Thursday, January 14, 2010

God and the Devil in Haiti

Even thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

President Obama called the destruction in Haiti “incomprehensible.” As the news reports come in, it is overwhelming. And for some it brings up eternal questions about the mystery of suffering in the world.

But for those who want certain answers, Evangelist Pat Robertson is eager to tell us why it happened. He told viewers of his nationwide TV program that Haiti has been "cursed by one thing after another" since they "swore a pact to the devil." “People might not want to talk about it,” said Robertson, but that’s what happened. And then he explained:

"They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third 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 prince.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Ok it’s a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another."

Faithful Christians know that Haiti’s suffering has nothing to do with making a pact with the devil two hundred years ago. We know that because we know that the devil does not exist. Evil exists. And evil is real. And symbolically we talk about the devil as a way to talk about the persistent and pernicious presence of evil in the world. (In that sense, one can “make a pact with the devil,” as the Red Sox did when they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees.)

Unfortunately, Robertson has a large audience, and some people even outside of his TV viewers take him as a spokesperson for Christianity. For that reason, what he says matters. In the New York Times this morning, Pooja Bhatia, a fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs, has an opinion column titled, “Haiti’s Angry God.” He uses the idea of the earthquake-as- punishment as a way to criticize the faith of Haitian Christians, and by implication, all Christians. He concludes:

“Why, then, turn to a God who seems to be absent at best and vindictive at worst? Haitians don’t have other options. The country has a long legacy of repression and exploitation; international peacekeepers come and go; the earth no longer provides food; jobs almost don’t exist. Perhaps a God who hides is better than nothing.”

Tragically, the people of Haiti have walked through the valley of the shadow too many times. And for too long. In between the disasters there has been an ongoing story of poverty and disease. I just spoke with Bishop Peter Peter Weaver, who said, “Now everyone is talking about the disaster in Haiti. Haiti has been a disaster for a long time, and we haven’t done enough about it.”

But even in the chaos and destruction, there is good news. We already have mission teams on the ground, at work in Haiti. Our mission teams got there BERFORE the earthquake. They were already at work. And they will be there long after the television cameras and news anchors have left.

God is not hiding. Even in the valley of the shadow, especially in the valley of the shadow, God is there.

For more information on relief in Haiti, go to the United Methodist Committee on Relief. You can Google UMCOR, or click on the links through our web site.

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