The Haiti Earthquake: Unanswered Questions, Unasked Questions
Just as the world finished marking the 5th anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, another natural disaster of epic dimensions shattered the snow-laden news broadcasts within the United Kingdom. A 7.0 earthquake struck just 13kms below the surface of the earth close to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on 13th January, bringing down over half of the buildings of the city and crushing the lives, families and aspirations of potentially hundreds of thousands of people.
As has now become de rigeur in the secular British media, immediate questions began to be asked about God, belief, natural disaster and the philosophical issues of theodicy. Heading the charge was Radio 4’s John Humphreys who, on the Today programme quoted an article from The Guardian on 14th January, written by Troy Livesay who works for a Christian NGO in Port-au-Prince, and who had recorded his thoughts on his blog in the immediate wake of the tragic quake. Livesay concluded his piece with an appeal – ‘the horror has only just begun and I beg you to get on your knees – I truly mean ON YOUR KNEES – and pray for the people of this country’. Humphrys asked the question to whom should we pray, and in whom could we believe given the seeming injustice of such a cataclysm?
To answer this question John Sentamu, Archbishop of York was interviewed. Given the fact that a quake of such magnitude and horrific consequence can open up fissures in the belief of many people in a God who oversees these events, a golden opportunity was afforded the cleric to speak clearly about our broken earth, and the expectation of redemption. Instead Sentamu spoke in terms which sounded neither intelligible nor intelligent to a listening world, quoting Rabbi Green, and speaking of God being incarnate in Christ. Humphrys, a confirmed and published agnostic, was impatient and intolerant of the vagueness and abstraction of the Archbishop’s words, stating that he didn’t know what he meant, and that it didn’t seem to answer the question. A golden opportunity was undoubtedly missed, given the capacity that such a horrific occurrence affords to speak of Scripture’s integrated view of human nature, the cosmos, the Fall and the groaning of a planet held in captivity to ruin until the appearing of Christ.
What was just as interesting, however, was the fact that if certain questions were unanswered, many others remained unasked. In dealing with the conditions of Haiti pre-earthquake, pundits on the same programme described the ‘mad’ and ‘immoral’ leadership under which the country had languished since its formation. While the morality or even the existence of God was up for grabs in the light of events, there was no self-consciousness on the part of those who were speaking to address where they received their moral categories from, nor how the wickedness of the human heart might be accounted for without the biblical concept of sin. Nor was there any real suggestion as to how such a morally and socially backward country might find hope.
The other unasked question was just as important. Haiti is a country from which many major chains and brands have long since withdrawn: there is now no Hilton hotel group, nor Holiday Inn, given the pessimistic outlook for tourism in the country. Nevertheless there were eyewitness reports to be heard from non-Haitians. The occupation of most of them? Missionaries. No one asked the question why people with good education, fair employment prospects, and young families of their own find themselves in such a ‘God-forsaken nation’ (to quote John Humphrys’ own words).
The unanswered questions put to John Sentamu portrayed a weakly compliant Christianity, badgered into obsequious conformity to the spirit of the age, unable to speak with conviction or clarity from a worldview which makes sense of pain and the seemingly arbitrary convulsions of nature. The unasked questions, however, portrayed a media which is afraid to follow through the logical consequences and ramifications of their own avowed godlessness, and to face the frightening implications of fallen human nature, living in a fallen broken planet, among whom God’s people are living and working for the glory of his name.
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