Wednesday 10th February 2010
On the evening of 12 January 2010, a series of earthquakes with magnitude 6.5 to 7.3 struck Haiti in a highly populated area, 10 miles from Port-au-Prince. While these recent events in Haiti are rapidly fading from our news headlines, many are still grappling with the reasons for such a catastrophe.
Prior to the earthquake, Haiti was considered the poorest country in the Western world and is frequently impacted by natural calamities, mostly hurricanes - the most recent being in 2008. However the recent earthquake has left Haitians and indeed the world incredulous at the utter devastation caused. As I write, the projections being made of fatalities are so vast that it is difficult to comprehend the staggering level of this humanitarian catastrophe.
The greatest question to have faced mankind through his painful history is loudly raised again - "Why?"
There is no doubt that often man has been guilty of contributing to his own fate. John Blanchard, in his booklet, 'Where is God When Things Go Wrong? [PDF]' raises probing questions of man when he says,
Although our planet provides enough food to feed all six billion of us, millions die of starvation every year because of our selfish pollution of the atmosphere, our exploitation or mismanagement of the earth's resources and the vicious policies of dictatorial regimes. Can we blame God for these? Is he responsible for diverting disaster funds into the pockets of tyrannical rulers or greedy politicians? Millions are dying of hunger in India while its national religion forbids the use of cows as food. Hinduism has millions of man-made gods; can the country's chronic food problems be blamed on the one it ignores? Suffering is often caused by human error or incompetence. Had the owners of the Titanic not reduced the recommended number of lifeboats to avoid the boat deck looking cluttered, many more, if not all, of the ship's passengers might have been saved. Was God responsible for that executive decision? The International Atomic Enquiry Agency blamed ‘defective safety culture' for the Chernobyl disaster. Can the blame for careless neglect of safety procedures be laid at God's door?A great deal of human suffering is deliberately self-inflicted. Smokers who ignore health warnings and are crippled by lung cancer or heart disease, heavy drinkers who suffer from cirrhosis of the liver, drug addicts and those dying of AIDS after indiscriminate sex are obvious examples. So are gluttons who dig their graves with knives and forks, workaholics who drive themselves to physical or mental breakdowns, to say nothing of the countless people who suffer from serious illness as a direct result of suppressed hatred, anger, bitterness and envy. Is God to blame for their behaviour?
Whilst the guilt for these self inflicted injuries can fairly and squarely be laid at man's feet, surely Natural Disasters are in a different league? Has the Bible anything to say?
The Bible teaches us that ultimately all suffering is as a result of Adam and Eve's sin which launched their human descendants into this cycle of fallen existence that we all inhabit:
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (Romans 5:12)
We live in a fallen world - the tragic consequence of original sin.
What this does not explain is why disaster visits one continent, country, or family and not another. Neither does this explain why some suffer to such extremes. Many of these questions are unanswerable. We would need to possess a mind like God's to comprehend these weighty issues. Do not Job's tragic experiences and his subsequent encounter with God teach us that the answers to these mysteries lie deep within God's Sovereignty? Our finite minds could never explain such mystery, nor should we try.
That said, consider this - even these Natural Disasters that we cannot explain, at the very least, are "wake-up calls" to a sleeping world. C.S. Lewis in his book 'The Problem of Pain'wrote,
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
Such cataclysmic events should alert us that evil and suffering are real, life is brief and fragile, and death is certain.
One day the Lord Jesus was questioned about certain calamities and His answer shows where our emphasis should be:
...those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish (Luke 13:4-5)
Jesus' emphasis is that we all must face our mortality and therefore the great question is: how we will meet our Maker - saved or lost?
One death is as tragic as thousands, but consider that around 151,338 die daily! Most of these have never heard of the Saviour.
As Christians we should help the poor of Haiti and wherever we find those in need, but our primary responsibility is to take and fund the taking of the gospel of Christ to the whole world.
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