by Rev. Laura Barclay
Many people have heard about Pat Robertson’s terrible remark where he states that the country has been “cursed” because they “swore a pact to the devil.” Christians, in varying degrees, have denounced his statement. Some say that while God does judge us, this isn’t an example of that judgment. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY says it was the right sentiment at the wrong time. He states “Do I believe God punishes nations? You bet, the same way I know that judgment falls upon individuals.” Is there really a right time to tell a nation that you think they signed a pact with the devil because they stood up to those oppressing them and threw off the shackles of slavery—a biblical paradigm straight from Exodus, I might add? The associate pastor of my church, Susan Parker, says the opposite on her blog, “Choosing life and blessings”:
“My God is grieving for the tens of thousands of people who have died, grieving for those who may still be clinging to life, but who are trapped under the rubble and may not be able to be saved. My God is instilling hope in those who are working feverishly to uncover any remaining survivors, giving strength to aid workers who have been on their feet for days without proper rest, and comforting the survivors who have lost family, friends and all their meager possessions.”
I completely agree. Unlike some who denounced the timing of Robertson’s words but stood by the idea of a God who would judge Haiti through an earthquake, I believe that God is not instigating catastrophes but is present in the response of aid workers like the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and many Baptist entities including CBF missionaries Steve and Nancy James and coordinated disaster response teams. As Jon Stewart pointed out in what seemed like an impromptu sermon on The Daily Show last week, there are countless Bible verses a minister could use to bring comfort at a time like this (Psalm 34:18, Isaiah 41:1, Isaiah 54:10, to name a few). These entities that are so dutifully coming to Haiti’s aid embody these scriptures.
As I was listening to NPR a week ago, a Haitian immigrant now residing in the U.S. told a story she had heard in the news coverage. Rescue workers tried desperately to extract a little girl from the debris, and when she was freed later she spoke about feeling God’s presence as she was trapped. Conversely, Elie Wiesel, in his book Night, talks about his experience at a concentration camp during World War II about not feeling the presence of God as he watched a boy being hung on the gallows by Nazis. Whether or not we feel the presence of God in the debris of Haiti or atrocities of war, God is suffering with us. That is why Jesus is called “Immanuel” and why God plays the role of comforter in so many passages, as Jon Stewart pointed out. As we struggle for answers, let us remember that we are called by God to bring hospitality and comfort to God’s people. Let us do that both in our own communities and in Haiti. Donate to CBF’s efforts in Haiti, the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Haiti Action, or any other charity you have found to be effective during this tragedy.