Haiti – Why do Disasters Happen?

Why do disasters happen? What should Christians do when disasters happen? The recent earthquake in Haiti was catastrophic. Perhaps it has caused you to wonder if it was caused by God. I don’t think that it was.

When a disaster occurs, sometimes Christians rush to judgment. We think that the disaster happend because the people who lived there were sinful, or perhaps their ancestors were sinful.

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it, They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon the third, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘we will serve you if you will get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ Pat Robertson on the Haiti Earthquake

There are also some Christians who believe that God directly or indirectly causes all disasters. John Piper is one who holds to this view:

Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados….The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. John Piper on the ELCA tornado.

God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and he is infinitely wise in all that he wills. -John Piper on the Minnesota bridge collapse.

This type of speculation from Robertson and Piper is counterproductive because it attributes destructive events to God when God has not spoken. In reality the events can reasonably be attributed to other root causes. Earthquakes happen where there are fault lines. Tornadoes happen in tornado alley. Bridges and buildings collapse when they are not properly built or maintained.

In Haiti there were two factors that contributed to the disaster. First, there was a shallow fault line near to Port Au Prince. Second, many of the buildings were built poorly. These two factors adequately explain why the disaster occurred. There is no reason to attribute it to a curse or anything else.

Speculation like Roberson’s and Piper’s is also quite selective. When a disaster fits our paradigm we quickly assign blame. But when it strikes us personally, we respond differently. If Robertson’s house was destroyed by hurricane, would he blame that on a curse? Probably not. If Piper’s church was destroyed by a tornado, would he attribute it to sinful doctrine being taught? Probably not.

When Christians speak in such ways we damage ourselves. Rather than being salt and light to a world that needs us, we are seen as hypocritical and selectively judgmental. Pat Robertson perhaps meant well, but he damaged his Christian witness and held all believers up to ridicule. When disaster comes, Christian help. We grieve for those who are hungry and hurt. We give to those in need. We do not assign blame.

So why do disasters happen? There is not an easy answer, and perhaps it is dangerous to look for one. One thing that can be said is that we live in a fallen physical world. Creation is in decay and is awaiting liberation (Romans 8:18-21). God’s will is not always done on earth, that is why we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10)

Theologian Roger Olson argues that:

…what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

And:

In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things. Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, “OK, not my will then, but thine be done — for now.” –Olson On the Minnesota bridge collapse.

Does God ever cause disaster? First and formost we should remember that Jesus came to bring life (John 10:10). When Jesus died he paid for the sins of the entire world. That includes the people of Haiti.

God can cause disaster as a form of judgment, however, he makes his intent known when he judges, he does not leave it wide open to interpretation. Greg Boyd notes that:

…the model of God bringing about disasters to punish people is rooted in the Old Testament. Here we several times find God using nature and human agents to punish people. (Though even back then this wasn’t God’s normal mode of operation). But in these contexts, God first gives ample warning about a coming judgment and he tells people exactly what he is doing. Punishment without teaching is not pedagogically effective.

Imagine a parent saying to their child, “I’m going to spank you whenever I want to but not tell you why.” It just doesn’t work! –Boyd, Why Did the 35W Collapse?

As noted above, John Piper has stated that “Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados.” This explanation does not line up with the scriptural account. In fact, scripture records that Jesus rebuked a storm (Mark 4:35-41). If Jesus causes all storms, he was rebuking himself.

In a fallen and decaying world bad things happen. Even to good people. If it greives us, we can be certain that it grieves God as well. In the meantime, we help those in need and we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom. Only then will God’s will be fully done on earth, just as it is in heaven.

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21 Comments

Filed under disaster, Haiti

21 responses to “Haiti – Why do Disasters Happen?

  1. Excellent and well thought out response, my friend! Precisely what people need to understand in the wake of this tragedy. The Church needs to put more energy into springing into action to serve and not to point fingers in judgement. One reflects the love we are called to give to others (Mark 12:30-31) and the other reflects a spiritual arrogance that unfortunately runs rampant both inside and outside the Church.

  2. Thanks Scott, good thoughts too.

  3. I agree, Kevin. Even if God did have a direct hand in any of those disasters instead of them being entirely natural, we have no way to know, and to speak on the subject as if we know where the hand of God is working is a little haughty. However, we do know that because of our sins, the creation has been cursed by God and that is why disasters happen and people die in general. No speculation needed there. That should lead us to repentance and to seek the forgiveness of God through Jesus.

  4. Kevin – excellent work, thanks for a balanced reminder of the proper character of God. I'm reminded of Romans 12:9 "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good." We are to respond as stated further on in verse 15 "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep."

