Haiti’s tragedy: what does it mean?

January 18, 2010

By Jeff Patton

The news stories about the effects and aftermath of the monster earthquake in Haiti make for sober reflection. The best word to describe Haiti’s present situation is “tragic.” The current calamity, however, seems just the latest episode in a national tale of gruesome violence, oppression, missed opportunities, hardships, poverty, and heartbreak for the 206-year-old republic. What was once one of the richest places on Earth, “the Pearl of the Antilles,” is now one of the most destitute.

Haitians, who are mostly a deeply religious people (the majority practice a mixture of Roman Catholicism and African Voodoo), see the hand of God in their destruction. Many Haitian religious leaders say they believe that God wants them to change. Some place the emphasis on God’s judgment on their notoriously corrupt ruling elite. Others take a more apocalyptic perspective proclaiming the “end of the world is near.” Some, embittered by their losses, struggle to understand how God could do this to them, or draw the conclusion that “there is no God.”

What are we to make of such a tragedy, religiously speaking?

The fact is that human life on this Earth is fragile, rather short, and subject to all sorts of tragedies. Jesus of Nazareth made this point when it comes to untimely death and suffering:

“4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them—do you think that they were more guilty offenders (debtors) than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, No; but unless you repent (change your mind for the better and heartily amend your ways, with abhorrence of your past sins), you will all likewise perish and be lost eternally” (Luke 12:4-5, Amplified Bible).

Jesus’ point is that we should put first things first. One of the constant refrains of His teaching was that we should seek to practice on a daily basis the spiritual values and righteous lifestyle taught by the Bible.  Prayer is an important part of a godly lifestyle. Jesus specifically mentioned in the famous “Our Father” model prayer that we should pray:

“And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from evil,” (Matthew 6:13 NRSV).

Truly we have a great need to remember this point because this current society and physical world in which we now live is full of serious dangers. Jesus said so! He even prophesied that these troubles would get much worse before they get better. Notice the type of problems that we can expect:

“6 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 7 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. 8 But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come” (Matthew 24:6-8 NLT).

It makes no sense to say there is no God when the bad things He predicts come to pass! Our present age is not a godly one. In fact one can properly say this is a rebellious age that makes a show of worshiping God while insisting on doing its own thing. In most of the Western world our actual practice embraces the twin idols of materialism and sexual immorality. Still, we want to look good on a token scale and appear “spiritual.” But we don’t want to do good every day of the week in every aspect of our lives. We, the Canadian people, are not better, morally speaking, than the Haitians. We are not immune from disasters and suffering on a Haitian scale. We need to change our minds and amend our ways or we, too, will likewise perish.