Where is God in the Haitian Tragedy?
“Long before its ground started shaking, Haiti was already a byword for a broken place.” So began a recent New York Times front page article about the earthquake that devastated the country.
“It could shake your faith in a compassionate God.” Those words, overheard in the Delta terminal at Reagan National Airport a few days after the earthquake, were whispered by a fellow traveler as a TV news channel flashed image after horrific image of indescribable suffering, death, chaos.
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22:2). This is an understandable reaction a disaster like the one in Haiti.
And so, the question: Where is God in this? Catholic teaching acknowledges the harsh challenges to faith with which life in this world can confront the believer:
“…faith is often lived in darkness and can be put to the test…Our experiences of evil and suffering, injustice and death, seem to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it” (CCC #164).
The world, while God’s good creation, is imperfect. That bad things happen — due to moral evil ( the sin of humans) or physical evil (natural disasters) -- is a datum of our experience confirmed in Scripture and Church doctrine. God, we believe, willed to create the world “in a state of journeying” toward perfection. Part of this mystery is that creation is a work in progress, incomplete, until its final transformation at the end of time when Christ will return in glory.
“In God's plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others… both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection (CCC #310).
Christian revelation as a whole is the answer — a mysterious answer — to our deepest questions.
But the question persists: Where is God in the Haitian tragedy? The Catechism suggests that when our faith is shaken, we should turn to the “witnesses of faith” — “to Abraham who ‘in hope…believed against hope’ (Romans 4:18); to the Virgin Mary, who, in her ‘pilgrimage of faith,’ walked into the ‘night of faith’ in sharing the darkness of her son’s suffering and death; and to so many others” (CCC #165).
These many others include, first, those faith-filled, courageous Haitians who are themselves reaching out to help one another. Then, there is the throng of people who have rushed to Haiti with water, food, and medical supplies. The good people of our own diocese have joined their prayers with the earthquake victims and donated, as of this writing, $280,000 to support the work in Haiti of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Bishops’ foreign relief agency.
One local witness to the Gospel is Elijah Azimi, a second-grader at Cathedral School in Portland. Elijah was so troubled by news reports of hurting Haitian children that he gave the jar of coins he had been collecting for his college fund to help the relief effort.
There is the evidence of divine compassion. There are the heralds of hope. The tragedy in Haiti is enormous; the loss of life and the suffering beyond imagining. Rebuilding will take years. But God dwells in the midst of his people, his compassion given witness by the hundreds of thousands of good people — including Mainers — whose hearts, prayers, and material support reach out to our Haitian sisters and brothers in the embrace of solidarity and love.
Most Rev. Richard J. Malone
11th Bishop of Portland