Opening Thoughts

Three years ago today, January 12, 2010, a powerful 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti killing an estimated 316,000 people, injuring 300,000, and another 1,000,000 were left homeless.  Countless people starved to death and more died from diseases spawned from the unburied corpses that filled the streets of Port-au-Prince.

Last February 2012, on the two year anniversary, there was a report from Crosswalk.com of slow progress.

A recent Voice of America report says that progress is happening, however slowly. “At first, emergency relief was the primary focus of the combined effort, but gradually shifted to reconstruction. So far, for example, about half of the 10 million cubic meters of rubble created by the earthquake has been removed, and about two thirds of displaced Haitians have now left the refugee camps for more permanent housing,” according to VOA.

King isn’t blind to the mess around her when she visits the recovering nation. “Of course there have been shortfalls and corruption,” she says, but that doesn’t stop her from focusing on the positive aspects of the healing process taking place in the country. “Maybe if we focus more on the positive, then the momentum will keep pushing us toward successful collaborations and achievements,” she says.

I have always felt a connection with the people of Haiti. My parents served there in the 1980’s doing both medical and building missions and they saw first hand the destructive rule of Bébé Doc Duvalier. Over the years, our family sponsored several needy kids from Haiti and I grew up reading letters from our sponsored children telling of their life in the impoverished country. In the earthquake of 2010, my wife agonized in prayer for many days over the life of an APU friend, Dan Woolley, who was missing, and eventually found alive, in the rubble of the Hotel Montana.  With my own history in mind, I want to address this earthquake, the aftermath, and how I see God’s judgment and love at work.

God’s Judgement Today

Within hours of the earthquake,  the internet was abuzz with the infamous remarks made by Pat Robertson on on the 700 Club TV show.

pat-robertson-2

Pat Robertson American media mogul, Faith Healer, Televangelist, Chancellor of Regent University and Chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.’ True story. And so, the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal. And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti; on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, et cetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have — and we need to pray for them — a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come. But right now, we’re helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable.

Robertson is an Uninformed Historian

The disturbing thing is the historical falsehood presented as “fact” from a guy who founded a University. Napoleon III did not come into power in France until 44 years after the Haitian revolt.  If Robertson can’t get his history correct on such a simple thing, I don’t trust him in more complex matters.  So on its face Robertson’s “true story” must be called into serious question.

Robertson is a Terrible Theologian

The primary problem with this quote, however, is Robertson’s biblical hermeneutic and application which I have questioned in times past.   In this particular instance, I would like to distance myself from Robertson’s assertion that natural disasters are the judgment of God.  I disagree with Robertson’s view for one simple reason; we are not in an age of Natural judgement but an age of judgment through grace.

YHWH has not changed–He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. God has appointed differing ages of judgment in order to establish his unchanging plan of salvation.  In other words, God’s method of judgement upon the world is different today than it was in the Old Testament, and different from the Age to come, but his overall purpose is the same–redemption of the lost.

First, unlike some other Christian commentators, I do not have a moral or ethical problem with God judging nations by the sword or natural disaster.  Clearly God did this during the Old Testament period where He punished whole nations for the sins of their Kings and leaders (Isa 1:1-20; Jer 5:15-17; Lam 2:1-22).  I don’t claim to understand it, I even cringe at it, but I trust that God’s judgement upon these nations in the Old Testament were fair and designed to serve YHWH’s purpose.

Second, God will, on some future day, judge the nations for their actions.  The Old Testament is clear in teaching that in the “Day of the Lord” (an End of Times judgement), God will hold to account all the nations of the world for their wicked deeds.

Obadiah 1:15 (ESV)

For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations.

As you have done, it shall be done to you;

your deeds shall return on your own head

Third, the world today exists in the age of Christ’s Judgement of Grace.  God has, for a season, forestalled the judgement of sword and nature upon the nations so they might instead have an opportunity to respond to the judgement of Christ expressed in his unselfish act of love on the Cross.

John 12:27-36 (ESV)

“[Jesus says] Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.

God’s judgement today is not with sword, not with disease, and not by quake–used to drive the sinful to their knees in fear.  God did NOT cause the Haiti quake to punish anyone! Rather, God’s judgement today is found only in the death of Christ lifted up on the Cross–used to drive the sinful to their knees in love. Through Jesus’ act of love for the world, God is judging the nations who refuse to accept Jesus as the light of life.

Finally, how then should we perceive natural disasters if they are not a judgment of God?

  1. Natural disasters are a manifestation of corruption brought upon God’s creation through the sin of Adam (Genesis 3:1-24).
  2. Natural disasters are the manifestation of Nature’s true longing to be freed from the shackles of sin’s corruption (Romans 8:18-25).

Understanding Haiti’s Crisis of Suffering

Haiti has suffered from a tremendous disaster, but the death and suffering are not a result of God’s judgment and I would argue that they are not even the result of the earthquake.  The death and destruction in haiti is the result of the sinful leaders of that nation who have kept those people in poverty and allowed the earthquake to bring destruction.

1. The death and suffering in Haiti is a direct result of greed.

From 1992 through 2009, the United States provided 3 Billion dollars in aid to Haiti, yet it remains the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.  The money was stolen by Haiti’s leaders and the more money the US poured in, the worse things got for Haiti.  Why? Because their leaders know that to keep the money flowing, they need to keep the people poor. The impoverished have no escape from Haiti because the money given to them was stolen by evil men.

2. The death and suffering in Haiti is a direct result of their value system.

In 1989, a 7.0 earthquake hit San Francisco (not exactly the picture of moral virtue.. so much for Robertson’s bad theology), yet in that quake only 57 people were killed.  Why?  Because the leaders in the US, although sinful, still value the life of its citizenry. Based on our values, we impose building codes and invest Billions in infrastructures designed to protect the poor and wealthy alike from earthquakes.  Haiti’s leaders do not value life, so instead of spending money on infrastructure, they continued their policy of poverty.

3. The death and suffering of Haiti is a direct result of their religious faith.

Haiti’s predominant faith is Voodoo–a belief that magic and the spirits will save them from disaster.  Tony Campolo remarks on this very thing in his response to the earthquake three years ago.

Haiti’s former dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, was a voodoo witchdoctor, and when he was driven from power it was widely rumored that he offered an infant boy as a blood sacrifice to Satan, and cursed the country with an evil spell to bring disasters and suffering upon the Haitian people. You may not believe in that sort of thing, but many Haitians do. Now we must show them that God’s love, expressed through sacrificial people, is greater than the forces of darkness.

The Haitian people are ruled by evil spirits.  They allow politicians to rule who share their same faith and fears–leaders who seek power through evil forces. The curse of Duvalier may not have “caused” the earthquake, but it does remind us that the faith of a nation can enslave a people to poverty resulting the due penalty of their sin (Romans 1:27).

4. Sacrifice and Service are God’s Judgement Plan For The Age

Ultimately, the hope for Haiti is that they see the light of Christ’s judgment of grace on the cross and turn to Him for freedom.  Haiti will only find this freedom in the giving of love–not dollars.   Just 1 year after the earthquake, it was estimated that about $5.2 billion was donated to charity to help the Haitian people. While the money did give physical relief,  love is not expressed through the giving of Billions.  God’s love is measured by the sacrifice of the many thousands of Christians who have laid aside their comfortable Western lifestyle to speak the Gospel of grace and have become the hands and feet of of Jesus to a broken and hurting people.

Dr. Joe Miller (aka JR) is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. In addition, he is a church planter and coach for emerging leaders. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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