Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Justice and the WHY? Questions of the Haitian Earthquake
When the earthquake in Haiti hit, we all had a lot of why, where, and what questions: “Why did God allow this?,” “Why Haiti of all countries—it’s so poor already?,” “Where was/is God?,” and “What can I do?” This last question is one of the most significant on many levels. We should think long and hard about that question.
We can think about our response to victims of disaster in terms of either helping people temporarily or helping people over the long term to thrive (so that such a disaster can never happen again). The former position is a kind of charity, and the latter gets close to what I would call justice. And each of us has to ask what kind of response God expects of us.
When one of my friends from South Africa was asked recently to contribute a donation in church to earthquake relief, and he raised the point with his American friends in church leadership that charity alone was not an adequate response. He explained to them that he rejected both blaming God and only giving charity. He thought there were deeper questions to ask and a deeper response to pursue. To those who blamed God, he replied that blaming God “takes the human agency out of the human experience.” In other words, when we blame God we deflect our personal responsibility to address the disaster.
But he also argued that temporary charity was not enough either. He wrote: “We have more control over matters here on earth than we think. Jesus too, gave bread, wine and healings ... [but] usually attached with strong messages about communion and community in word and deed. I did give what I could in cash to my Church yesterday (Lord's Day) for Haiti relief. But how many disasters will it take for us to offer all humans the same earthquake-proof cities that we enjoy?” I like the way he says that Jesus gave bread and wine along with “strong messages about communion and community.” We frequently forgot those strong messages, don’t we? Or, we aren’t sure how to live out those messages.
My last blog post linked to a New York Times op-ed by Michael Danner, a writer on Haitian history who lists the innumerable ways that human choices, priorities, and actions (in Haiti, France, and the US) over the last 200 years rendered Haiti uniquely vulnerable to the earthquake. Danner’s analysis powerfully captures how human corruption and indifference can have deadly consequences. And why we should pray and act for a just world as followers of Christ.
To have faith in Christ should mean more than giving temporary charity. To have faith means to fully recognize all the sources of brokenness (personal, spiritual, economic, etc.) in our world, and then pray and act for the healing of that brokenness. Because of our talents, gifts, and experiences, each of us has a unique perspective on the brokenness in our world. And because of our unique resources, each can help with the healing.
Jesus invites us to experience both a new relationship with God and a new relationship with others. And that includes addressing the systemic reasons that earthquakes bring such deadly results in a country like Haiti. As my friend put it, Christ gave food to the hungry and “strong messages about communion and community” to his disciples. It’s up to his disciples to put those ideals of “communion and community” into practice. Sound like a tall order? It is. That’s why we need faith.