Pat Robertson is quoted as saying that the earthquake in Haiti is God’s punishment for a deal that nation made with the Devil in 1804. Robertson claims that the pact was made so that the Haitian people would be able to defeat the French who held them in slavery. CNN article on Robertson Normally I would not deal with this subject and disagree so openly with another Christian. However in this case, there is a theology behind such an outrageous statement that must be addressed. The statement is that God is punishing an entire nation for an evil committed 200 years ago. Without even dealing with whether or not such a pact was ever made we need to deal with the theology of punishment that Robertson seems to buy into so often. Remember he also said that Katrina was God’s punishment on New Orleans for its sins and that Virginia Beach was saved from a hurricane because he prayed for it to go elsewhere. (I wonder how the people who live in the towns where that hurricane eventually struck feel about that prayer) The net result being that God spared Virginia Beach because of the prayers of the righteous and destroyed Haiti and New Orleans because of the sins of the wicked.
At first glance it is easy for many to buy into a theology of destruction and mass punishment from God. You can point to Sodom and Gomorrah as an example. But here is the difference. Prior to the destruction of those wicked places, God had a conversation with Abraham. The result of the conversation was that there were less than five people in those two towns who were not guilty of grievous sin and God insured the safety of those people. He was not going to destroy the just with the unjust when he punished someone for their sins.
During Jesus’ day there were a great many people who held to the theology of destruction as punishment that Robertson pronounces so often. The idea was simple. If something bad happened to you it was because you were a bad person and had done something to deserve it. Jesus shot down that theology as strongly as possible. In Luke 13 he deals with this issue:
1Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or 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? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
People had the idea that the Galileans who Pilate killed and the people who had a building fall on them must have deserved it because they were very bad people. Jesus says that they were no worse than anyone else. They were no more guilty than anyone else in Jerusalem. The implication being that all of us are guilty of sin and all of us, not just Haitians, or people from New Orleans, have sinned and could face the consequences. Earthquakes happen because we live in a world that is spiritually fallen. Tragedies strike because of sin, but it is most often the general condition of sin and not some specific national or group sin that brings the hurricane or tornado. A tower fell on a bunch of people in Jerusalem because in a sinful world, towers do that sort of thing from time to time. They don’t fall only on “bad” people. When they fall on people, “good” people and “bad” people can all get killed. But of course we need to remember that because of sin we are all “bad” people. That was Jesus’ point. Those people were no worse than anyone else who did not have a tower fall on them.
In a passage in Matthew 5 designed to help us learn how to respond to our enemies Jesus says this: 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust and the sun to rise on them as well. What Jesus is saying is that God makes good things happen to everyone, even your enemy, so love them and care for them as God does. The flip side is that God also allows tragedy to strike the just and the unjust. Why is another question for another time. But the point being, everyone faces good times and hard times in life and when those times are faced by a massive group of people it has little to deal with specific sins or 200-year-old deals with the Devil. It has to do with a world that is fallen in general.
We live in a fallen world. Earthquakes happen in such a world. Buildings collapse on people in such a world. Our response is not to be one of smug self-righteousness that says “those people deserved the earthquake” or “those people deserved to have the tower fall on them”. Rather, our response is to love such people as we would want to be loved. So if you lived in Haiti how would you want to be loved? You could have someone say, “Too bad, your ancestors brought this on you with a deal with the devil” or you could have someone pray for you, provide shelter, food, medicine, and Christ-like love for you. I think it is clear what Jesus would do.
As one final thought, I wonder, which of those two people will you listen to when they say you need to surrender your life to follow Jesus?