Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Where is God in Haiti?

In religious communities disasters on the magnitude of Haiti inevitably bring up questions about God and suffering. Why does God allow suffering to happen? What kind of God would allow suffering like this to happen? Some people look at the stories of miraculous rescues coming out of Haiti and see the hand of God; others look at the enormous magnitude of the suffering and question if there even is a God. The great disparity of responses was illustrated by two neighbors in Haiti as reported in a USA article:

"It's a miracle," said Anne-Marie Morel, raising her arms to the sky after a neighbor was found alive in the rubble of a home. If one person could be resuscitated from the utter destruction of this street, there remained hope that many other could still be found alive, she said.

"Nonsense, there is no God and no miracle," shouted back Remi Polevard, another neighbor, who said his five children were somewhere under the nearby debris.

"How could he do this to us?" Polevard yelled.

I think spontaneous expressions of gratitude for miraculous rescues and cures is perfectly understandable. It is problematic, though, to raise this kind of emotional response to the level of universal principle. Does God really spare one person's family member and take another? What kind of God would that be?

In the face of great tragedy we each have to find our own answers to these deep questions that haunt our thinking about God and our faith. For me, it was precisely my inability to find a satisfactory answer to the God and suffering question that led me to believe that there is no all-powerful God with his or her hands on the levers of our lives. What kind of all-powerful God would allow suffering like this to happen - not the kind of suffering we bring on ourselves by our own poor choices but the kind of suffering that falls on innocent people? And if there was such an all-powerful God who is allowing, or causing, this kind of misery on the planet, this God would not be worthy of our worship. Or so I believe.

What I see when undeserved suffering washes over people is the absence of God. There is no one out there or up there. We are alone in the universe.

Or not quite. We have each other. We suffer together and we flourish together. And it seems that when we throw our hearts and minds into tending to the suffering and nurturing ourselves to health and wellness we experience the joys and sorrows of life together and this makes us feel the presence of hope and love and… God.

I do not think there is any satisfactory philosophical answer to the question of why more than 200,000 have died in Haiti and where in the name of God is God. The only satisfactory answer is found in doing something about the suffering, becoming the hands and heart of God.

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