Haiti and Theodicy
When the great earthquake of 1755 rocked Lisbon, it raised all sorts of questions about God and faith. The quake, along with a devastating tsunami and massive fires, resulted in anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 deaths in Lisbon alone.
The current quake and aftershocks in Haiti may be responsible for a similar number of deaths. And like the Lisbon disaster, questions are already being asked about how such calamities can be squared with the notion of a good God.
The Lisbon quake provided further fuel for the Enlightenment thinkers who were already seriously questioning God and his goodness. French philosopher and writer Voltaire used his novel Candide to attack the concept of this being “the best of all possible worlds”.
That phrase goes back to the German philosopher Leibniz, who had sought to develop a theodicy (a justification of the ways of God). Voltaire and other Enlightenment figures argued that events such as the Lisbon quake radically challenged the notion of divine benevolence and the optimistic beliefs held by such thinkers as Leibniz.
Of course in the 250 years since the Lisbon disaster, the Western world has gotten a whole lot more secular, with the scepticism and negative criticism of the Enlightenment having done so much thoroughgoing damage. But the issue of theodicy still arises.
Atheists will simply use this most recent tragedy as another attempt to say, “See, I told you so – of course there is no God”. They will seek to offer this disaster as more evidence that the biblical conception of a benevolent deity is untenable and must be utterly rejected.
This of course is an age-old debate, and it is unlikely that either side will willingly cede any ground here, or offer any new insights or arguments. And one can rightly ask whether either side should be seeking to score cheap points here in the face of such unmitigated human suffering.
But like the earlier quake, such disasters inevitably bring out profound questioning, from both believers and non-believers alike. Thus we have an obligation to try to make sense of all this, at least on the basis of our own particular worldview.
Obviously an issue like this has been tossed around for millennia, and huge oceans of ink have been spilt on all this. I certainly have nothing new to offer on the debate, even though I have penned nearly 200,000 words on this topic for my PhD dissertation.
And even Christians themselves have differing takes on all this. Those promoting the openness of God, (or free-will theism) will seek to argue that God is almost as surprised about all this as we are. They argue that future events are not realities, and therefore even God cannot know them.
Thus according to this school of thought, God does not have divine foreknowledge. They are keen to promote such a concept because they feel it offers a better account of the problem of evil and suffering. They think a morally-superior Christian theodicy can be offered by arguing that God has nothing to do with such tragedies, and he is not responsible for such suffering.
Of course that is a very controversial theological position to take, given that there is so much biblical data affirming both God’s sovereignty and his divine foreknowledge. But this is not the place to enter into that particular debate. I simply raise it to point out how believers can and do differ on how we might think biblically and theologically about such disasters.
Getting back to the Leibnizian argument about this being “the best of all possible worlds”, a perhaps more accurate Christian response might be to say that this world might be the best possible way to the best world. That is, if we want to accept certain goods, such as human freedom, then a sovereign God must somehow make that possible.
Much evil in the world comes from human choices. But human significance presupposes some kind of free choice. That means we can abuse our freedom and make wrong choices, resulting in evil and suffering.
But that only deals with moral evil. What we have here is a case of natural evil. How do we account for that? Well, some natural evil is caused by human activity. We have certain influence on our planet, and we can pollute rivers, for example, resulting in the poisoning and/or death of fish, and so on.
This is too complex a topic to properly discuss here, but even non-believers have to account for physical or natural evil. The same water that brings life to the thirsty can also become a source of death – by drowning. The possibility of evil will always exist in such a world.
The question is, can God redeem such evil, or work a greater end out of such suffering? If we believe the biblical data that God is too loving to be unkind, and too wise to make a mistake, then we can answer such questions in a positive fashion.
We may not know the whys behind every evil, but we can know the who. We know that we serve a God who loves us so much that he even took the death we deserve so that we do not have to suffer the punishment we all rightly should face.
If it is complained that innocent people died in Haiti, then the Christian has to reply with at least two thoughts: one, there really are no innocent people – we are all sinners; and two, Jesus was innocent – totally and completely – yet he suffered so that we might benefit.
Still, pictures of grieving fathers holding their dead sons demand some sort of response. Again, the believer would argue that God knows all about losing a beloved son – indeed, his only son. God is not immune from our suffering, nor is he distant from our cries.
Of course for those who are now in the midst of tremendous grief, theological replies may well offer little comfort. What these poor souls need now is all the help, compassion and assistance that we can give them. And already many dozens of Christian organisations are into full swing in this regard.
Indeed, many Christian groups have been working with the poor and marginalised in Haiti well before this earthquake struck. We may not be able to answer all the why questions right now, but we can show in practical terms the compassion of Christ in this dark hour.
And to say that we may not have all the answers now is not to suggest that there are no answers. There may well be good answers, but we may not be privy to them all just now. We do know that God is deeply concerned with every one of us, and that he weeps when we weep.
Atheists and other ideological sceptics will find nothing convincing here. I don’t expect them to. But I certainly do not find them offering any solid answers here themselves. In the atheist worldview, crap just happens – end of story. The biblical version of events tells us that God has acted in human history and that this is not the end of the story.
One day every right will be rewarded, every wrong judged, and every tear wiped from our eyes. That may just seem like pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye to our atheist buddies, but it seems to offer a far lot more than their picture does: crap now, and then nothing.
Jesus offers us very real comfort now in our troubles, and he also offers us a hope and a future. Both moral and physical evils will one day come to a complete end. That, it seems to me, is worth banking on, and not the hopeless and despairing creed of naked materialism.
But I have only scratched the surface here in what is one of the most complex, vexing and difficult issues around. Believers have their take on the issue, as do non-believers. Which one is in fact true, and which one offers the most concrete help to sufferers I leave for others to decide.
54 Replies to “Haiti and Theodicy”
Stuart Mackay, UK
So I am trying to understand this whole question, did God bring the earthquake upon Haiti, because of its national religion being voodoo and the whole pact with the enemy and everything, I know God is just and I know God is loving, so I don’t want to separate the two, and I know God is powerful enough to cause an earthquake, but I know God brings HOPE!
I don’t know the reason why the earthquake happened, all I know is that God loves those people a lot, and His heart breaks that they have to suffer…
We need to pray and send relief services to them as countries and as Christians.
