God’s Judgment on Haiti?
By Dr. Brad Cole
Despite the fact that Jesus referred to Satan as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30), the Devil doesn’t seem get much credit for all the mayhem that takes place on this planet. In fact, Satan gets almost no press and God is generally felt to be the acting subject in most disasters.
When the planes struck the twin towers on 9/11, the question “Where was God?” was repeatedly asked. When hurricane Katrina hit, it was suggested that God was punishing the people of New Orleans for homosexuality or for other rebellious actions. Several months ago when a tornado grazed a Lutheran church in Minnesota, John Piper said that this represented a warning from God because the church was discussing its stance on homosexuality. And now we witness horrible suffering in Haiti and individuals like Pat Robertson publically declare that this devastating earthquake was an act of God.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised with some of the above statements. But now, an individual from my church family has suggested that since 50% of the people in Haiti practice “Haitian voodoo” this earthquake represents God’s judgment on Haiti.
The fact is that more than half of Haiti’s 9 million inhabitants practice Voodoo, Haiti’s dominant religion, and that some of the grossest forms of immorality are rampant. Significantly, much of Haiti’s dark Voodoo previously migrated to New Orleans–a city mostly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina….Evidence indicates that Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, fits the category of a city ‘full of transgression, and sinful in the extreme.’ On January 12, at 4:53 pm, it was virtually ‘destroyed’ by an earthquake. On the morning of August 29, 2005, New Orleans experienced its own disaster from the sky.
Should we be concerned with this statement? I believe so. One of the fundamental beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists is the concept of a great controversy between God and Satan, and that this controversy revolves around God’s character. Ellen White’s “Conflict of the Ages” series highlights the actions of God and Satan from the beginning of the rebellion in heaven, to the events of Gethsemane and the Cross, and to the final end of sin and sinners. It seems to me that to leave Satan entirely out of the equation in an event that ended the lives of so many is a sad omission and puts God in a very bad light.
It seems that our natural instinct is to believe that bad things happen as a result of God’s punishment for sin. Several years ago I heard the story of an entire family who was killed in a car accident while on their way to church. At the funeral people were discussing how something like this could happen until finally it was suggested, “There must have been an Achan in the car.”
This concept is frequently addressed in the Bible as well. When Satan left God’s presence to punish Job and his family, the servant who witnessed the destructive event (that we know was caused by Satan) exclaimed, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them” (Job 1:16). When the “friends” of Job came along, they also could only make sense of his fate by invoking God as the punisher for some sin that Job had committed. It isn’t until the end of the book that God comes on the scene to direct Job’s attention to a beast called Leviathan who had these descriptive attributes:
His pride is invincible; nothing can make a dent in that pride. Nothing can get through that proud skin– impervious to weapons and weather. (Job 41:15,16) When it raises itself up the gods are afraid; at the crashing they are beside themselves. (Job 41:25) Nothing on earth is his equal– a creature without fear. He looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud. (Job 41:33,34)
Elsewhere in scripture, this same beast is described with these words: “On that day the LORD will use his fierce and powerful sword to punish Leviathan, that slippery snake, Leviathan, that twisting snake. He will kill that monster which lives in the sea” (Isaiah 27:1 GW).
How many other “slippery” and “twisting” snakes does the Bible describe? What we see in the book of Job, one of the earliest writings in scripture, is God beginning to paint the picture of a proud enemy who is responsible for suffering.
In Isaiah 14, Satan is described as being unveiled for who he is which prompts the surprised response:
Can this be the one who shook the earth and made the kingdoms of the world tremble? Is this the one who destroyed the world and made it into a wasteland? Is this the king who demolished the world’s greatest cities and had no mercy on his prisoners? (Isaiah 14:15-17)
Despite the fact that the disciples lived with God in human form, “the Prince of Peace,” they were of the same mindset as Job’s friends. When they saw the man who was born blind, they considered only two possible options: “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin?” Jesus’ response was decisive. “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins” (John 9:2-3).
How did Jesus explain human suffering? After he was accused of breaking the Sabbath by healing a woman who was “bent over” for 18 years he said, “Now here is this descendant of Abraham whom Satan has kept in bonds for eighteen years; should she not be released on the Sabbath?” (Luke 13:16). The life of Jesus reveals God to be a healer, not a destroyer.
There was at least one “natural disaster” during Jesus’ day. When a tower in Siloam fell and killed 18 people, people naturally wondered who was responsible. “Were they killed because of their sinfulness?” This is how Jesus explained it:
What about those 18 people who died when the tower at Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more sinful than other people living in Jerusalem? No! I can guarantee that they weren’t. (Luke 13:4-5)
Jesus taught us to pray that “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), which would suggest that God’s will is being done in heaven but not very often on the earth. The Lord’s Prayer also includes the words, “Keep us safe from the Evil one” (Matthew 6:13).
