The monster earthquake in Haiti this week wrought unprecedented physical devastation and human misery. The disaster and its aftermath have created a world of pain felt far beyond Haiti — and it may be years before this pain can be fully assuaged. We cannot but empathize with the victims, among whom are neighbors and coworkers in our central Florida community who anxiously wait to learn the fate of their loved ones. We, with the rest of the nation and the world, will reach out in solidarity to those tried so sorely by what will surely be regarded as the worst natural disaster of the 21st century. Our efforts must help meet both their immediate needs but also help them to rebuild. We pray for the survivors — and for those who have perished.
When faced with our misfortunes, or the misfortunes of others, we can be tempted to ask ourselves: What did we (or they) do to deserve this? Once in His ministry, Jesus spoke of the Galileans whom Pilate had executed, as well as those killed when the tower of Siloam collapsed (Lk 13: 1-9). Jesus warns us not to see these events as somehow the wrath of an angry God. Evil came into the world not by God’s willing it, but through the devil and human sin. Jesus says in the Gospel: Don’t think that those Galileans were the biggest sinners around. Don’t think that those who died in the tower were guiltier than any one else.
The tragedies that Jesus spoke about — whether manmade or acts of nature — are as contemporary as our morning newspaper. Each day, we read about victims of war or poverty. Each day, our TV screens bring into our living rooms heart-wrenching scenes like those we have seen in Haiti this week.
Today — and, indeed, from the beginning of our exile from Eden — we experience this world as a “valley of tears.” We live in a fallen and thus imperfect world. And oftentimes the forces of nature — earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters — can suggest that our planet itself is in rebellion against the original order of a loving Creator God. From the perspective of faith, that rebellion seen in nature can be said to mirror the rebellion of the human heart.
Of course, we do often suffer because of our bad choices. The Scriptures say that the wages of sin is death. As sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, who lost for themselves and for us the original blessings of Paradise, in one way we experience that rebellion of nature because of their bad choice — their original sin of turning away from God, which made all of creation “subject to futility” (Rom 8:20).
But as followers of Jesus, we cannot rush to blame victims for the evil visited upon them — nor can we blame God, whom Scripture reveals as all loving and all merciful. That doesn’t mean we will come to an easy understanding of why bad things happen to good people; most times we will have to wait with the patience of a Job to learn the answers to those questions, which God will surely tell us — but not necessarily on this side of heaven.
Jesus, however, does give us an insight on how God deals with the tragedies that afflict us. God does not remain remote from or indifferent to the plight of His fallen creation. In Christ, the Word became Flesh. God became man. Rather than distancing Himself from people and their tragedies, He draws close to them. From the cross, He stands in solidarity with all the pain experienced by us in our fallenness. Despair, destruction, and death will not have the last word. Rather, the transformative power of His resurrection will define the human project as anchored in hope.
We know that God can bring good out of evil. Geography has made Haiti a neighbor of the United States; our response to this humanitarian crisis affords us the opportunity to show that the Haitian people are not only our neighbors but also our brothers and sisters. Indeed, the many acts of solidarity we have already witnessed are an eloquent witness to what God’s Providence inspires in the hearts of men and women of good will.
Strengthened in faith, we will not be overcome by any adversity but will overcome evil — whether physical or moral — with good.