Fortunately a disaster like this does not happen every day. I do not think the human soul could bear it. Yet we look back over ten years to see major events that have drawn the collective eye of the world to a particular people or nation - 9/11, the Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and now this earthquake.
In all these instances thoughts turn toward God immediately. For many, there are requests for prayers and cries of pain to the God who is seemingly in control of all things. The question is for God himself - "Where are you?" For others, the lack of belief in God, or more clearly stated, the belief that there is no God is seemingly confirmed as one may say, "How could a good God allow such evil to occur?"
Voices rise and blogs are posted in response to the event and the questions. One particular response is receiving a lot of notice because one man who speaks as a Christian says the Haitians made a pact with the devil and were cursed , thus this earthquake is a form of judgment. This will dominate the news because it's controversial, though there is a response to this as well. Some will agree. Others, most perhaps, will find this absurd.
I myself am left wondering what the proper response is to everyone who may have questions, whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic or atheist. Providentially, I was reading Al Mohler's book, Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues With Timeless Truths, yesterday while everything first began. In it he dedicates one chapter particularly to a Christian response for disasters like the earthquake using the Tsunami of 2004 as the example. Here I will draw heavily from Mohler's thoughts for what I believe is the best response.
Mohler begins by saying:
Suggesting that God was simply unable to prevent the tsunamis that destroyed so many lives simply will not do. Nor will blaming the earthquake and tidal waves on fate, or claiming that God sent the destruction as punishment for the victim's sins, or arguing that the tragedy was further proof that God does not exist.
These responses are typical for those who hold to process theology (God is unable to know what's going to happen), fate, karma, God as judge only, or sheer atheism. But the Christian who affirms the breadth and depth of Scripture should respond differently.
"First, a faithful Christian response must affirm the true character and power of God. The Bible leaves no room for doubting either the omnipotence [God's all-powerful] or the benevolence [God's goodness] of God." The Triune God was active when he created everything and he remains active in his creation as sovereign ruler over it all. Mohler sites Colossians 1:15-17 to show the supremacy of Jesus Christ in that "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." Again, process theology, like that seen in Rabbi Harold Kushner's book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People wants to cut this out and say that God is doing the best he can with what he's got. He'd like to help, but his hands are tied for tragedies like this. We as Christians must deny this position and affirm God's power and goodness, knowing that we are created in his image, we mean something to him, life is worth living, and he is ultimately in control.
Secondly Mohler goes on to state that the Christian response "must avoid attempting to explain what God has not explained." We as Christian must be assured that suffering, as with all things in life, is meaningful, but is also the result of sin entering into our world (Genesis 3). We must be cautious in how we proceed from here though. On the one hand, we must be careful not to attribute suffering directly to an individual's sin as if there's exact causation. In John 9:1-7 the disciple ask about a man who was blind from birth, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (v. 2). Jesus responds, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" (v. 3). Jesus heals the man, and the rest of the chapter works out the implications of it, displaying the works of God. In this case, and in the cases of natural disasters, we must be wary of immediately placing blame on the sins of a people or a nation, as with those who give blanket statements intended to cover over every person who tragically died. Mohler sites Martin Kettle's keen observation of the tsunami, which are good words for the earthquake as well: "Certainly the giant waves generated by the quake made no attempt to differentiate between the religions of those whom it made its victims. Hindus were swept away in India, Muslims were carried off in Indonesia, Buddhists in Thailand. Visiting Christians and Jews received no special treatment either."
On the other hand, Mohler rightly says that "we are in absolutely no position to argue that there is no link between human sin and this awful tragedy. The Bible makes clear that God sometimes does respond to specific sin with cataclysmic natural disaster. Just ask the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah." The warning flag must rise swiftly though, as Mohler points to Job - the book of the Bible most clearly dealing with suffering - to show that "it is Job's friends who tried to offer detailed theological explanations and ended up looking foolish--and worse." Christians have the challenging duty of limiting our speech in times like this one - both speech of utter judgment and speech of sheer innocence - because we believe in a God whose judgments are "unsearchable" and "unfathomable" (Romans 11:33). Mohler writes poignantly that "Unless God reveals the purpose of His acts and the working of His will among us, we would do well to affirm His sovereignty and goodness, while holding back from placing blame on human agents for disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes."
A third part of our response requires "the love of Christ and the power of the gospel." Jesus is our prime example in this as he healed the blind and raised the dead, responding with such compassion in moments of great need. Though we may not be able to perform miracles such as these, we are able to "mourn with those who mourn." May we be a people who follows our Lord with an outpouring of prayer, concern, generosity, and sacrifice.
Christians should be leading the efforts of relief work through our agencies dedicated to providing food, medical care, rebuilding efforts, and other forms of assistance. I personally witnessed this with Hurricane Katrina and the efforts of Campus Crusade for Christ. Now's the time to give of your time, talents, and treasures. Just an hour ago, I was able to give $35 to a family in Haiti through Compassion, which will support them for a week. We should be at the forefront of all financial giving and relief efforts to display the grace and generosity of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. These efforts serve as a great witness to the gospel and we should not shy away from testifying speaking about the great truths of salvation found in Jesus alone. The prayer is that our assistance for temporary relief will provide a bridge to eternal rest in Christ.
And finally, we as Christians must openly respond without cowardice that the events of the past two days along with all the atrocities of natural disasters past and future point to God's final, holy judgment. We must be bold enough to say that God's wrath is to come. But with that we must bring the powerful, hope-filled words of the gospel which share that God's wrath was poured out on His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross so that for those who believe in Him whatever suffering or death we may have in this world, nothing compares to the eternal weight of glory being prepared for us (2 Corinthians 4:17).