Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Further thoughts on Haiti

On Sunday I spoke about Haiti and how we as Christains need to be able to think clearly as to why God allows this to happen and what our response should be. I have sinced asked two friends in RFC to let me know their thoughts. Frank has been involved in relief work in two natural disasters:

A Point of View – Haiti Earthquake - by Frank Bingham
“Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me since you know so much!” (Job 38:4 The Message)

I awoke, the dry throat accompanied by a racing heartbeat. The whole room moved violently to one side and then changed direction to come rushing back again. Oh how I wished I did not know how pitiful were the steel and concrete that held the building together, how many shortcuts the builder would have taken and how no one who built it cared if it would stand or fall in a moment like this. The large wardrobe next to the bed in our fourth floor bedroom tipped towards me and for a moment I understood that it would fall and crush us as we lay there. All those terrible images of the buildings that had pancaked from six, seven, ten floors to none in one terrible instant sprung to mind and forced themselves rapidly into mind’s view. Then it was over as suddenly as it started, the wardrobe fell back, the building was still intact, I am not trapped or dead, does this mean God still loves me?

This was my experience in Istabul in 2002 whilst working in the relief effort post the quake that centred on Bolvadin

In light of the recent earthquake in Haiti in which unimaginable suffering and pain has been visited upon the inhabitants of an already impoverished and suffering nation, many people in Haiti and the world over are left asking themselves:

Why did it happen
Why did God allow it to happen
What can we do

To claim to be able to answer the first and second questions would be presumptuous in the extreme. We do not know the mind of God and so we can only offer a point of view backed up by what we read in the infallible word of God, the bible and by our real life experiences of God revealing a little of his nature to us as we go through our lives.

Why did it happen
“And have you ever ordered morning ‘Get up!’ told dawn ‘Get to work’ so that you could seize earth like a blanket and shake out the wicked like cockroaches” (Job 38:12-13 The Message)

We live in a time when quick answers are demanded to every question that perplexes us, instant gratification, instant reassurance that all is still well is what most people are after. As long the answer to the question satisfies the human side of us and doesn’t cause us too much discomfort, we can relax.

So from the human point of view, we can cite many scientific and technical reasons to explain why and how the earthquake occurred in that specific location and yet none of them will explain how to predict the timing or location of the next one. Indeed, a simple human explanation of why it happened is that the earth crust at that point was ready to burst and did so. None of these scientific and technical explanations will satisfy the spiritual side of our nature though.

To a person wandering homeless, injured, exhausted, terrified and abandoned in a place that was their home but now looks like aftermath of a very large and widespread explosion, there is no immediate answer to their question that will satisfy them. To say to them it happened because people are bad won’t help, to say it happened because God was bringing judgement to them because they were wicked won’t help. Many will try to justify why it happened in terms of these arguments. They will quote the bible over and over carefully selecting texts (from the comfort of their intact home, their intact city, their intact family, their intact life as they know it in a remote location) to back up their reason for why it happened. Don’t listen to them, they are not interested in helping only laying blame and he who casts the first stone should be blameless themselves, none of us are! A simple spiritual answer as to why it happened is that God allowed it. God created the heaven and the earth and everything in it for His purposes.

Why did God allow it
“ ‘Do you presume to tell me I’m doing wrong? Are you calling me a sinner so that you can be a saint?’ “ (Job 40:8 The Message)

Why would God allow such a terrible thing to happen. He has supreme control over all things so has within His power the ability to stop such an event from occurring in the first place. Does He dislike the people of Haiti, is He determined to punish them, has He decided their time of facing up to Him has come? To begin to answer this question along these lines is to end up in a place of utter despair and loneliness.

Job was a very dedicated, faithful, God fearing educated man who obeyed God’s commands in detail for years on end, bringing his family up to do the same. God chose to use Job as an example of faith and sinfulness. Job was not consulted, he was not warned. He went about his life trusting that a God He could not see had Job’s best interests at heart. Few human beings have ever been as dedicated, as willing, as faithful and as genuine in their trust of God as Job was. Over a short period this God who Job trusted so completely, allowed the devil to take away everything that Job held dear, that he had slaved to achieve to build up, that he had nurtured. His children, his wealth, his friends, his health, they all disappeared in a total onslaught that left him raging to God about how unfair it was and this was when he became proud. He told God that he (Job) was definitely not being treated fairly and that God was not right to reward such a faithful servant in this way. God then puts him in his place and reminds him who is in charge. Job repents, apologises and God then restores to Job even more than he had before.

God is in charge and will use the earth and all of use to suite His divine purposes. We do not know the mind of God but have to trust that He above all others is good, that He alone truly does have our best interests at heart. For those who do not know Jesus as their Lord and saviour, this will be of no comfort at all. For those who do know Jesus, it will be of limited comfort right now. Despite this it is the truth.
In short, God allowed it for reasons only He understands.

What can we do
“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t have love, I’ve gotten nowhere.” (1 Corinthians 13:3 The Message)

In response to the earthquake in Haiti, we have free choice about what we do. Many will drop everything, rush off to Haiti to help, many will give money, many will ask why the problems is theirs to concern themselves with and do nothing.

To those who wish to do something, be the flavour of Christ. Be gentle as a dove but wise as a serpent in any efforts you make to “help” in Haiti.

Pray first that the local church (who will also be suffering as is everyone else) will stand firm in their faith and elect wise, strong leaders to deal with the avalanche of well meaning help that will come their way from believers all over the world. Pray they are not overwhelmed, pray for God to send specific believers experienced in disaster relief people from outside to serve them in setting up immediate food and shelter aid, counselling, burials and clothing. Pray for wise use of the vast finds that will pour in , disrupt their economy and threaten to destroy them while proving essential money to buy what is needed (goods, services, labour) to begin immediate aid programs. Pray for organisations like Tear Fund to be directed to where they are most needed and will be of greatest benefit in God’s plan for now in Haiti. Pray against people coming to Haiti right now who are determined only to spread God’s word at this time. This is not the time to tell people how much Jesus loves them, show them instead by simple action starting with prayer. Pray for contacts with local churches so that effective prayer for specific needs can happen.

Serve - The flavour of Christ is often effectively communicated via humble service to those in need. Do not assume that by offering to go and help your offer will be received with open hands and great joy. Those you wish to serve under such circumstances as now occur in Haiti have long ago learned what day to day suffering is and now are suffering even more. Adopt and attitude that you are going to learn from these people, especially the ones who know Jesus and are praising Him still. Serve by volunteering to help a UK agency that is active or planning to be active in Haiti but choose a church based disaster agency such Tearfund if at all possible. They have done this before and are more likely to move sensitively and with the local Haitian church and populace’s best interests at heart.

Give – For those who wish to donate money to a program in Haiti, pray for the best way to do this and go with your sense of what God would like you to do with your money. Giving to a central government dedicated Haiti relief fund is one way, giving to a church based relief agency is another. It is usually ineffective to give to individuals who might be going over to Haiti, they will have less success in getting the money used in the most effective way. Registered agencies or churches that have links with local Haiti churches and who are committed to a code of standards in dispensing aid and disaster relief are a good choice.

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