Q: Many have criticized Pat Robertson’s suggestion that the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti was the work of the devil or a form of divine punishment. But if one believes God is good and intervenes in the world, why does God allow innocents to suffer? What is the best scriptural text or explanation of that problem you’ve ever read?
Why is the existence of God and the degree of divine engagement in the created order always such a pressing concern for the comfortable armchair debaters when disasters strike? Is the question of “why God allows the innocents to suffer” in the context of the earthquake in Haiti a way to evade concrete, sacrificial and transformative action?
In one camp are some who hate Christianity and ridicule belief in God. Natural disasters provide them with a platform to pontificate against religion.
In another camp are conservative religionists who explain natural disaster by blaming those who suffer. Pat Robertson, for one, theologized that the Haitians broke with God. God has broken them. They need to turn back to God.
Robertson has a record of blaming “sinners” for disasters, as he and Jerry Falwell did after Sept. 11, 2001. He is not alone, however.
Henry Blackaby, a favorite Bible teacher of Southern Baptists, claimed the terrorist attacks came because of the sin of Americans. He also said the 2004 tsunami was God’s punishment on nations that persecuted Christians.
Such Christian theologians have traveling companions within Islam. An Islamic professor, too, saw the tsunami as God’s punishment. “It happened at Christmas, when fornicators and corrupt people from all over the world come to commit fornication and sexual perversion,” he said.
Blaming the victims for their suffering is an all-too-common human response for some people of faith who think they need to protect God. Bashing belief in God is another solution for inexplicable suffering. Either way, talking badly about God keeps the focus off what human rights ought to do.
For those of faith, a better way is to ask what is it that God wants us to do. Faith in action avoids the fruitlessness of the theologically inexplicable, the foolishness of self-righteously faulting others for human suffering and the uselessness of escapism from human responsibility.
When Jesus said that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45), he underscored the universal love of God, not God’s retribution. And Jesus did so in the context of challenging his followers to love those outside their neighborhood, a love by definition that requires tangible action, instead of abstract theologizing.