In this situations, where people think God provided or caused the earthquake because of the sin and the worship of the enemy what do I say, I believe that no matter our circumstances or what we are involved in God does bring Hope, and I believe that God is a loving and just God, whose arms are always extended… cause we can’t just separate Love and Justice… they go hand in hand.
The best answer I can give to your question is ‘maybe’. We just do not know for sure. It is possible this is God’s judgment. The Bible makes it clear that God judge’s nations as well as individuals, and that he can and does use natural forces as part of his judgment. In the OT we had a prophetic word as to whether something was or was not a direct judgment of God. Today we do not have such a clear word. We know that one day God will judge all individuals and all nations. But for now we have to be careful and say we just do not know for sure in most cases.
See also my thoughts on all this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/07/19/a-review-of-god%E2%80%99s-judgments-by-steven-keillor/
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
There are really two questions here:
The first is ‘Why does suffering exist?’ Because we have a physical world. In a world with natural laws – such as that the crust of the earth is divided into slowly moving plates, and that two physical entities can’t occupy the same space – there are going to be conflicts that cause pain. Pain is a signal that something is wrong that needs to be fixed.
The second is ‘Why doesn’t God do something to prevent/stop suffering?’ People answer this with the point about free will. If God fixed or stopped every consequence of a sinful action, no-one will ever learn. But this answer – though in my opinion true – also misses an important point.
God has done something about it. He sent you and me. We are His hands in the world, and human suffering is reduced when we serve Him and increased when we fail to do so.
The Haitians have suffered disproportionately because the sins of their founders and their leaders have left them poor and lawless. Their buildings were ramshackle. Their emergency systems are apparently non-existent. This isn’t God’s doing. This is ours. We failed to do something about it.
“From man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting” (Gen 9: 5)
Judith Knighton, New Zealand
I sympathise with those who are currently in Haiti and Port au Prince and have never been in such a situation and do not wish myself in it. I have sympathy but do not have an actual understanding of what it must be like-what type of thoughts must cross ones mind?
I do find it strange though that people (exposed to and with a general understanding of the bible and Christian culture) measure God’s goodness to things that go wrong or not as planned. They are either uninformed or ignorant of reality and what the Bible actually teaches. Someone, or the message of their culture, told them that the success of life is measured in how good things are going and that if it doesn’t go well then God isn’t good. Almost as if this life is all there is (such as Bill mentioned atheists believe). If you die at 20 your life sucked and if you die at 80+ you had an awesome life, given you weren’t sick most of the time or lived in extreme poverty, etc. They are thus uninformed about or totally ignorant of the fact that according to the Bible we should expect disaster and probably more and more of it. God’s goodness is not measured according to how good/bad it is going. The goodness of God is in one way made visible through the fact that we can live joy-filled lifes as overcomers in a world that is utterly cruel and evil at its core. God didn’t create us to put us on earth and see how many feel good impulses could possibly be sent through our bodies before we finally die. As Bill mentioned, we are on earth to preach the kingdom and let the world know that rescue has come and it is coming in full, for good, and that we should rejoice in that.
Yes we do people a great dis-service if we proclaim a gospel which says ‘Come to Jesus and you will never have any more problems’. Jesus said the rain falls on the good and evil, and he said that in this world we will have tribulation.
In the Lisbon quake most of the churches were destroyed. Presumably many churches were destroyed in Haiti and many Christians lost their lives. We are not immune from suffering. How we respond to suffering however is crucial.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
We need to understand The Fall to understand the big picture of death and suffering. God created a good world that has been spoiled through man’s sin. We live in a cursed world and earthquakes are part of the curse that we endure.
The death toll in Haiti is over 50,000 which is tragic and terrible. Yet, every day there are something like 150,000 people who die. The Bible describes death as an enemy, an intruder.
Jesus became a curse for us and took our death so that he could redeem us from the curse and give us eternal life. That redemption completed but also a work in progress. One day the last enemy, death, will be defeated, praise the Lord.
These tragedies, rather than blame God and question his goodness, should make us all weep for the effect of our sin in the world.
God made a world which was “very good.”
We broke it.
We live in the broken-by-us world to learn (in no uncertain terms) that our ways are never better than God’s ways. When that lesson has been completely learned, we will have been prepared to live in an unbroken world (the new heavens & the new Earth), so it is them reasonable for God to unbreak it.
Would you let an infant loose inside a crystal palace, armed with a steel mallet?
Then why would you let a spiritual infant loose in a “very good” (flawless) world armed with sin?
Slightly off-topic, but I was thinking this morning about responses to disasters like this. Of course most people feel compassion for the people affected and will often give money.
I was imagining what it would be like, receiving medical aid or food or shelter when a disaster like this earthquake has struck. I can imagine people being so happy that others care enough to provide for them.
“Thank you so much for your help! Why did you help me? Why do you care about me?”
For Joe Bloggs the answer might be “Well, because it’s the right thing to do. I want to help others in need”.
But why is it the right thing to do? The real answer lies with a loving, compassionate God who cares about the suffering, the poor, the afflicted.
So even though all the aid organisations do good work, I prefer to donate to Christian aid organisations because they have the answer to the “why?” – Jesus.
maybe we can look at it this way:
When Adam sinned, God’s judgement was the death penalty. Looking at Gen 3:22 there is mercy even in the banishment from the Garden, because the prospect of a sin-polluted yet immortal human race was inconceivably horrible – even to God Himself.
While I appreciate the comments above about humanity causing a lot of its own woe, overall we just don’t know enough about Haiti to say.
However, the general principle is that God, Who knows all, will make the most just plus merciful decision possible.
Certainly, if people are free to make authentic moral choices, nature/the world must operate by its own laws/natural processes (which necessitate earthquakes, etc.). The idea of God causing things leads, logically, to the notion that we’re all puppets, and therefore responsible for nothing; of course, “modern man” rather likes that: not really believing in God, except when there is blame to be handed out for bad things. God causing everything insulates “modern man” from responsibility, which is what he rather likes.
John Thomas, UK
As Tas said above, the Fall and the Curse are very important events to consider in understanding theodicy especially where it relates to natural evil. Another point to remember (which doesn’t give much comfort to those affected, I know) is that disasters (man made or natural) whilst resulting in many deaths in a short space of time, nevertheless do not increase the total number of deaths. In other words, everyone is going to die sometime. Whilst we would all prefer to have a long and comfortable life before facing death, the fact is that in the light of eternity, the length of our lives in this life is in comparison a ‘vapour’. What matters is where we will spend eternity, not how many years we get in this life.
