We seek answers every time tragedy strikes. Haiti is no exception.
One man whose brother and nephew were killed in the Jan. 12 earthquake offered his response: “God is angry at the world,” he said to a reporter.
Likewise, a woman standing outside Port-au-Prince’s beloved cathedral grasped for an explanation. “This is what God did!” she wailed.
People had died there, crushed beneath the falling roof.
Does God hate Haiti? Is the nation cursed, as televangelist Pat Robertson suggested?
Robertson said during a broadcast of his show, “The 700 Club,” the day after the magnitude-7.0 earthquake, that Haiti was “cursed” because of a “pact with the devil.”
Robertson referred to a religious ceremony conducted in 1791 by voodoo priest Boukman Dutty that initiated the Haitian slave rebellion. Some think the ceremony included a deal with Satan for victory against the French.
A Robertson spokesman said later that most Americans misunderstood the preacher’s comments, and that Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God’s wrath.
In a way, there could be something to Robertson’s grasping for meaning in the midst of the tragedy. Whether Dutty’s ceremony included a pact with the devil or not, the whole human race suffers the effects of a “curse,” if you will, because of a “pact” our first parents made with the devil — not a pact in the legal sense, but an agreement, an accommodation, an acceptance.
We lost paradise when we ignored God’s wishes for us and pursued what appeared to be an easier way to overcome our limitations.
That’s not the end of the story, as we know, but we continue to live with the effects of fallen human nature. We continue to grapple with the problem of evil. If God is all good, all knowing, all loving, why must we suffer?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say: “The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life” (No. 324).
Insurance companies used to call natural disasters “acts of God.” Obviously, God did not cause the earthquake — nature did. Nor did God cause people to live along a fault line where tension has built up between tectonic plates over the past 200 years. God did not curse the people of Haiti with the poverty or the political corruption that left their country with such a limited infrastructure that makes it extremely difficult to carry out a rescue mission there.
But he gave man free will, and so he did not intervene when, in history, Haiti’s rulers, whether colonial or native, had the chance to do the right thing for their people and instead acted selfishly or out of greed.
And might it be said that this earthquake was nature’s way of calling our attention to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? We know that Haiti is there. We have a vague idea that the people there are poor. We hear about them every time a hurricane rolls through. And then we forget. The Haitian people shift to the background, and our own problems and pursuits occupy us.
Now we have an opportunity to practice real Christian solidarity, in even the simplest of ways. Not everyone can participate in the rescue, though there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers, such as through Regnum Christi’s Catholic World Mission program. Not everyone can write large checks to charities and humanitarian agencies. Not everyone can take in an orphan.
But we all have spiritual means at our disposal. When we run out of cream and are forced to drink our coffee black, we can offer up that simple inconvenience for Haitians who are dying for a drop of water. When we complain that we are buried in work, we can thank God that we have work — and offer up our labor for the sake of those who are literally buried in rubble. When we’re grumpy because our old mattress didn’t allow us a good night’s rest, we can think of Haitians sleeping on the streets because their homes were destroyed.
The well-known preacher Father Benedict Groeschel is fond of saying that when catastrophe occurs it’s more appropriate to ask what rather than why. What does God want me to do now?
That is what Haitians will want to ask once they regain a modicum of normalcy. Hopefully, the international community will respect the will of the Haitian people in determining how best to rebuild their country in a way that is most conducive to a peaceful existence.
In the meantime, we can ask ourselves the same question: What does God want us to do in response to the Haitian tragedy? If nothing else, enduring whatever suffering comes our way, small or large — for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Haiti — and offering it up in the form of a prayer is a good way to respond to that “curse.”