Home > Features > Finding God in disaster

Finding God in disaster

A hospital in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Photo by LWF_DWS Haiti and E. Celiz
WHILE AFTERSHOCKS continue to jolt the people of Haiti into the terrible reality of an ever-increasing death toll after the massive earthquake on 12 January, Christians around the world have been called into prayer for the nation.

Uniting Church in Australia President Rev Alistair Macrae has offered prayers and support for the Haitian community.

“Our prayers are with the people of Haiti following the earthquake that has added huge suffering to a country already burdened by extreme poverty and political corruption,” he said.

The national Assembly and UnitingWorld have asked people to donate to appeals through Act for Peace, the overseas aid arm of the National Council of Churches, or the Anglican Board of Mission. The Uniting Church is not running a separate appeal.

“Please consider responding to this tragic event not only with your prayers but with much needed financial assistance to send a signal of solidarity with those who suffer,” said Mr Macrae.
The Queensland Synod has personal links to the disaster.

Christian aid workers Joel and Rachel Colbourne Hoffman, the Australian-American couple who survived the Haitian earthquake by digging their way out of the rubble, attended Merthyr Road Uniting Church in New Farm, Brisbane, prior to leaving to work in Haiti.

Journey has been in contact with the couple and they were safe in the United States, but hoping to return to Haiti to help with cleanup efforts.

Mr Macrae said even Jesus’ life was not sheltered from suffering, humiliation or death.

“Nowhere did he promise us a life sheltered from such contingencies,” said Mr Macrae. “However he did promise to be with us in every circumstance, even in death.”

Mr Macrae refuted claims by some televangelists that the earthquake was the result of witchcraft in the nation of Haiti.

“To those who seek to make judgements about direct connections between human sin and suffering, scripture would counsel extreme caution lest God be represented as vindictive, arbitrary and punitive.

“So often attempts to draw explicit links between cause and effect compound the suffering of victims of disaster and paint a picture of God we are more likely to hate than love.”

A similar response was made by previous Uniting Church President Rev Gregor Henderson after Victoria’s 2009 bushfires.

“God is, in fact, there with the people, in the middle of their suffering; God is made known through the love that is extended to those most in need,” he said.

UnitingWorld’s Geoff Dornan said it is in times of great suffering that God’s love is best expressed by action.

“It is in the suffering of others and in the various responses we make to restore those who have suffered that we find God’s love,” he said.

“Power becomes most powerful when it is surrendered or let go of in the interests of others, especially those others who are victims.

“This is what is currently happening in the relief efforts in Haiti.

“To be part of that from this distance means to get in on the act by helping resource agencies directly involved: Uniting World is channelling donations through Act for Peace and the Anglican Board of Mission.”

Mr Dornan also refuted claims that the quake was a form of celestial punishment.

“These totally speculative sorts of responses are really wrong-headed and dangerous on two grounds: firstly, human compassion and secondly, misunderstanding of the best of the biblical tradition,” he said.

“It is clear that within the biblical tradition there are significant voices raised against this moralising of tragedy.

“Religion can either reinforce this sort of violence against outsiders by lending it a sacred weight or challenging it by uncovering its perversity.”

Mr Dornan said the best way to refute such messages was to live compassionately.

“We can tie ourselves in knots with theological argument alone. What we do renders our theology credible.”

To donate to appeals for Haiti visit www.abmission.org or www.actforpeace.org

Photo : A hospital in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Photo by LWF_DWS Haiti and E. Celiz