People at my blog have been arguing over God’s role in this disaster. Your post is one of the best that I have read so far. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
One Christian writer once summed up that the deaths of Christian believers from disasters (or any other cause for that matter) as being “taken away from evil.” We know that Haiti has suffered from decades of evil influence.
We also know that God is a God of redemption. Being reconciled back to God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ, is the most important decision a person can make on this earth. The Bible tells us to “redeem the time for the days are evil.”
The lives lost and the suffering of those who are injured, hungry, thirsty, and without shelter is truly tragic, heartbreaking, and terribly sad. But each time we experience such things, we know how God the Father must have felt when His precious Son was injured, hungry, thirsty, beaten, spat upon, cursed at, humilitated and despised by those whom he came to save. But what did Jesus say about them? “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” They couldn’t murder him. He laid down his own life “as a ransom for many.” Of course, Jesus had the added horrid experience of taking the sins of the entire world upon himself so that we could be forgiven and reconciled back unto God; a burden that believers will never have to face because of Christ’s finished work at the cross of Calvary. His resurrection from the dead is proof that he is who he says he is and he keeps his promises to those who are called by His name.
Redemption often comes out of suffering and tragedies more than when people are comfortable. Many of those who survive the Haiti earthquake of 2010 will receive the life-giving eternal message of the Gospel. Many people who are watching this tragedy unfold may re-think their current status of spiritual oblivion and will likely receive the Gospel message that they may have rejected in the past. That is the true and everlasting comfort that will come to those who have been affected by this event of natural evil.
As commenter Ewan McDonald had stated in this thread, “the length of our lives in this life is in comparison a ‘vapour.’ What matters is where we will spend eternity, not how many years we get in this life.”
More lives will be saved, spiritually speaking, as a result of this horrible devastation. Those who probably would not have been given (or accepting of) the Gospel will change their attitudes, and thus their eternal destination. That is God “redeeming the time for the days are evil.”
Yes sadly many people do not think about spiritual matters or the state of their soul until some tragedy strikes, wiping off the gloss of this world, and reminding them of eternal verities. We need to pray for all those affected, for their physical condition as well as for their spiritual condition.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Well said and I completely agree!
Help is on the way, but I have heard that it has become difficult to get the food and supplies to the victiims. I pray that the distribution of food, water, medical supplies and shelter will get to the people ASAP.
Many thanks for your artlcle, Bill.
I would offer a few thoughts of my own:
1. While atheists etc sneer and cry “Seeeee!” they have little or nothing to offer themselves. In fact, it is much worse. To the victims all they can say is “Tough bickies! That’s the way the earth operates. You just happened to be in the way at the wrong time!” Of course, they would never say it as bluntly and as callously as that. On the contrary, they fully support the humanitarian effort now proceeding. However, my question to them is “Why?” On what basis do they even contribute a cent to such effort if, as you put it, crap just happens? Why not just shrug the shoulders and move on? After all, people are merely biologically evolved animals (from their point of view).
The fact is that it is Christian organisations, and the once-Christian West which lead the charge in relief effort. The fact that many of these aid organisations now are in the hands of secularists (e.g. the Red Cross) only shows how they are (illegitimately) borrowing the Christian capital of the past to promote a very different agenda. That Western humanists are essentially ideological parasites is readily seen in this fact, and also in that for the most part one never sees the phenomenon of secular humanism in countries like Hindu India, or Muslim Saudi Arabia, or Shinto Japan. There may be the odd exception, to be sure, but exceptions they are. Secular humanism is a Western post-Christian phenomenon.
As for Muslim countries I can virtually guarantee you that little or no aid will be coming from them for Haiti, for the very evident reason that this disaster, as all others, is Allah’s will, and humans must not interfere. Fatalism reigns supreme!
2. We live in a cursed earth, where tooth and claw, thorn and thistle, danger and disaster are part of the scenery. This took place at Eden, but its outworking took time. In particular, my own view is that in the pre-Flood world there were no earthquakes – the tectonic structure of the earth was stable – but that all came crashing down when “the fountains of the great deep” broke up (Gen.7:11), a mind-blowing scenario which broke the tectonic stability of the earth’s crust, and thereafter made earthquake activity part of the general state of affairs for this present world. What brought this about? Human sin! This does not of course mean that particular disasters follow particular sins, but we simply share in a cursed earth. However, a new earth is coming, where there will be no more curse (Rev.22:3), through the redemption that Christ has accomplished (Rom.8:20-23). This present world is emphatically NOT the “best of all possible worlds”! Away with such philosophical claptrap!
3. As to the great Lisbon quake of 1755, the revival leaders of the C18th pointed to that event in the light of Luke 13:4-5, that it was a wake-up call to all to repent and turn to Christ, both the Christ of the Judgment throne and the Christ of the Cross. I believe that Christians should be looking to those men (Whitefield, Wesley, John Fletcher) and what they made of the event, rather than looking to the French materialists (e.g. Voltaire) and the German rationalists (Kant or Leibnitz) of the time. This won’t be at all popular in our world, what with the widespread belief in God as some sort of celestial Santa Claus who only has ‘goodies’ for us excellent creatures called men
4. Our Lord forecasts that “earthquakes in various places” will be “part of the birth pangs” during the Gospel era as we await His coming (Matt.24:7-8). My own take on “birth pangs” is that just as contractions become more intense and more frequent as the time of birth approaches, so these disasters will intensify in their devastation and frequency as the end approaches. Whether the frequency of earthquakes over the past century (there have been many!) is real, or simply a factor of modern communications and reporting I’m not sure, but I tend to the former. Whatever, we must boldly proclaim them as a wake-up call for men to repent and prepare for His coming.
Murray R. Adamthwaite
As one of the “atheist buddies” referred to, I feel I should add something here.
You are of course correct about this being an ongoing debate, and there will be no conclusive answers to that ancient question here. That was well-said, and I fully agree with its sentiments.
“Well, some natural evil is caused by human activity. We have certain influence on our planet, and we can pollute rivers, for example, resulting in the poisoning and/or death of fish, and so on.”
