Where Was God in the Earthquake?
I write with heavy heart, my mind assaulted by the images of devastation wrought by the cataclysmic earthquake that struck Haiti yesterday.
As my heart and mind struggle to make sense of the suffering we see now and know to anticipate in the coming weeks and months, I can't help but think of my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ of St. Anne's Church and, especially, our children. What are we to say to one another? What are we to say to our children whom we have pledged to teach to walk in the ways of the Lord? For, at such times, from the very depths of caring souls arises a groan, too deep for words, and, eventually, a haunting question: where was God in the earthquake?
There are those who speak at such times of the omnipotence of God. Some will see this and all such natural disasters as evidence against the God in whom we trust. They will portray the earthquake as 'Exhibit A' in their case against our claims of a good and loving God.
Others will feel it necessary to defend the righteousness of God. Well-meaning Christians will rise to declare this disaster to be God's majestic will, a will wholly impenetrable to us, and they will cite our story of Job to warn us against efforts to comprehend it. And, sadly, other Christians also will rise to declare this disaster to be God's will, but, forgetting Job and distorting our story tragically, they will tell us precisely which group among us brought about the earthquake as punishment for their unforgivable sins.
Each of these do us a service, for they force us to give an account of our faith in God and to remember carefully the truths about God we actually claim. For the same question that moves these groups haunts us, too, as we see the tears of anguished, hungry, and orphaned girls and boys reaching their hands out to us: where was God in the earthquake?
Theologian David Bentley Hart offers the best answer I know in his book The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? He wrote it upon reflecting on the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004. Hart reminds us that "we are to be guided by the full character of what is revealed of God in Christ. For, after all, if it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil, and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God."
As we participate vicariously in the tormented tears of young girls, lost and alone in the Haitian darkness, as our hearts pour out tears for the thousands of sons and daughters and mothers and fathers who have died so suddenly and shockingly, and as we turn to our task of being the loving and living hands of Christ in response to this tragedy, let us never forget the urgent truth about God that it is our vocation to proclaim: God does not will our sickness or our death; God does not will that evil be done; God has conquered evil and death through the Cross. This is the meaning of the empty tomb. This is our Easter faith. As Hart says so well, "Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation. Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue his creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptiness and waste of death, the forces - whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance - that shatter living souls; and so we are permitted to hate these things with perfect hatred."
Where, then, is God in the earthquake? Hart puts it well: "As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of his enemy.... for [ours] is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead....rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, [God] will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes - and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and he that sits upon the throne will say, 'Behold, I make all things new.'"
God's richest blessings,