Thursday, January 14, 2010

Natural Disasters, Evil, and God

As the recent earthquake in Haiti reminds us, the earth is not always as stable as we might imagine it to be. Although, in general, it's pretty darn stable. If it weren't, we'd never build any buildings to live in for fear they would fall upon us. We would live out in the open, much like people in Haiti are doing now considering the high likelyhood of aftershocks.

The map to the left is a U. S. Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) map of the history of seismic activity in the Central America/Carribean region, which shows a lot of activity. This region is geologically prone to earthquakes.

I've heard all the people in the media crtiticizing Pat Robertson for saying that the earthquake in Haiti is some kind of judgement by God for the Hatians having made a pact with the devil. I'm not surprised by this; Pat has said things like this before.

As I've said, Haiti is located in a region of high geological instability. In fact, according to the U.S.G.S., the Dominican Republic is actually more unstable than Haiti is (if you're not sure which half of the island of Hispanola is Haiti, click here).

Natural disasters happen; the earth is an active, living planet, and people who live in dangerous regions of the planet are always subject to major, natural disasters in their lives. People who live in California know this. So do people in New Orleans. The world is still orderly and stable enough for us to know where these dangerous region are located in the world, although we cannot know when catastrophic natural disasters i these regions will occur. But we know they eventually will occur. This, I think, is God's doing. He created the world and he is kind and merciful to both the good and the evil:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

(Mt. 5:43-48)

But what about Pat Robertson's comment? That the Hatians had made a pact with the devil? Haiti is well known for its religious practices, which derive from a bizarre and creepy amalgum of Catholicism and African fetishism. And one can't help but sympathize with the Hatians position of being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

In short, the people of Haiti need salvation: both spiritual and physical. Their dire poverty needs to be eliminated and their religious practices discouraged (just as Pope John Paul II discouaged them). People need salvation: physical and spiritual salvation:

"Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?"

(Prov 24:11-12)

The people of Haiti need a lot more than earthquake aid, and Pat Robertson does say some really stupid things sometimes, but let's face it: unless we are willing to help Haiti and the rest of the Americas pull ourselves together, things will only go back to the way they were only worse. No, we are not obligated to help those in need. We wish to do so out of the goodness of our hearts. Most of us anyway.

A natural disaster, like the earthquake in Haiti reminds us of how stable the world normally is. Unlike moral evil, where a person's actions are evil, natural disasters should not be considered evil per se. Natural disasters and accidents happen, and the results are tragic. We consider them bad as opposed to good, but they should not be thought of as being evil. We think of them as bad (or evil) because they are out of the norm; that is, they don't usually occur. By far, the world is a wonderously good place. Bad things do happen, but not usually. That's why most of the news is usually bad: it's out of the ordinary.
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