God becomes the target of every atheist whenever there is a natural tragedy anywhere in the world. One could know instinctively that this would be the case with the recent earthquake tragedy in Haiti. It is natural and human that the question be asked as it is being asked: why Haiti? If there is ever a country in the entire world that should be spared such a tragedy, then certainly it is Haiti. Where was God in all of this? What are the people of Haiti now to think about the God question?
THE cause of religion and specifically of Christianity is not helped by people such as Pat Robertson of Christian Broadcasting Network fame who has once again characteristically pointed to Haitian voodoism as a probable cause of God's visitation upon that nation. His characterisation was not dissimilar to that of the late Jerry Falwell that the terrorist attack on America on 9/11 was due to certain lifestyle indulgences that provoked the wrath of God. Comments like these foment the wrath of atheists and pour scorn on the Christian understanding of God. They purport too precise an understanding of the mind of God and often leave people confused as to who God really is and how He chooses to act in human affairs or even the affairs
The chief criticism from atheists when natural tragedies strike tends to turn on three important attributes of God: His omnipotence - God is all-powerful; His omniscience - God is all-knowing, and His omnipresence - God's presence is manifested everywhere. If God is all-powerful, the argument runs, then He should be able to prevent every earthquake or storm or tsunami that will wreak havoc upon human life and property. And He has no excuse, for if He is all-knowing He should have known of these disasters beforehand since He is present here, there and everywhere.
On the face of it these concerns are compelling. But what the atheists seem not to realise is that there is also a question of the sovereignty of God; that even though He possesses the attributes mentioned, in His sovereign will He has a right and indeed the power to choose what events in a person's life or human nature He will choose to intervene in. The God detractors would want Him to act on every occasion we make personal choices and yet if He should do that He gets criticised as a capricious God who does not want to allow the freedom to exercise our faculties. I believe that the same power of freedom that He gives us to be who we want to be (an alcoholic, drug addict, thief, excellent school teacher, great physician, great preacher, lousy bum) is no different from the freedom which nature exercises to cleanse itself or to have accidents as in an earthquake when two tectonic plates collide. And let us remember that the latter event does not happen every day, or life would cease to exist as we know it on this planet.
Let us bear in mind that to be an alcoholic and any of the others mentioned above are all matters of personal choice. Some are influenced by external events (such as parental culture), but ultimately we choose to become what we want in life. God should not be blamed for the calamity caused by murderous minds among us. I once heard someone bewailing why God doesn't stop the crime. Crime, like other forms of social deviancy, is a function of choice.
This idea that God must show up in every event in our lives or in nature is ludicrous. This is to entertain the notion of a "stop-gap" God or deux ex machina who can be called upon to do our bidding when it suits us and to be discarded when we have no more use for Him. He is treated like a packet of salt that is taken down from the shelf and put back for the next meal. God does not indulge in this kind of game by religious people or that which His detractors would like to play. If the atheists, for example, should be convinced that something which happened in nature was an act of God, would they now turn to belief in Him, and if they should believe, would they now bend their imagination in the wonder of worshipping Him?
Many of the social perversions that we accuse God of can be corrected if we are willing to face ourselves and do the work that is necessary to give our lives stability and wholeness. When it comes to the action of nature our minds are not broad enough to comprehend what God will allow and what He will prevent. For example, we have no way of knowing how many times He might have prevented an earthquake from striking Haiti, or on a personal level, how often He might have healed a disease without that person's knowledge. Who knows what might be in His sovereign will for a long-neglected and despised Haiti? For the first time in the history of that nation the attention of the international community has been focused more that it has ever been. The world bears a collective shame for the tragedy that has been that nation's lot long before the earthquake shook. Haiti will never be the same. I envisage an international Marshall Plan in the rebuilding of Haiti not unlike that which was used to restore post-war Germany and Japan. Despite the horrendous loss of life and property, many are already saying that the earthquake, unfortunately, might have been the best thing that might have happened to Haiti in terms of what its future can be like. I might not characterise it that way, but I hold out great hope for that nation. The significant thing is that people have not lost faith in God. Many have been able to make a distinction between what they have seen as a pure act of nature as distinct from an act of God. They get it; the atheists do not.