the good.
- If God is free, is God free to do evil?
- No, for evil is slavery, and since God is free, he is not a slave to anyone or anything.
- If God is good, why did he allow us to say no to his goodness, and thus succumb to evil?
- Had he not done so, he would have made us slaves, and we cannot be made in his image unless we are made free.
- Had he not done so, he would have been evil, for imposition is not good.
- If God were evil, he would be intrinsically destructive, and thus unable to be the Creator of the universe.
- God’s love cannot be imposed, since love is a gift, and must be chosen.
- Thus, part of God’s love is the cosmic “risk” he took in loving us enough to let us say no to that love.
- Say no to his love leads to all forms of evil, passed on and accumulating across the generations, absent the intervention of God’s love.
- When humankind rejected the gift of the freedom to do the good, the redemptive story began to unfold, leading to Jesus.
- Jesus, as God in human flesh, took all the brokenness of trust onto himself, in our stead, restoring to us the power of freedom to do the good, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, what about Haiti?
In the biblical order of creation, Adam and Eve had full communion with God, and accordingly would have had his presence and wisdom to live on a beautiful planet etched and being etched by earthquakes, storms, volcanoes and other natural phenomena. They would have learned, far sooner, what the scientific community and all of us love to learn. Tornado chasers seek to grasp beauty without falling prey to danger.
As we walk with the Lord, do good science and embrace honest politics and economics, we also have the wisdom of where to build and where not to, and as first world economies know, in contrast, to third world economies, natural phenomena such as unpredictable earthquakes can we withstood with minimal loss of life an property.
But that communion was broken, and death ensued. Thus, a biblical grasp of the hell of the Haiti earthquake understands this, and knows the mercy of God toward all those who suffer and die. We will all die one day, so the question is the reality of God. And then the key question: Do we prefer freedom – with risk? Or slavery – with the death of the human spirit?
Those who are biblical will roll up their sleeves, and their political and economic wisdom, to serve the people of Haiti.