The litany of horrors somehow won’t end: an earthquake kills 230,000; 80 percent of people already living on less than $2 a day; cholera spreading with help from a hurricane and killing thousands so far. The stats only hint at the scale of ongoing suffering in Haiti.
I don’t know if Pat Robertson repeated his comments again this time, and I don’t care. He foolishly blames the victims and creates a monstrous god with his logic — a god that punishes by earthquakes and outbreaks.
But it’s all just science. It’s straddling fault lines and it’s drinking water tainted by fecal matter. It’s history, with vulnerability continuing from slavery’s exploitative legacy and abuse of power from every side.
Yet, try as I might, I can’t help agreeing with Robertson on one thing: events like these provoke the big questions.
I’ve been working in Haiti for eight years (lived there, now travel back and forth). More conversations today with friends facing all of this. Our organization’s work is education and we make tangible, encouraging progress when the focus is tight on, say, our seven elementary schools.
But when you pull back to the wide angle shot, in 3D, panning over a million people still homeless and over the one child dying of diarrhea when she could be saved then, well, I’m dancing cheek to cheek with Qoheleth, that Hebrew poet of despair who said there is a time for everything. But a time for all of this?
The most important thing in a crisis is obviously to help — and help well.
And what about in a crisis of faith, when reality crashes in on however we see the world? The tsunami was far away for me. This has been up close. I’ve wrestled with this during a relentless year.
For a Christian, which is my own perspective, are cracks revealed in faith, or does the suffering all fit within faith’s jagged explanations and hope?
For an Atheist or Agnostic, is this clinching proof, or is there a reality of love and grace present even in the suffering that might unsettle that position? From a distance I imagine it looks like confirmation, but it might or might not be unsettling up close, where the suffering is unbearable but where I also see friends find strength and generosity because they trust in God’s presence even in the worst conditions.
Lots of answers to these questions are predictable because suffering is often just another Rorschach test of faith: it confirms and provides a rhetorical tool for people on either side of the debate to claim superiority and whack the opponent’s idiocy. (See my comments on Pat Robertson or see below in “comments” what some will probably say of my still naively clinging to faith.)
But for many of us, whatever our thoughts on God, these moments of crisis cause something different — a pause to confess that we’re baffled, angry, sad and just don’t understand very much.
As a Christian, I hope that faith can sometimes consist of finding nothing left to pray except to echo the words of the one I call savior, and loudly scream or softly whisper or pitifully wonder: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken them?”
Because if this isn’t faith, then maybe I don’t believe.
Kent Annan is author of the new book After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World is Shaken. He is co-director of Haiti Partners. He is also author of Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle. (100% of the author proceeds from both books go to education in Haiti.)