The view of Haiti we in America have witnessed through the video, photos, and media narrative pale in comparison to the human misery being experienced by the people of Haiti. Their national pain can be heard in the screams and moans echoing almost constantly from the rubble. Bruised and battered people wander aimlessly in the streets. Doctors, medical supplies, and the volunteers needed to bring healing are in critically short supply. Given this grim scenario, some Haitians bravely dig through the fallen buildings with their bare hands in desperate attempts to rescue those on the cusp of death beneath the twisted and smashed concrete.
At such times even the necessary international response seems so inadequate. The reports coming in are grim – as many as a half a million may have died in the quake, with thousands more dying as the needed help makes its way ever so slowly to the disaster’s epicenter. People seem strewn across the scarred land like dead wood drifting on un-caring sea. Is any flotilla of aircraft carriers the world can muster enough? Even if we load cargo aircraft to the gunwales and fly them to Port au Prince in never ending waves, will it be enough to end the misery?
The questions are moot, really. The world must act and do whatever is necessary to alleviate the suffering and begin the rebuilding. In doing so, answers to those questions will come in the days and months ahead. It will be a difficult battle, tinged with despair, but it’s a battle that must be undertaken with the utmost of purpose.
Sometime yesterday, in the wake of the tragedy, evangelist Pat Robertson made the following observation:
“And so the devil said, ‘Ok it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another.”
The response was swift and predictable. Robertson was denounced as a fanatical bigot.
It would be easy to say, as a Christian, that Robertson’s words were nothing more than a matter of bad timing, but I can’t. They were un-Christian.
What is Haiti, then, if it’s not cursed? Are the people of Haiti just unlucky? Are they just unfortunate pawns in some crass evolutionary game? Why is it them these things seem to always happen to and not us? As the people of Haiti dig deeper into the earth for their loved ones and the rest of the world digs for answers, there’s an answer right there on the surface I think we may have missed in our desperation. Haiti is a nation of sorrows, acquainted with grief. It’s a nation in desperate need of healing, not off-the-cuff root cause analysis.
There’s a story recorded in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John. It’s the story of Jesus’ and his disciples encounter with a blind man. The encounter is prefaced by the disciples’ questions about what had caused the man’s blindness. Was it his sin that was the root of his problem? Or, was it his father’s sin? Jesus said that it was neither. He made a startling claim – “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
How can this be? How can human misery be a portal to “the work of God?” Can this principle, if I can call it that, apply to the enormous tragedy we see today in Haiti?
The message to me, as a Christian, seems clear. I (we) must be about our Father’s business, which is reconciliation and healing. It is when we engage humanity on that basis that the “works of God,” the miracles of healing, take place. The question posed to us, in the form of need, is clear, and so is the answer. We must be about the healing work of God in Haiti.
I tuned in to C-Span this morning and was taken aback at the question posed early on. Using Pat Robertson’s statement as a back drop, the audience was asked about the statement. It was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I must admit I got a bit upset and called in. In due time I got on the air and expressed my belief that C-Span would have been better served to use the time to do some fund-raising rather than engaging in salacious journalism. I tried my best to express the theological implications of my reading of John 9. I went on, too far I’m sure, about Haiti and my view, that over the years I’ve lived I’ve seen this type of tragedy played out over and over and over again. I’ve seen the bloated, dead bodies in the streets for over forty years. I’ve read about the rampant political corruption. I’ve seen the international promises of aid wither and die on the vine as the world turned its attention away from Haiti’s misery to turn its attention to the heady promise and potential wealth of the new global economy. When, I asked, is the world going to really do what needs to be done in Haiti, whatever that might be?
In the face of my onslaught the host was very gracious. C-Span could have done better and so could I.
In the wake of the earthquake and its physical aftershocks, there are philosophical aftershocks also being felt in the wake of Pat Robertson’s words. The tragedy of Haiti will, I suspect, soon be overtaken by the societal war taking place between the religious and irreligious here at home. I fear that the end result will be that Haiti is placed back on the treadmill, waiting as the next tragedy crouches at the door. The NGO’s, religious groups, and missionaries, including CBN's Operation Blessing, will bravely move on, like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. They’ll plug away, day by day, uncomplaining. Their work will be little noticed here as Haiti’s current woes fade into the rear view mirror of history. Here in America, the compassion of many, particularly the anti-religious, will recede. There will be great crowing and thumping of chests about caring inner selves for a little while. But it will pass. People will congratulate themselves profusely for the kindnesses they’ve offered the “less fortunate.” People will get back to work. There will be the inevitable climbing of the corporate ladders and the cut throat office politics that comes with the climb. The fine wine will once again flow in the trendy restaurants dotting Soho and Foggy Bottom. People will make nice for a while. But, in time they will once again resume coveting their neighbor’s wives and possessions. Life will go on.
Jesus’ words haunt me right now. “The night is coming when no man can work.” I look outside my window. It’s a grey winter day. The mulberry tree has been stripped of its leaves. It’s a bit past mid-day. Night is coming; I can feel it coming on. And so it is with us and Haiti. In a world so programmed to forget misery, the pain so close to us now will be overtaken, as it always has, by self interest.
The creeping darkness of night is coming; I can feel it. There is little left of the day. We must use it! This all begs the final question – will we?