True, but causing earthquakes is not something we humans can cause, and you have sidestepped the fact by acknowledging that we can do some other things. The water analogy is equally lacking—some people die from too little water (drought), as well as from too much (flooding).
You said “If we believe the biblical data that God is too loving to be unkind and too wise to make a mistake…” Unfortunately, we have biblical data that shows God does make mistakes (Gen 6:7 and 7:4), and cataclysms such as the Noachian Flood are typical of God’s attempts to redress such errors.
You may have heard all this before. If so, I’m sorry. If you can “answer such questions in a positive fashion”, please do so.
G M Strasser
Thanks GM (although my commenting rules do stipulate full names)
I did not say humans had direct control over earthquakes (although presumably we may indirectly). That is why I made the common distinction between moral evil (which humans are responsible for) and natural evil (which is usually not the case – although the biblical doctrine of the Fall says all of the created order has been affected by human sin).
As to the two OT texts you cite, neither suggests that God made a mistake. If it was God’s intention to have a love relationship with us, and that presupposes free choice. Love cannot be forced, so God took the risk of creating us with freewill, knowing that such freedom could be abused and misused. These texts tell us of the grief of God over such a misuse.
Just as any loving parent grieves greatly when a son or daughter rejects the parent’s love and goes his or her own way, so a loving heavenly father grieves when his own creation spurns him. And it can be argued that when God judges, it is also an act of love. Knowing how completely evil mankind had become, God had to start over with mankind. And of course Scripture teaches that Christ is coming back to do the same with an end-time judgment.
Both love and justice demand that evil be punished. So we all deserve to be an object of divine punishment (we are all sinners who have spurned our creator God). But the incredibly good news is God willingly and lovingly offered to have his own son take our place, so that those who agree with God about their lost condition do not need to suffer their just and deserved punishment.
So no mistakes here, just a grand love story of incredible proportions. But thanks for your thoughts.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I seem to recall that with a recent disaster, one or more Muslim countries did provide some aid. However, I suspect that this may have been (a) simply because they had previously been criticised for not providing aid, and this was to save face, and (b) from the government only. Much Western aid is from individuals donating to charities, and American studies have shown that “religious” (read: Christian) people donate significantly more than “non-religious” (read: atheist/humanist/agnostic) people. The latter want the government (read: taxpayers) to give, but don’t themselves give (to anything like the same extent). I suspect that the same applies to Muslim aid; it’s from the governments, and to avoid looking bad, rather than from individuals. It would, however, be good to have some hard data to support this conjecture.
Philip J. Rayment
Thanks for your thoughts. The Psalms commonly canvas the issues of grief and desolation for which there seems no answer. God does not always give us understanding of why these things happen. I suppose we just need to hang on to the belief in the goodness of God and trust him to bring glory to himself somehow through such incomprehensible events.
Murray raises a very interesting idea in the first of his points. If, as atheists contend, there is no God, why should people even bother helping the victims of natural disasters? Disasters such as Haiti and the Victorian bushfires of ’09, according to atheists, are simply examples of events in which the law of “survival of the fittest” prevails. Extending this argument to the sphere of government, where atheists abound, attempts by the more vociferous of them to provide welfare, redistribution of wealth, human rights, etc must surely represent actions which are inconsistent with their beliefs. Do they realise this?
With all the looting and crime after the event my guess is a lot of the Haiti people don’t believe it is an act of God’s judgment.
Thank you for your thoughts and the comments they promote.
I do not want to sound callous or unfeeling but the Bible does state we should expect to see wars and rumours of wars, famine and earthquakes. While it is tragic for those involved God is not giving us any surprises here and is true to His word. We are told that these are signs pointing to the end and Christ’s return. These are signs pointing to a more significant event that we must make a decision about, that is, whether we accept the Bible as true and respond to the grace God offers us through his Son who died to pay for our sins and provide the way to eternal life.
Could this disaster also be a test to see how we respond when we have the ability to pray, give, or assist personally. Or do we bless those involved and wish them to be warm and well fed without actually helping.
The magnitude of the event is overwhelming and it is possible to feel the amount we do makes little difference. I recall the story of a man picking up starfish at random from the thousands that had been washed up on the beach after a storm. When someone asked him why was he bothering, what differrence would it make he picked up a starfish and as he threw it into the sea replied “It sure makes a difference to this one.”
Do not grow weary in doing good.
All normal thinking people would be upset with the scenes emerging from Haita. I was particularly distressed with the sight of a young woman, who lost 4 children in the quake and her fifith and final child in hospital. From memory the strength of the quake was 7 on the Richter scale. They can’t accurately estimate the death toll. San Francisco had a quake which was 7 on the Richter scale and about 67 lives were lost. Why the difference? With all the problems with the running of San Francisco, it pales into insignificance compared with the ingrained total corruption of President after President in Haiti, who didn’t insist on housing construction rules and worse absconded with much of the money supplied by the USA and other countries in an effort to help the poor. During Bill Clinton’s time in office, he sent at least $400 billion of aid to Haiti. There was no follow up from US officials and the money disappeared in to thin air. Men and women in our world are given free will – how else could anyone gain a place in heaven? God didn’t abscond with that money. He didn’t fail to check that the money was used judiciously. Corrupt Haitian and well meaning but amateurish American politicians and public servants did that, using their free will.
Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld
What we need to look at when considering God’s blame for the Haiti incident is to take it a step further and consider Gods unbounded love. If we do this from a different perspective then God has taken these people to a far better place where those sheep who know him and who he knows have been blessed with an early exit from a painful and corrupt world.
There are those that are of the world (voodoo practicioners maybe I do not judge) and those that are in the world but not of the world. I have lived my youth enjoying those things that I thought mattered that the world provided. Now in my later years I realise that every thing of value given to me by my heavenly father has been free. Jesus said the very hairs on our heads are numbered and that God knew us before we were in the womb. Why should we baulk at being called to go home. It’s those who’s time has not yet come that mourn and perhaps that alone is enough to see the futility of the things we seek on this ladder of life.
Thousands may die but individually it is only our one death and our preparedness for it that matters. For who knoweth the time when he/she will be called.
