Its overwhelming to know what to do in the face of a disaster like Haiti. There is so much suffering, so much need, and so much chaos. There is a natural impulse to go help, to try to be there and to make a difference. There is also a natural impulse to try to figure out why such a thing happened. Especially if you believe in God, the question soon becomes, ‘where was God?’ or ‘why did God let this happen?’
Yesterday at the church I go to on Sundays the pastor talked about just this issue, in relation to Pat Robertson, the famous TV evangelist. Our pastor criticized Robertson’s explanation. Robertson had mused on air that it seemed like little had gone well for Haiti since their independence in the 1700’s, and he wondered if there was some connection to their ‘pact with the devil’ to become independent of France. There is a lot of vodoo practiced in Haiti, and from blog reports, in 1791 a vodoo witchdoctor named Boukman sacrificed a pig in a vodoo ceremony where hundreds of slaves drank the pigs blood and the priest made a pact with the Devil to help them rid the island of their French colonizers. I suppose this is what Pat Robertson is talking about. But it was easy for many to take it in lots of negative ways– the majority of Haitians are Catholic, Haiti was the first country to free itself from White domination and establish a Black government, and it is the only country to gain independence due to a slave rebellion. As one Haitian leader said in response: the devil didn’t free us, we fought for our freedom and God helped us. No doubt blaming an earthquake which takes the lives of perhaps over 100,000 on a pig sacrifice 200 years ago seems like a stretch to most of us…
The pastor yesterday criticized Pats approach by looking at the book of Job in the Old Testament where Job, a good guy, has everything taken from him– his family, his wealth, his health. In the book of Job his friends come and tell him he must have done something wrong to deserve this punishment. This is one of the explanations that are given for why evil happens to us– perhaps it is God’s punishment. And its not as though that isn’t sometimes the case in the Bible– the flood wiped out all the earth’s population, and there are stories of Israelites dying of plagues etc when they were out of favor with God. But in the Book of Job, when God makes an appearance at the end he specifically tells Job that his friends explanation is not accurate– his suffering was not punishment. Its easy for some, like Pat Robertson, to give the punishment explanation for suffering, and in doing so he follows in the footsteps of Job’s friends. I’m pretty sure thats not where I want to stand.
Regardless of why the damage happened in Haiti, the more pressing concern is: how will we help fix it. It seems like at this point they need help rescuing people, and taking care of all the dead bodies. A friend of mine who is a firefighter in California is going over with Samaritans purse this week with a group of firefighters and rescue people to help take care of some of that. Those kinds of experts are probably most needed now, although its likely that there is a need for people to go and help distribute water or food, or just to encourage people– both the Haitians and the aid workers.
I think the questions we always need to ask are:
1. What are unique ways I can help and give? Do I have a lot of freedom to be gone for a week or two? Do I not have time, but money? Its obviously more exciting to be there, but maybe my role is to simply give a small portion towards the relief efforts now, and to go later when more of the basic rebuilding takes place. If I’m not so good with dead bodies, but good at building stuff, I might wait a while to go. Or maybe my money is better spent not on a ticket, but in donation giving money for supplies.
2. Is my help helping? I know missionaries who have said sometimes short-termers are more hassle than help, and we want to avoid that. Make sure you will be a help if you are going, and part of that will be just making sure you are part of a gameplan with someone who knows what is going on there, and who knows how you can help specifically. Going may be the perfect opportunity for you to help in ways many might be fearful to do. If you have that courage, use it, but use it wisely, and make sure you can help. Therapeutic missions trips are beneficial for those who go, but the real question is are you helping?
3. Not what difference can I make in haiti, but what difference can haiti make in me? Hopefully this disaster will alert us to some of the extreme poverty that we have in our world today. Hurricane Katrina showed us that in N.O. but those pictures were quickly forgotten by most of us. Hopefully what we see in haiti will not just be a momentary interest to distract us from our day to day lives, but it will make us think about what we have in relation to others– not only to make us more thankful for what we have, but more careful with it and more committed to share more of what we have.
While we may not be able to give an answer for why evil happens, we can be a part of the more important response to the problem of suffering– by trying to comfort those who are suffering, to fix what is broken, and rebuild what has fallen. In this at least, we find our own answer to the problem of suffering. That is probably more useful than sitting around trying to figure out an academic answer to the problem…
And regardless of Pat’s misplaced explanation of why Haiti is suffering, we can at least agree with him that it is important to keep Haiti in our prayers.
May God have mercy on us all– especially those going to Haiti to help this week, and in the months to come. -andy