With estimates of 100,000 dead in Haiti, and many times that number suffering horribly in the wake of the earthquake which shook Port-au-Prince, many people ask, “why did God do this?” And Pat Robertson has what he thinks is the answer.

According to Pat Robertson, the earthquake, and all of the previous suffering, poverty and violence which has afflicted Haiti in the past, is God’s punishment for a bargain made with the devil hundreds of years ago, and Haitians’ ongoing rejection of Christianity. According to Robertson, “they got together and swore a pact to the devil, they said, we will serve you, if you get us free from the Prince, true story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free, and ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”

I am intrigued by Dr. Robertson’s seeming affirmation of the devil’s power to make good on bargains independent of God, and the rejection of monotheism implicit in that affirmation, but I’ll leave that for another time — a time when bodies are not lying under rubble. Instead I would focus on the initial revulsion I felt upon reading Robertson’s words… and also on the appreciation of them which I found upon further reflection.

It’s not that I find myself either liking, or agreeing with them — in fact, I find Robertson’s approach ugly. But I began to appreciate that this was his way of dealing with the need to fit a just God into a terrible equation — his way of responding to the question so many people are asking i.e. “why, God?”

In that sense, Robertson is wrestling more with that question than other theologians, including Beliefnet.com’s Ben Witherington, whose response I find far less obnoxious, but ultimately deals with the question of “why, God?” by taking God out of the equation.

It’s not that I am completely opposed to the take-God-out response, but comparing it to Robertson’s is unfair. Defining a question out of existence is not the same as answering it.

Rather than trying to answer the question of “why, God”, I prefer to ask where can God be found in the midst of these horrible events. The “why” I leave to God, both because all of the answers are unsatisfying and because the “where” will help us so much more.

My response hinges on the words of Psalms 91, “I am with him in his troubles”. I do not need to pretend to know the mind of God as Robertson does, or avoid the question as so many others do, to believe that God is with the people of Haiti in their suffering. I do not need to understand the “why” to know that we, as human beings created in the image of God, are obligated to be with them also.

God will be found with every act of compassion, kindness and prayer that is offered to those in need at this time. I think that focusing on that will be good for us and good for Haiti, and leave the theological speculation for less pressing moments.

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