Frank, I’m interested in following up your comment about the 400 Billion in US aid to Haiti? Do you have a link or such, so I may check this out? Did you in fact mean 400 or was it a typo? If indeed the US sent such sums of money, then the tragedy of this event becomes even more so and people, both in the the US and Haiti should be held accountable.
With regards to God, it’s entirely possible that God was sending judgement on Haiti. It’s entirely possible that our lack of water in Melbourne is God’s way of showing people that their reliance should be upon Him.
Perhaps it will take no water, no electricity and no food in first world countries for us to remember that all provision ultimately comes from God and that we should honour and thank Him?
I fully agree with others here that such situations are opportunities to reach out to others with kindness and compassion. Indeed our response is critical.
I am so glad that my wife has gone to do body recovery and medical assistance, demonstrating the love of God to the people of Port-au Prince, Haiti. She is just one of many Christians as well as those Christian workers who already live in that nation. I was also delighted to hear that Israel has sent aid workers. I mention these facts in light of Bill’s comments. They will not be reported in the secular press.
Thanks Murray Adamthwaite once again for an inter-disciplinary and helpful response.
You are of course correct about this being an ongoing debate, and there will be no conclusive answers to that ancient question here.
I dunno. I think St Thomas Aquinas nailed them 800 years ago and the atheists have yet to recover. The main reason atheists will not be convinced, as far as I can tell is b/c they do not wish to be.
Louise Le Mottee
Dear Bill, On your article, ‘Haiti and Theodicy’ I was thrilled to receive an insight on this recently. The most treasured things of God that remain on this earth since Jesus’ Resurrection, are His Holy Spirit and the souls of human beings. Everything that He allows to happen e.g. such tragedy’s like the Haiti earthquake is for the salvation of souls. As thousands were terrified by their imminent death, how many called upon the Lord to save them? “Lord Save me!” would be their last words. I see this as holy ground as God as poured out His saving grace upon these desperate souls.
Thank you Bill for providing us with a forum to discuss the mystery of human suffering in relation to a good, compassionate God. We should think more deeply about these things in order to become more human. I have lived most of my life now with its joys and sufferings and I am determined, with God’s help, to cling to my firmly held belief to the very last, no matter what happens, that God IS a God of Love first and foremost and is infinitely more wise than we are. I prefer not to believe that He allows terrible things like earthquakes and tsunamis as purely to punish us for our sinful ways although I know He has a right to do that if He wants because the world and everything in it is His Creation. I prefer to believe that He allows them in order that good might be drawn from them and there IS much good coming from Haiti as well as the bad. Even amidst chaos people still have the free will to choose between good and evil even though the choice maybe somewhat harder to make. I would hope and pray that I would be strong enough choose good rather than evil if I were ever in that situation.
Haiti is situated on two plates so it is naturally prone to earthquakes. Worse though, is the fact that Haitians were bound to suffer more through an earthquake of this magnitude than people in a more prosperous country because as Joyful says it was human doing that made Haiti such a poor country in the first place. 85% of the people were amongst the poorest of the poor, living tightly congested in shacks in shanty towns which had no hope of standing up to an earthquake. It was a failed state. It does not even have a proper airport to cope with the aid coming in. It has had food riots with people running through the streets shouting ‘we are hungry ,we are hungry.’ When do you see sights like that in Australia, US, Europe or Britain? They have their problems it is true but people are not taking to the streets because they are hungry. Let us hope and pray that Haiti will now get the help it really needed to become if not a prosperous, democratic state then a much better one than it was before. A State where most of its people will at least have the basic neccessities of life which was not the case before. As for the dead, they are happy now because they are with God. He who loves the poor and hungry has ‘wiped every tear from their eyes’ because they have suffered enough.
Finally, it has become fashionable to criticise the US and in some ways that criticism is justified. Obama was going to restore the US’s former standing in the world but it is not neccessary in my case because I know many ordinary Americans haven’t changed since they were sending much needed food parcels to their half starved British cousins at the end of World War Two. My family were the beneficiaries of such generosity through my American pen pal. I realise that Haiti is on the doorstep of the US but it doesn’t matter where it is in the world Americans are always in the forefront when it comes to helping countries in distress, even though they have their own poor, simply because Christian principles of generosity and compassion are deeply embedded in their national psyche. The real tragedy for the world will be when the US is no longer powerful enough or Christian enough to help in disasters such as these and what will the atheists say caused that? Will they say the decline of the US just happened? God Bless
Great stuff Bill as always, in case anyone hasn’t checked these books out i would strongly recommend these two:
1. If i were God, I’d end all the pain (John Dickinson)
2. The Problem of Pain (C.S Lewis)
They Certainly helped me with a lot of my questions of suffering and pain, for both natural and moral situations.
I don’t see how people can blame God for the Earthquake in Haiti. If God punishes us for our sins, then that is not the God I want to worship. I do not know who or what God is, but I do believe one exists. I believe in the concept of time, so there had to be a beginning, a time when it all started. Anyways, I do think if there is a God he is naturally good. Why would he spend all his time and effort creating the Earth and the first people in it if all He (or She) wants to do is watch us suffer? Seems like a waste of time on Gods part if this is true…Maybe it is because of evil the Earthquake happened. And in the end good still shows, evident through the millions of dollars being donated already just a week later (and im sure lots more money to come).
We keep asking why God let it happen? I simply don’t know why? As I keep saying, when iI fully understand God you can call me Jesus but until then …
However, listen to those who have gone through such disasters – whether man made or, to use the insurance phrase, acts of God, and many say that God sustain them in the afterward. The only reason they were able to keep going after the disaster was their faith in a loving God.
Like Job, the story of a group of Jewish rabbis who put God on trial in a consentration camp during World War II facinates me. Job call God to account for the injustice he has suffered. The Jewish rabbis found God responcible for their plight. Afterward both engaged in prayer.(communicationg with God).
We could come up with monarch God. Or we could take the pastoral approach. Given God’s broad shoulders, I think she would prefer the later.
