Earthquakes and God

Pat Robertson’s comments about Haiti in light of the most recent tragedy, the devastating earthquake centered near Port-au-Prince, have made many of us ask about spiritual ramifications and/or causes of such natural events. We’re no different from people throughout the ages. Seeing a man born blind, Jesus’s disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2)

Luke records a similar discussion centered on the death of numbers of people—not from natural causes, but still on point.

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were {greater} sinners than all {other} Galileans because they suffered this {fate?} “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were {worse} culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

– Luke 13:1-5

Here’s the issue. Was God punishing the Haitians because of their history of occultism as Pat Robertson suggested? Expanding on that question, Does God still deal with nations as He did in the Old Testament when He clearly brought judgment to any number of countries, including Israel and Judah?

I have a hard time saying that the earthquake in Haiti was punishment on the nation. I lived in Guatemala in 1975 when a 7.9 (Richter scale) earthquake hit, killing over 25,000 people. Note that the power of that quake was nearly thirty times stronger than the Haitian quake. And it hit a country that had become the first Protestant nation in Latin America. (I suppose Catholics might say, Ah-ha, that’s why God visited His judgment on them.) Maybe others were saying about Guatemala what Robertson said about Haiti; I don’t really know. Certainly the missionaries I knew weren’t coming to that conclusion.

But here’s another piece of information. In 1994 a quake hit near Northridge, California, killing 71 people, some indirectly (heart attacks and disease attributed to the effect of the quake—yes, disease, but I don’t have time today to explain this). And the power of this quake? It was measured at 6.7 on the moment magnitude scale, not so much less in strength than the Haiti quake with the projected death total around 50,000.

I draw several conclusions from all of this. The number of deaths and the widespread destruction in Haiti don’t have a one-to-one correspondence with the strength of the natural part of the disaster. (Maybe the sin that needs to be confessed and turned from is that of the building contractors who allowed cheaper construction to flourish throughout Port-au-Prince.)

But ultimately disasters wherever they occur should make us look to ourselves. Jesus’s words to those reporting the local news to Him should drive us to our knees: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Should not America look to our national sins—greed, pride, selfishness, and the failure to pass on to the next generation the truth about God—and repent?

Shouldn’t Australia do the same? And Great Britain, Canada, Guatemala, all repenting of national sins?

In the end, it doesn’t matter if I believe God still metes out national punishment today or not. What matters is that I understand He is judge and He is righteous. He is also sovereign and just. What I must know is this: Unless I am covered by the blood of Christ, I will likewise perish.

And if I am covered by His blood, does this somehow inoculate me from tragedy? No. But I have His promise that He will go through the fire and the flood with me:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.

– Isaiah 43:2

The truth is, Jesus told us there would come a time of great earthquakes.

and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

– Luke 21:11

I don’t see anywhere in His words that these earthquakes would affect only the most sinful nations. In light of this prophecy, however, I think it’s important to remember who God is.

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar {and} foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.

– Ps. 46:1-3

Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 11:50 am  Comments (4)  
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What Pat Robertson Said

If anything is getting as much attention as the earthquake in Haiti, it’s what Pat Robertson said about that nation. Evidently he began discussing the most recent tragedy there by recounting a story in which the Haitians made a pact with the devil in order to gain their independence from the French.

Predictably, critics are outraged, venting in such articles as Andy Borowitz’s “Pat Robertson ‘A Public Relations Nightmare,’ Says God” and Paul Raushenbush’s “Go to Hell, Pat Robertson: Haiti Needs Help, Not Stupidity.” The accusations include racism in particular.

The thing is, this is not the first time Robertson has said something insensitive at the time of a crisis. He made news for comments after Katrina, 9/11, and others.

At first I wondered why he hadn’t learned his lesson. I mean, it’s one thing to wonder if God is bringing his retribution upon a place and another to say so publicly while people are still buried under the rubble. What was he thinking?

Perhaps he sees it as his role to help people look at the spiritual issues, to consider the eternal ramifications. But I can’t help wondering if there is a proper time and place.

The devil’s curse sounds mean spirited to lots of people, but no one has said the slave uprising that gained Haiti’s independence was other than what Robertson described. They laud it for being first, for setting in motion a wave of independence in Latin America, and for other positive results. They don’t say Haiti didn’t turn to the devil.

I know by reputation, Haiti has been associated with voodoo and the black arts even to this day. So could Robertson be right?

But the question I want to explore is this: even if Robertson is right, should he have said what he said or taken a pass on verbalizing his opinion about the spiritual cause of Haiti’s difficulties?

Is the day after a crisis the right time to delve into the spiritual causes of a tragedy? Is it even right to speculate publicly about such things, because surely we do not know God’s mind about this matter.

We know He hates sin, but can we conclude that therefore He has withheld blessing from Haiti—or worse, has allowed a curse to doom them?

I’m reading the book of Job, and interestingly, such was the thinking of Job’s friends. Tragedy equals a loss of God’s favor. In my earlier notes I called Elihud the first health-and-wealther because he insisted that God blessed the righteous, implying that Job, therefore, could not be righteous. (See “Thoughts on Job” for a more in depth treatment of this). Later he or one of the others came right out and said as much. I see this as reverse health-and-wealthism. They stated unequivocally that the unrighteousness would incur disaster in this life … eventually.

The point is, the friends were wrong about Job because they were wrong about God.

I wonder if caution isn’t the best way to go rather than an assumption about what God is doing. Maybe Pat Robertson’s critics have it right. Maybe the only thing we Christians need to do in a crisis is roll up our sleeves and start digging.

Published in: on January 15, 2010 at 8:00 am  Comments (13)  
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