The Haitian earthquake has reminded us of the fragility of life on an untameable planet. Unlike other disasters such as the Aids epidemic, famine, and hurricane carnage which can be partly attributed to ual lifestyle, deforestation and global warming respectively, the earthquake which caused such carnage, although perhaps predictable, was wholly natural. In the words of the insurance underwriter the Haitian earthquake was ‘an act of God.’
So then, God is to blame. Or is he? The Bible teaches that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and ‘he saw that it was good’ (Genesis 1:1). He then created humankind who instead of delighting in creation chose to rebel against its creator. As punishment for their sin Adam and Eve were ejected from God’s presence and condemned to live in a world which due to their sin was now less than hospitable, ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life’ (Genesis 3: 19). God willed that his good creation should be placed ‘into decay’ until it shared in the ‘glorious freedom of the children of God’ at the end of time (Romans 8: 18-22). Human sin has had cosmic consequences, because of sin our planet is broken, disordered and dangerous.
So what if the Earth is corrupted by sin? Why didn’t a powerful and loving God intervene to stop this disaster as he might have stopped others? I have no answer to this question, and I defy anyone else to give a satisfactory answer. It is a mystery. However despite the horror of the disaster, its vast scale, and the numerous individual tragedies, including the s of infants, which have caused faith to be questioned, I am not inclined to abandon my faith in a faithful and loving God, who knows what it is like to suffer and who shares in our suffering.
On Boxing Day 2004, when the strains of Christmas carols could still be heard, ‘All is calm, all is bright’, a tsunami struck SE Asia. We sang songs of a lovely baby as the wave tore babies from their parents arms and brought to thousands. Nathan Nettleton, preaching in the aftermath said, ‘What of our Christmas gospel now. Can we stand in the mud of Banda Aceh or ett or Galle and speak of the one who is called Emmanuel, God with us? Or would it sound ? But that’s the challenge isn‘t it? Because if the Christmas gospel has nothing meaningful to say in Tamil Nadu, or the Maldives, or Meuloboh then it doesn‘t really have anything meaningful to say at all. Any theology that can’t be preached in the presence of parents grieving over their slaughtered children isn’t worth preaching anywhere else either.’
The Christmas gospel declares ‘the Word became flesh’. God became a human being and exposed himself to the vagaries of our sinful world. Herod sought to tear the Christ child from the arms of his mother and destroy him but he failed. Pilate however succeeded and the Christ of the manger became the crucified Christ. ‘The Crucified God’. The Word who had become flesh became hunted, despised, and buried flesh. Christ’s glorious resurrection does not make him a God who is immune from suffering. He is not looking on as an impassive observer far removed from the suffering world. He became one of us, he suffered in all the ways we suffer. The Bible teacher John Stott has written, ‘I could not believe in God were it not for the cross’. God does not just know about suffering – he has suffered himself, for the sins of the world, out of love for us, and he suffers still, as we suffer. He remains ‘a man of sorrows acquainted with grief’.
What then can we say to our world in the wake of yet another natural disaster? Our message need not change. In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, Vincent Nicholls, the then Catholic Bishop of Birmingham wrote, ‘Disasters do not wipe out faith anymore than they wipe out love. is the ultimate disaster which comes to us all eventually. But no matter how it comes, whether it is early in life, in hood or after a long decline – whether it comes in such a collapse or such a calamity as a tsunami – it has no power to rob us of our God-given grace, our destiny to be with God for eternity’. God may not have intervened to protect the victims of the Haitian earthquake, but he as already intervened to save humankind from a much greater disaster, an eternity apart from Him. God has won a glorious destiny for us because he took on flesh, suffered, died, and rose again! This is a gospel that can be preached in the presence of parents grieving over their slaughtered children, and it can therefore be preached anywhere.