Christian charity would preclude unnecessarily picking fights, especially an off-topic fight. But since you have done so, let me throw in a quick reply. I am aware that your theologically liberal denomination is happy to push all the boundaries, but on the issue of divine gender, we need to follow how God has chosen to reveal himself. God of course is sexless, yet in his divine disclosure he has chosen to reveal himself as a ‘he’, especially as Father. While there is some maternal imagery used of God in the Bible, the overwhelming presentation of him is in masculine terms. God of course has the right to self-define himself as he wills. So please spare us the silly liberal agendas here.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I could not reisist it …but the idea of the pastoral approach I think you would agree with. I would advocate such approach even if we think it is God’s applying the megaphone (using C s Lewis analogy). I know I have needed the megapphone in the past …. I was a baptist and I have always carried a wooden spoon around with me ….
If you wish for a wider audience … I would develop the posts of theodicy…many christians of conservative and liberal (i was going to say sane) bents struggle with it ,,,
The historical backgound was very useful. As well as some of the biref Christian responces.
One question we should note is how many Christian aid gruop leand a hand compared with atheist, agnostic, Islamic, Jewish and so on agencies arrive to lend a hand.
Finally, what was Cuba’s response – but that might have geo-political considerations.
I am curious as to why you won’t worship a God who punishes sin. Does that mean you will worship a God who lets criminals go scot free? Why would you want to worship such an unjust God as that? Everyone I know is concerned about justice, and delights in evil being punished. When a murderer or arsonist or rapist gets caught, normal people are glad a criminal justice system exists to hand out just punishments. I hope you are not telling me you think Hitler and every other thug should escape punishment?
And of course if you say you believe in God, then by definition it would be God who sets the terms, not you. Offering God a shopping list of what you will and will not worship is not exactly letting God be God. Indeed, it means only one thing: you think you are God, and you will determine how God should be.
And who exactly says God wants to watch us suffer? In the article following this one I wrote of a God who indeed does see our suffering, but he is a God who grieves for us, and acts on our behalf. I am glad God is aware of my suffering, and has done something about it, supremely in the work of his Son dying on the cross to deal with my sin problem: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/01/16/comfort-for-the-broken-and-afflicted/
So if you claim to believe in God, it seems wise to figure out just who this God is and what he is like. And it would also be wise to let him determine what is right and wrong, true and false, and not put yourself in his place.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
First of all, I only read about half of the comments because quite frankly there is a lot and I got lazy. So I want to apologize if I am repeating something that has already been said, but I would like to throw in my two cents.
I believe that if this is an act of judgement from God on Haiti, that He is still loving. We have no idea how patient God has been with them, or how many people he has sent to warn them of their ways.
I am not saying this IS an act of judgement. We cannot say Haiti is ‘worse’ than Canada or the US. We cannot say ‘they deserved it’ for we might have a case of foot in mouth when our turn may or may not come.
As Christians, we do not claim to be able to judge their nation as a whole by their actions, saying they must have deserved it, and that will never be our position to do so.
On the other side, if this was not an act of judgement, and it was a repercussion of sin in the world affecting our earth, hence natural disasters, it did not take God by surprise. If God is sovereign, which I believe He is, then in order to be consistent with that belief I would have to continue with the statement, He let this happen.
Is He still loving if He let it happen? Yes.
Whether an act of judgment from God, or whether He saw it coming because of our sin effecting the earth and let it happen, God is still loving.
My church has connections with missionaries in Haiti, and a few reports have come through, which I will briefly share;
1) We have heard reports out of Port au Prince that once the sun sets, all that you can hear in the streets is singing and praising God’s name and giving Him the glory. One week ago today, you could not even imagine that this would be happening on the streets of Port au Prince.
2) Late last night some ABC people reported that they could hear men in the collapsed motel singing hymns. This morning, Dan Wooley, who works for Compassion, was pulled alive out of the elevator shaft!
This is where comments like, “God will make this situation turn out good” go from cliché to reality.
Also, the Dominicans have long been known to turn their noses down at Haitians, believing them to be of lower status than humans. However there have been reports of Dominicans stopping Haitians on the street asking them how their families are, and how they can pray for them.
Two nations, once at each others throats, are coming together.
Praises are being sung to the Lord in the streets of a place where it would not be imagined to happen.
God is good, and He is always calling people to Himself; this will show the world His glory.
The world will see that we serve a God who brings joy beyond circumstance. They will see Haitians rising up to thank God for all they have, when we would say they have nothing to be thankful for.
Haitians will be saved, as well as many people across the world watching God receive glory, because He is good, loving and just.
The real question is, what is our response? Am I going to recognize that life is short, and that people die, and that means that I need to get over myself and tell my coworker about Christ?
I read it quoted above that calamity falls on all people, the innocent and evil.
If that is the case, then I challenge you (and me) to ask yourself this question,
“What is my response?”
Michelle Guillemaud, Canada
My $0.02 worth.
If evil can be split into 2 broad categories – namely moral and natural then the freewill argument only really applies to the moral component.
Natural evil eg earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes are the great mystery because even if noone sinned they would still occur and suffering would result.
It seems lacking in rigour to claim that it is God’s divine punishment because earthquakes, tsunamis , volcanoes and even asteroid/cometary collisions have been causing natural disasters prior to human presence on earth.
It is a real mystery why God created a Universe where natural evil occurs and I look forward to a day when a theodicy can satisfactorily explain this.
Alvin Platinga did so well on moral evil I hope he’s writing on natural evil!
People who want to blame God for natural disasters make two mistakes I believe, some of which have already been dealt with in other comments.
First of all, if we decide how God should be or act, then in our thinking at least, we are still God and He is not. Acceptance of God’s character according to His revelation the Bible is paramount for an understanding that can even begin to approach completeness.
Secondly, as someone pointed out, if we behave as if this life is all there is, then we are not much different to the atheists who at least openly say they believe just that. This life is such a small component of eternity, that’s why it is described as vapour or likened to a flower, here today and gone tomorrow. This life is important but only as training ground for eternity. Therefore, to forget eternity when we consider suffering is to see less than a minuscule part of the whole picture.
I think, I said I meant to say two things, well, here is a third.
Natural evil must be a result of moral evil. Tas Walker with his creationist viewpoint can make sense of that, where as the comment by another who obviously has still an evolutionary viewpoint showed that they could not.
