“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)
In the aftermath of what analysts are calling the worst natural disaster ever to strike the western hemisphere, the American people have responded with an immense outpouring of generosity and support. Dozens of entities-most notably the U.S. military, the American Red Cross, and countless other organizations dedicated to providing essential disaster relief-have sprung into action. In the same way that Americans came together after the devastating tsunami of 2004 and the terror attacks of 2001, the people of Haiti are witnessing firsthand what we as a nation can do when united by a single purpose and a common vision.
Unfortunately, the messages of hope and goodwill coming from America in the past two weeks have been marred by the ill-considered and inappropriate remarks of Christian televangelist Pat Robertson. Two days after the earthquake struck, Robertson declared on his show, The 700 Club, that the earthquake (and Haiti’s destitution in general) is the manifestation of God’s punishment for a pact that the Haitian people made with Satan in 1791 in order to drive the French colonial presence from their land.
Not surprisingly, these comments have sparked outrage in many quarters. Why — in the face of unimaginable suffering, sorrow, and misery — would Robertson have decided that now is a good time to suggest, in essence, that the Haitian nation “had it coming?” Why would he imagine that he, or any other person, is qualified to make such a judgment?
It’s true that, as Christians, we believe that God can and does use natural events to express his righteous judgment. The Bible is full of instances in which people are punished by floods, fire, and yes, earthquakes as a result of sins committed against God and against each other. We’re all familiar with the story of Noah and the flood, the fiery judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and the ten plagues of Egypt. The Old Testament book of Isaiah prophesies about God’s punishment on the earth, telling us that “the earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered, for the Lord has spoken this word.” Verses 18-20 discuss earthquakes in particular:
[T]he foundations of the earth tremble. The earth is utterly broken, the earth is split apart, the earth is violently shaken. The earth staggers like a drunken man; it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again. (Isaiah 24: 18-20 ESV)
Thus, it is not out of the question that the terrible natural disasters that have occurred over the centuries, including plagues of disease, have been evidence of God’s displeasure with mankind. It is also quite possible that God’s wrath has nothing whatsoever to do with these events. Jesus addressed this point explicitly with his disciples, who were quick to surmise that those suffering from various calamities and persecutions were being targeted for their sins or the sins of their fathers:
Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:2-5 ESV).
In this passage and elsewhere, Jesus redirects the disciples’ attention from the outward to the inward. Instead of speculating about the sins of others or the judgment of God, he says, we would do well to examine our own hearts and ask forgiveness for our own sins.
Christians should not be quick to assume that because calamity has befallen another, sin is the root cause of their problem. The disciples made just such a mistake when they observed a man blind from birth and asked Jesus “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV) Jesus responded, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3 ESV) Jesus then went on to heal the man.
God’s ways are not man’s ways. (Isaiah 55: 8-9) Therefore, rather than indulging in the temptation to assign blame when others suffer misfortune, we would do well to examine our own lives, repent of our own sins, and seek to be at peace with our neighbors.
We are commanded by God not to judge others, but instead to love our neighbor as ourselves. Christ teaches us that we are all sinners; we all fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Let us all, therefore, respond to the tragedy in Haiti with an attitude of humility and repentance as we reach out to help those in need.