God Punishes Haiti?

IN THE AFTERMATH of the Haiti earthquake, many are asking themselves, "Why does God let such things happen?"

Pat Robertson had a quick answer: In an effort to eject their French colonial masters many years ago, the Haitians made a pact with Satan and are now suffering God's wrath. So there.

Others have said: Bad things just happen. To everyone.

So which is it?

Believers in the Bible (like Robertson) know there are consequences to disobedience. Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden for disobeying God. The confusion of languages was the result of man's hubris in constructing the Tower of Babel. And of course, God killed almost all life on the planet in the great flood. From these stories, one can easily believe that God punishes bad behavior, sometimes by cataclysmic means.

On the other hand, earthquakes do indeed occur naturally. The deist "clockmaker" thesis says that God created the universe and, like a clock, it operates largely on its own, not requiring His constant oversight. The Big Bang completely destroyed the random universe as it was moments before in favor of order, and our world was the eventual result. Therefore, everything that happens is part of a plan that God has set in motion. It is only our earth-bound viewpoint that tempts us to believe that suffering and death are abnormal events in an otherwise happy and static world. Bad things happen to people, just as good things do. But this answer seems to leave God out of the equation. As Dennis Miller observed, "If we're quick to give God credit for miracles, why are we slow to blame him for disasters?"

Jesus said that God "causes it to rain on the just and the unjust." So is God up there, blithely flinging thunderbolts toward earth, with no concern for who is hurt? I don't think so. The God I believe in either allowed or sent the earthquake, not as punishment but as a test.

Some of our sufferings are undeserved individually. Exploding gas mains. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Appendicitis. These unexpected and personally unmerited events, random or not, nevertheless have the effect of quite accurately testing personal mettle. We make a mistake when we believe that death is only random or retributive. In fact, facing death may be an opportunity to prove our character. Only God knows the heroism that thousands of Haitians discovered in the final moments of lives that were literally being shaken apart.

Also, some of our sufferings are deserved. Robertson, again? Not exactly. People do not suffer for the evil their ancestors did. This is an old canard that has justified mistreatment of the children of cursed peoples throughout history. God does not punish anyone for anyone else's mistakes. So the Haitians are not suffering because their forefathers might have offended God. But they might be suffering because the clock God made has built-in tests. They are undergoing this test right now, en masse. And I have no doubt that for every Haitian who is looting and killing, there are a hundred that are helping and loving their neighbor. Most are passing the test, in life or in death.

But more to the point, the moment you and I heard about the earthquake in Haiti, an important test began for us as well. What will we do?

Our answer reveals the confidence we will have when we someday stand before God to give an accounting of our life. Will we be able to say we accepted the test and did our best? Or will we try to explain that we did nothing because "they" deserved what happened to them?

You see, it doesn't really matter why things happen. What matters is what we do about them.