  5. What did Jesus say about such disasters?Luke 13: 2- 5 "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

  6. What was John Wesley's opinion on the cause of EARTHQUAKES?Of all the judgments which the righteous God inflicts on sinners here, the most dreadful and destructive is an earthquake. This he has lately brought on our part of the earth, and thereby alarmed our fears, and bid us “prepare to meet our God!” The shocks which have been felt in divers places, since that which made this city tremble, may convince us that the danger is not over, and ought to keep us still in awe; seeing “his anger is not turned away, but his band is stretched out still.” (Isa. 10:4.) That I may fall in with the design of Providence at this awful crisis, I shall take occasion from the words of my text, I. To show that earthquakes are the works of the Lord, and He only bringeth this destruction upon the earth: II. Call you to behold the works of the Lord, in two or three terrible instances: And, III. Give you some directions suitable to the occasion.http://www.theamericanview.com/index.php?id=501

  7. Sandiego, Thanks for pointing this out on Wesley. It's from sermon 129, (which I hadn't read until right now) and you're right, he did argue that God causes earthquakes.He was wrong on that one. :)

  8. Kevin,You're such a Deist! (Joking)I think many forget that while God is sovereign, we also live in a world that has been tainted by the effects of mankind's sin: "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Rom 8:19-21 ff.). Good post.

  9. William, Agreed! (except for the Deist part):)

  10. Ben

    Since God did not cause it, would it be fate or luck that caused it?In the Luke passage Jesus does not answer whether God caused the tower to fall unless I'm missing it.

  11. Ben

    BTW, that sermon by Wesley was actually given by Charles in 1750. For some reason people attribute John with that sermon. John Wesley does speak on the subject and is in agreement with Charles, I will try to find the John tract and post it here if you want to read it.

  12. Hi Ben, thanks for stopping by and for the clarification that Charles wrote that particular sermon. Either way, I respectfully disagree with the Wesley brothers on this one. They were in many respects a product of their time. Given that very little was understood about the natural cause of earthquakes in 1750 (plate tectonics, etc). it's perhaps not surprising that they attributed earthquakes to God. We often blame God for what we don't understand.What caused the earthquake? As argued in the post, there is no easy answer. Physically speaking, it was a combination of location (close to fault line) and poorly built and maintained buildings. Theologically speaking, the whole physical world is in bondage to decay and is awaiting liberation (Romans 8:18-25). Thankfully, God has provided life and liberation in Jesus Christ.God bless,Kevin

  13. Ben

    I guess I agree with Wesley here. True they were a product of their time, but the bible clearly states that God causes tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.Also, if fate or luck play a role then God is no longer God.My understanding of the Luke 13 passage is to point us to repentance and belief. I think your view would hold more wieght if the bible never said that God causes these "acts of God", but it seems clear that the bible does attribute these things to God and that God himself states that he causes these things.

  14. Ben, I don't have much else to add. We'll have to agree to disagree. God bless,Kevin

  15. Ben

    No sweat.It's always good when one of the Wesley's are mentioned:)

  16. If you think God didn't bring the earthquake on Haiti, and that He doesn't have absolute control over EVERYTHING that happens, then you have a pretty low opinion of the One, True Almighty God who SPOKE the Universe into existence!Jesus said not even a SPARROW falls to the ground without the Father knowing about it. (Mat. 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your FatherIf you want to see some reasons as why God may have brought JUDGMENT on HAITI, then watch the first 10 minutes or so of this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQo76Itl6cwCLEARLY, God is in control!

  17. Hi SanDiego, I think you are working with a non-scriptural definition of the sovereignty of God. God is good, and if he controlled things the way you describe, there would be no fallen world. We live in a fallen world precisely because God has given us the freedom to go against his will. All of creation is in decay not by God's choice, but by ours. Check out The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Tozer. It is an excellent read where he gives a pithy explanation of the Biblical definition of sovereignty."God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so. " -TozerGod bless,Kevin

  18. Dean, thanks for the links. They are somewhat relevant, so I won't delete them this time. However, in the future try to interact as well. :) God bless, Kevin

  19. Who slew Saul?1 Chr. 10 13 So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the LORD in that he did not keep the command of the LORD, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. 14 He did not seek guidance from the LORD. Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.If this was the only verse about Saul's death, we would think that God personally came down and put an end to Saul's life. But just a few verses earlier, we are told:v. 4 – Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it.So, did Saul kill himself, or did the Lord kill him? Clearly, both are true. The Lord had a part, and Saul had a part. Because of Saul's evil course, the Lord could not protect him from evil. In that way, the Lord "put him to death".But the actual stroke was inflicted by Saul himself.This is only one example, but it shows how careful we need to be when we interpret God's words describing His own behavior. He is not a man, and He does not act like a man. But He uses the language of men.As John Wesley once said, "Will you prove to me from the Bible that God is a tyrant? That can never be."

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