The shock of the horrible earthquake that happened earlier this week in Haiti, and the dreadful images we see now any time we turn on the TV or go onto the internet, on weeks like this, especially if we turn on the news, the question that some people always raise about natural disasters is, ""If God is indeed reaching down from the heavens (as it says in Psalm 36), where was He before that Earthquake?"
This is not new, of course, or different from the questions faith always asks in the face of suffering. The Books of Job and Jeremiah, the laments in the Psalms, in fact the very passion narratives we hear on Holy Week all testify to the Bible’s honest scrutiny of human pain, whether due to natural causes or human agency. Psalm 88, for instance, is a bitter cry emanating from the depths of suffering and asks this very question in Verse 15: "Why have you hidden you face from me?" If you read this psalm in the original Hebrew, the last verse literally ends with, "My single companion is darkness."
We have always lived in a world full of risk. It takes a lot of energy to unleash the birth of galaxies and stars, and, as it says in Eucharistic Prayer C: "the sun, the moon, the planets in their courses, and this island earth, our island home." Earthquakes have made our earth what it is: able to sustain and life. In its several billion+ year history it has experienced tectonic tremors and solar flares, volcanoes and meteorite impact, and ice ages the like of which human beings have never seen in the reletively brief time we have been here. Some of these global events have been so catastrophic that they have extinguished millions of living species, abruptly changed the course of life on this planet. The simple fact is that we would not be where we are now without all those things. In fact, humans would probably never have existed all without earthquakes over the eons.
Most of the generations before us understood this fact that nature is more powerful than we are. But it often comes as a shock to us in the comfortable, modern Western world that we are not gods, we cannot do all things, or we can't know all things. We cannot tame and control the awesome forces that have fashioned us in the ages of ages.
Perhaps that is small comfort, but in the end this is the only ‘sense’ we can make of the calamity that befell Haiti this week. We can think about it, we can try to come up with logical reason for it all, but ultimately, it is futile to ask "where was God during the Earthquake?" Like the Book of Job that we read several times last year, we know that the victims of this and every other disaster did not deserve this, despite what a prominent TV Evangelist said this week to the contrary.
There is no "fairness" as we would define the term in modern jurisprudence to any of this. We simply cannot speak about why it happened, other than in terms of natural causes. Sure, we can understand it all in terms of science, but we demean the very dignity of those caught up in this disaster if we try to explain it with some pat answer or flowery language like "Well, it was God's will" or that Haiti deserved it because they made some Voodoo pact with the devil (whatever said TV Evangelist meant by that.)
In fact, we must always remind ourselves before we start shaking our fists at God for allowing bad things like earthquakes to happen, such things are eclipsed by even greater disasters happening in our world. The shanty towns and utter poverty in Haiti were all Man made. Before the earthquake, hundreds of children in Haiti and all around the world, died everyday because of poverty. That is a catastrophe on the scale of the Haitian earthquake every week.
This is what we must say to one another about the earthquake or any disaster that will happen in the future: that God understands what its like to be a victim. God has been a victim too.
St John in his gospel, never loses sight both of the cosmic significance of the Word made flesh and of his call to walk the way of the cross for us all. In Epiphany we celebrate the manifestation of the Lamb of God who comes as saviour of the world. The world – this beautiful, yet mysteriously dangerous world that is both life-giving and life-taking-is our home for good or for bad.
I urge you this week, if you have not already done so, to consider what you can do, not just in the aftermath of an earthquake, but at other times when there seemingly is not disaster (only the manmade kind).
1.We must pray for all victims and workers helping to rebuild Haiti,
2.We must apply our knowledge, if it is within our power, to mitigate the effects of natural disaster in the future,
3.We must continue to lend our best efforts to bring care and relief in whatever way that may be, and
4.We must do all that we can to make Jesus' manifest in the world, for that is the very call of Epiphany.