I liken the entrance of sin into the world a little bit to the cause of the bridge disintegrating, I can’t remember where or when it was. A very small vibration started it all, which then caused more vibrations in other parts, which crossed each other and compounded the effect of the initial vibrations aided by wind. Sin appeared very insignificant at first, nothing immediately visually changed except how Adam and eve viewed each other and their conscience told them that something had gone amiss. However, that small event, that first vibration or even the first insignificant movement of an electron in an atomic reaction lead to inevitable disaster. Considering this picture, I have a question for those who want to blame God. How long would a world affected by sin have lasted had the effect thereof been allowed to continue unchecked? I believe that disasters like the tsunami five years ago and this current tragic earth quake is only a small, small glimpse into how reality could have been had God in his love not decided to not only redeem the earth, through the redemption of human souls by Jesus’ death, but also to sustain it every day. Col chapter 1, in Him hold all things together. Therefore, rather than blaming God, we should thank him every moment that the earth is still here, that so many of us are still here, though undeservedly, that societies are still holding together, that the ground still produces food, that there still is clean water to drink and air to breath.
Sorry this thought is a bit long, you may not want to post it, or maybe you want to edit it, I don’t mind.
I just thought it was important to look at things from that perspective,
your post was thought provoking but ‘Natural evil must be a result of moral evil.’ Why? Consider the Chixiclub meteor/comet impact into the Caribbean basin millions of years ago. What moral evil had the dinosaurs committed to warrant that? (Tongue in cheek). Now if you are a young earth creationist you get round that but land yourself in a heap of other problems. The problem I have as a Christian is why did Jesus calm the waters in Lake Gallilee yet not prevent the Indian Ocean Tsunami. We are the ones who are saying God is love, yet implying he shrugs his shoulders and lets Tsunamis and Earthquakes kill in vast numbers without preventing them. Its a tough call IMHO and it torments me to find a theodicy for it. Again the problem for me is witnessing that God is love then saying I must love God with all my mind after saying ” I musnt question God”
If my tone comes across sarcastic I apologise thats not my intention Ursula. I just want to understand the issues to witness effectively.
Ursula, the best, simple model I have run across for dealing with scope errors (the “this life is all there is” error you point out) is leaping across a chasm. Missing by a hairs-breadth is exactly as bad as missing by a full armspan: you’ve missed.
Rolling that into accepting His character, He possesses all knowledge, which ultimately dwarfs however much we might happen to have collected, now matter how great a genius we are.
On top of that, He can use the knowledge effectively, which is wisdom. Wisdom, you can’t earn.
The original lies amount to “God made a mistake; you will be powerful; you will know everything yourselves,” He didn’t, we aren’t & we don’t.
Tas is fighting the view that we are entirely a mistake (an accident, a colossal chain of accidents) which is one (of many) attempts to trick us into coming a handspan short of crossing the chasm of unbelief.
Your question for God-blamers fits very well with Matthew 5:45. Thank you for returning matters to scope using views & insights which differ from mine.
A theodicy which is even partly satisfactory would run into the hundreds of pages, if not more, so a few paragraphs here will not really suffice. But a few very quick replies nonetheless. We are not given to know all the reasons for the origin of evil, but we are told about the solution (the Incarnation). There must always be some mystery here, at least as we remain finite and fallen. No one, and no worldview, has all the answers here.
As to why God doesn’t always intervene at every sign of disaster or evil, C.S. Lewis and plenty of other thinkers have addressed this. We simply couldn’t live in such an unpredictable world. No one could handle living in a world in which heavy rains are sufficient to douse large fires but not able to potentially drown a man; in which one minute the hard ground supports us as we walk, but the next minute becomes like jelly when we fall, and so on.
In order to “witness more effectively” we can all think more, read more, pray more and study more about these issues, so that we might be ready with an answer (1 Peter 3:15). So we will continue to wrestle with these deep issues.
But the Christian worldview offers plenty of satisfying answers to the problems of evil and suffering. Not exhaustive answers but helpful answers. And we should always turn the tables on our non-Christian critics here: “What solutions or answers do you offer to these problems?” Their worldview is often far from satisfactory in these areas, and our answers can contend with the best of other worldviews.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Doug, it was you with the old earth – evolutionary viewpoint that couldn’t make sense of natural evil. I am not sure what the problems are that we land ourselves in as young earth thinkers, but I think, I can point you towards an answer for your question why Jesus calmed the storm, but did not prevent the Tsunami. If you look at Heb chapter 11, you will find that there is a list of people whose faith enabled them to accomplish exactly what God required of them, some to life and some to death. Since we all must die, I am very comforted that, when it is time for me to die, I have the faith to face it with confidence in His love and resurrection power according to His promise in 1 Cor chapter 15. Again, when we witness to the truth and power of the gospel, we acknowledge that He is God and we are fragile, undeserving, but loved people.
Hey! Fulfilled prediction!
Natural evil is a result of the Fall, which was the result of moral evil. But in your old-age/evolutionary view, you don’t believe that, hence it doesn’t make sense to you.
As opposed to the heap of problems, such as the one being discussed, resulting from belief in long ages?
I suspect that you are thinking of the Tacoma Narrows bridge.
Philip J. Rayment
I wont dwell on the Young Earth viewpoint and it’s horrendous difficulties. You’re point about calming the waters is a fair one but doenst answer the question in the wider context. Your answer would be accepted by those already mature in the faith and with a comittment to Christianity. Put yourself in this position eg post earthquake One in the position of a grieving survivor who has lost their spouse and children. They ask why? Why did a loving God who they are told loves them, their spouse and children, stand by with folded arms and let an earthquake kill them and thousands of other innocent children, adults , babies. If God loved those victims why let them be crushed to death the survivor asks? Was that God’s plan for them? Along comes Christopher Hitchins and asks the same questions. “If you, as a parent, saw something about to crush your child wouldnt you do all you could to stop it?” he’d ask. You know where he’d go with this issue – “God just folded his arms and let it happen”
Here is the challenge for me as a Christian – how do I justify natural evil? Is it from human rebellion? Well from a old earth perpective disease and suffering were here long before humankind so I doubt that. If we say plate techtonics has many advantages for life then the critic says why couldn’t God order his Universe whereby the physics/geophysics didnt require that if he’s omnipotent? The non-Christian can and will ask these questions of us. I appreciate the pragmatic perspective of accepting there are some things we cannot know but in a questioning world it seems to easy to put these issues in the “too hard basket”. Im troubled by these issues and wonder how to explain them in an apologetics scenario. I want you to understand Im not judging God, I just want to understand and be able to offer some kind of theodicy (eg simiiar to the freewill defence) that is a logical and coherent explanation of natural evil.
