At an interfaith breakfast this morning the issue of God’s role in the horror of the Haitian earthquakes was front and center. No one present, including myself, felt that such horrors negated the existence of God, but some, myself included, suggested that it should challenge our smugness regarding the nature and workings of God.
There seemed to be three positions taken by the group. One said that it is impossible for humans to know God’s plan, so we should assume that there is some good in this tragedy and wait to discover what it is. The second group said that God was present in our response to the tragedy rather than in the tragedy itself. Our efforts to help prove that God is working in our lives, through our lives. A third group suggested that, like the plagues in Exodus, God was using nature to exalt himself above all gods and peoples.
Nobody tried to defend the Reverend Pat Robertson and his claim that this was payback for the Haitians overthrow of their white French slave masters, though it was explained to me that the Haitian revolution was triggered by a Voodoo priest, which is why Rev. Pat made the devil reference. I got the sense that this was supposed to make sense to me, but Voodoo is not devil worship, and is as valid a faith as any other in my mind, so I don’t know what to make of this additional bit of historical data.
I found the arguments of all three groups a bit weak and not a little self-serving.
One can always imagine a blessing following even the harshest curse, as some Jews imagine that the murder of six million Jews was the cost God demanded for the establishment of the State of Israel. And my reaction to such thinking is always the same: why does God always need the death of innocents to bring about a blessing? If God needs human sacrifice, why not opt to sacrifice evil people? And didn’t Jesus die for our sins? Wasn’t his death the only human sacrifice God required? So why sacrifice all these Haitians? At least in Genesis Abraham dares to argue with God about God’s moral obligations; at breakfast no one seemed so inclined.
As for human generosity proving the existence of God, I can’t help but be troubled by the idea that human goodness is the working of God rather than our own consciences, and that, by implication, without God, we would simply pile on and eat one another.
And as far as God murdering hundreds of thousands to show how great and powerful he is, any God with such low self esteem is far too human for my taste. This is not a God I want to believe in, but rather one I wish to protect myself from. And what shall I make of the followers of this God? Would they not be willing to inflict God’s wrath on others in service to their God’s ego, and as a way of bolstering their own?
No, what I heard this morning was a group of good-hearted and generous people (one fellow’s church had already raised $75,000 for Haitian relief), who needed desperately to protect God and their belief in God and God’s goodness even at the cost of having to excuse the death of some 200,000 Haitians.
My view is different. God is the universe, and the universe exists according to some unbreakable rules. On earth one of these rules has to do with plate tectonics: when plates shift earthquakes and tsunamis happen. There is nothing conscious or deliberate about this. It is not a punishment, a precursor to some greater blessing, or a sign of just how awesome God can be. It is simply the only way God can manifest as a planet such as ours.
My God, Reality itself, is wild and unpredictable, albeit bound by the greater laws of nature, which are themselves as aspect of God. My God is dying, and suffering, and reaching out to help through and as the victims of this horror and those who rush to be of help to them. My God is the God of Job, the whirlwind that needs no protecting, and whose revelation is always in the form of haunting questions rather than comforting answers.
To me there is no greater meaning or message or promise in the Haitian tragedy. There is only suffering and people seeking to take advantage of that suffering, and people seeking to alleviate that suffering.