While we may not be able to say that every disaster is a direct action of Satan, the “powers that rule this world” (1 Corinthians 2:6) are those of Satan’s kingdom, not God’s. When we watch people trying to dig themselves out of rubble, our minds should be repulsed at the nature of Satan’s kingdom rather than reflecting on God as a punisher.
We are so slow to recognize Satan’s involvement in the world and so quick to label destruction as “God’s judgment.” When we witness great suffering in the world, let’s be fast to show mercy, and slow to point our finger at other people’s sins that are different than our own. Let’s be slow to judge and condemn.
If God’s will is for Haitians to suffer, why should we act contrary to God’s will and show them mercy by helping them. This would be senseless and cruel and would violate God’s law of love for our neighbor.
The book of Revelation, which is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:2) describes a war that began in heaven and that has spilled over onto planet earth. In this book, God is portrayed as “a slaughtered Lamb” (Revelation 5:6) while Satan is a ferocious beast, “his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon—the Destroyer” (Revelation 9:11).
Satan is the destroyer, not God, and we do great damage to God’s reputation when we label the slaughtered Lamb as the destroyer. It’s true that many see the destructive acts in Revelation as the judgments of God and interpret end time events in that light, but I have greatly appreciated the wisdom of those who see this book not only as a revelation of Christ, but also of the Adversary:
In the trumpet sequence it is his (Satan’s) activity that is depicted, in contrast to views that see the calamities accompanying the trumpets primarily as God’s judgments on human beings who are disobedient…As a deceiver, Satan wins support for his cause and programme by something other than what he truly represents. If this is the case, simple demolition of the deceiver will not suffice unless or until his true character has become manifest. Such a perception of the cosmic conflict depends on [the] presentation of evidence for its resolution. To the extent that the deceiver wins support by purporting to be what he is not, he must be unmasked by evidence to the contrary, that is by the evidence of his own actual deeds…The crucial point relates to the fact that a conflict of this nature cannot be resolved by force. Inevitably, this requirement exposes at least one troubling risk that is intrinsic to the non-use of force: If the deceiver is partly to be unmasked by the evidence of his own actions, it means that he will be granted the opportunity to bring his design to fruition. Satan must be allowed to commit evil for his evil character to be manifest. The political risk to the divine government of this projected policy, not to mention the theological risk, hardly needs to be elaborated. (Sigve Tonstad, Saving God’s Reputation, pages 110,129).
We should acknowledge that the Bible does at times reveal seemingly polar opposite ways of understanding death and destruction. For example, when David disobeyed God and ordered the census. In one place we are told that God did it:
“The LORD was angry at Israel again, and he made David think it would be a good idea to count the people in Israel and Judah” (2 Samuel 24:1).
But if we read on, the book of Chronicles describes the same event this way:
“Satan wanted to bring trouble on the people of Israel, so he made David decide to take a census” (1 Chronicles 21:1).
I would like to offer these words of Ellen White as a perspective that rings true for me:
I was shown that the judgments of God would not come directly out from the Lord upon them, but in this way: They place themselves beyond His protection. He warns, corrects, reproves, and points out the only path of safety; then if those who have been the objects of His special care will follow their own course independent of the Spirit of God, after repeated warnings, if they choose their own way, then He does not commission His angels to prevent Satan’s decided attacks upon them. It is Satan’s power that is at work at sea and on land, bringing calamity and distress, and sweeping off multitudes to make sure of his prey. And storm and tempest both by sea and land will be, for Satan has come down in great wrath. He is at work. He knows his time is short and, if he is not restrained, we shall see more terrible manifestations of his power than we have ever dreamed of. (E.G. White, 14MR 3.1)
Jesus revealed a God who seeks out the poor and the mistreated of society. Even prior to the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the western hemisphere. There are thousands of verses in the Bible that speak against the sin of greed and of not helping those who are in poverty. Contrast that with literally a handful of verses that have anything at all to do with homosexuality and the “sins” most Christians today usually associate with earthquakes and hurricanes. In other words, the Bible repeatedly hammers the seriousness of doing nothing for the poor and oppressed of society. Based on this, if God were the kind of person to pour out active judgments on the world, it seems to me that this would more likely occur toward those who have the means to help those who are suffering but yet choose not to do so.
The God who healed lepers, fed the hungry 5,000, chose a group of lowly fishermen to be his disciples and who ate with prostitutes and other “low-life” of society would never look down on the poverty stricken people of Haiti and say, “Look at all that voodoo going on down there…I’m sending a 7.0 their way.” God did not send the earthquake in Haiti; he is rather suffering with the people in Haiti who have fallen victim to the rule of Satan, the “prince of this world.” Our mission in Haiti is to do what we can to help and to heal, and in that way we might just reveal that the God we serve is a Healer, not a destroyer.