Thanks for your response I appreciate your words.
Doug, God has done exactly what you wanted him. He created a world that was stable and good with no natural evil. I am not sure why you insist on hanging on to the idea that suffering and death were there before mankind was. How can death be the wages of sin, like Paul declares in Romans, I think, when death existed before man even sinned. That is just totally illogical.
We won’t be able to give everyone a perfect answer to all their questions before they even come to Christ, we don’t have all the answers to all our questions yet, or at least I haven’t. One way, maybe to help people to take a step of faith and believe – and we must remember that it is impossible to please God without faith, Heb 10 or 11, is to show them by our actions our mature trust and faith and our relationship knowledge of the Holy One and thereby draw them to Him far more powerfully than if we could answer all their questions. Proverbs 9:10, knowledge of the holy one is understanding.
You ask “I am not sure why you insist on hanging on to the idea that suffering and death were there before mankind was”
So are you saying that no dinosaurs were ever killed by another? We have record of cancers in dinosaur bones from millions of years ago, thus death and suffering then. Or are you saying that the earth is 6-10,000 years old and dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark? I think you’ll find witnessing to the world on 10,000 year old earth and dinosaurs on Noah’s ark a harder struggle and less credible than a natural evil theodicy.
Doug Holland says:
I’ve been following all the comments and feel the pain. How can we deal with natural evil and a God of love? You have two incompatible worldviews in the one head, hence the the conflict. I do applaud you for at least realising the problem. Ultimately you must resolve the question of death and its origins. As for me after 30+ years as an theistic evolutionist I could no longer stand a similar torment. The bible is very clear on the subject, death is the result of Adam (Man) rebellion against God, and its been downhill ever since, just what we see in reality. Evolutionists keep telling us things are getting better, not true, evolution is the great lie, no need to mix Darwinism and biblical christianity.
Your fear of being credible as a follow of Jesus and young earth creationist may not be as difficult as you suspect, many others have survived the conversation. Can I suggest you examine,
The Horse and the Tractor
Dallas James, Melbourne
I too have been following the conversations, and I feel for you! The frustration in trying to put two seemingly polar things (God is love, and death/suffering) together is monstrous at times.
But I am reminded of a video, and I would love it if you could watch it.
It is called “The Bridge – How Far Would You Go?”
And in an attempt to help you wrestle with these questions, I place this thought out there.
You picture God sitting back with his arms crossed watching people die. You describe a god who does not care, and who is far from our problems. That is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is a loving God who is close to us in our moments of suffering.
So as you think about this, realize that God suffers when His children suffer. That God has gone through much suffering for our sake, and is by no means far from our problems. Make no mistake dear friend, God is not crossing his arms indifferent to our pain, no no, He is suffering greatly with us.
And remember, one day he will wipe away every tear, every hurt, every pain. We will be full, and we will no longer feel the sting of anything in our past. Yes, God lets us suffer, but He suffers with us, and He promises that one day, He will take it all away, as if it never happened.
Yet that is the source of your quandary. You are rejecting the answer to your problem.
No, there is no such thing as “millions of years ago”.
Young-Earth creationists have been doing this for some time now. Intelligent Design proponents, who generally accept the millions of years, have found it just as hard a struggle, and are granted just as little credibility. Less actually (Richard Dawkins):
See also here..
Philip J. Rayment
Yet that is the source of your quandary. You are rejecting the answer to your problem.
If a 6,000 year old earth is the required answer it must be a pretty silly question.
No, there is no such thing as “millions of years ago”.
Has this view been published in any non-creationist journal? Any respected scientist or Acadamy of Science agree with this? Is that why 72 Noble prize winners, plus 17 US state academies of science and 7 other scientific organsiations filed an amicus brief in the US Supreme court against creation science?
Is there any credible scientific organisation that entertains a 6,000 year old earth? W. D. Phillips, a Christian and Nobel Prize winner for Physics in 1997 “I believe that the present calculations of about 4 billion years for the earth and 14 billion years for the universe are not far wrong, and I see no conflict with that understanding and my understanding of the Bible.”
If we bin all that evidence because of a literal interpretation of Genesis ‘days’ so we can have a theodicy for natural evil we are living in la-la land and frankly being intellectually dishonest.
Jesus had himself tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a non-existent individual.
I never claimed Adam and Eve were symbolic.
I was a young earth creationist myself and like former Institute of Creation Research member Glenn Morton creation science did my faith immense harm. Like the latter it took me to the brink of atheism.
Besides the huge quandry with science and credibility a 6000 year old earth lands you in we still have the central problem of why God permits eg post WW1 flu influenza to wipe out more than 50-100 million people, or a tsunami 250,000 people. Natural evil would occur even if nobody sinned. Genuine enquirers might well ask why did God permit all those innocent people to die on such a scale. Even if we say sin corrupted creation the question still surfaces as to the scale and wantoness of the suffering to people that we Christians say God loves passionately. If we say God loved every single victim of disease and suffering why does he allow them to die in agony? Would you allow your child to die in agony like that if you had the power to stop it? Thus our quandry in the search for a theodicy.
We can all close ranks and indulge in the psychological process of group think (critics would say Stockholm syndrome) but we have to try and find answers from an apologetic perspective in our postmodernist culture. I can agree with Alvin Platinga’s work on the freewill defence for moral evil but what about a theodicy for natural evil?
Im not judging God, I suspect like many others who are interested in apologetics and wishing to know our heavenly father better we just want to understand.
The theodicy of natural evil is a hard one since we Christians claim that our loving God is omnipotent, omniscient and good. However, quoting C S Lewis, if God created a material universe and gives creatures freedom of action, He cannot prohibit the outcome of that action – suffering is inevitable. Goodness is also tied up with God’s divine love, and suffering is one of the pathway’s that turn us to God.
Re your statement “would you allow your child to die in agony like that if you had the power to stop it?” my answer of course will be ‘no’. However, as we can see, God had the power to stop His son, Jesus, from suffering and dying in agony, but He chose not to. Suffering led to Glory. He is a fair and just God. He does not expect his created beings to experience something He has not experienced. Suffering is one of the pathways that lead mankind to God and eternal life.