Saturday, January 23, 2010




I’ve always been impressed by the strong faith of the Haitian people. Haiti is a strongly Catholic country (over 90% is the usual figure given), but despite (or because of?) their extreme poverty Haitians have a deeply rooted and seemingly unshakeable faith. This confident trust in God seems to have survived even the destruction of Port-au-Prince.

A gentleman was visiting our school last week and was asked about his family back in Haiti. “Three dead. One lost a hand.” But instead of continuing as I would have by saying “What an awful tragedy” he said “Praise God! Praise God!” That sort of indomitable faith is a real blessing to people like me who can get fed up with God’s high-handed and heartless attitude toward the world.


I sometimes have real problems trying to reconcile devastating catastrophes with God’s supposed love for the world. How could God allow all of this suffering to happen? What’s the matter with God, anyway? I fold my arms across my chest and stare daggers at God saying "Okay, if you're all powerful and all loving, then how come you allow this unspeakable horror to devastate the poorest people in the western hemisphere?"

But there is a definite trick to confronting God. The best examples of the right way to get mad at God are found in the book of psalms -- one third of the psalms are songs of lament and complaint. I was reminded of this the other evening when I was praying for the people of Haiti using a Psalm from my French Bible. I chose Psalm 60 simply because it had the title “National prayer after a defeat.” (It was written after a catastrophic military loss.) As I started reading it I was startled at how appropriate it was under the circumstances. In the opening French lines I could almost hear the voice of Haiti’s faithful Christians praying along with me:

O God, you have rejected us and broken us;
you have been angry; now restore us!
You have caused the land to quake; you have torn it open;
repair the cracks in it, for it is tottering.
You have made your people suffer hard things;
you have given us wine to drink that made us reel.

With their sorrowful voices ringing in my ears I continued,

Give victory with your right hand, and answer us,
so that those whom you love may be rescued.

Then came the closing lines:

Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me into Edom?
Was it not you who rejected us, God?
Do you no longer march with our armies?
Give us aid against the foe;
worthless is human help.
We will triumph with the help of God,
who will trample down our foes.

From now on every time I sing Psalm 60 at Friday Vespers on it will always have a strong Haitian accent.

We hear the psalmist complaining after this devastating military defeat, Lord, why do you no longer go forth with our armies?” But then – and this is the crucial point about the psalms of complaint -- the psalmist ends with “We will triumph with the help of God, who will trample down our foes.” He is scolding God from a position of continued trust and reverence. That’s the right way to get angry with God.

When we moderns challenge God’s supposed bad behavior, however, we need to do so from that same stance of trust in God, and not from the perspective of the rationalist philosophers of the Enlightenment. (See my April 28, 2009 blog).

Living in a world of technology where everything is assumed to have a scientific explanation, we may be tempted to pose the earthquake question to a very different “God,” the 18th Century rationalist's caricature of God. This is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but rather "the God of Explanation," who must operate inside the confines of time and space and play by the rules of human logic and the laws of cause and effect. The rationalist says to God, “Give me a reasoned, logical explanation for your behavior, or else you’re just a fraud or a figment of ignorant people’s imaginations!” This rationalist concept of God assumes that there are rational explanations for everything. Far from helping us to get through times of trouble, this approach leaves us frustrated and angry at this God who refuses to act reasonably. So, if I’m going to question God about the horrors in Haiti, I need to be sure I’m standing on the ground of faith. Otherwise I’ll simply be challenging God for a satisfactory “explanation,” expecting to get a "reasonable" answer that will never come.

If you need some encouragement in your faith, just look to your brothers and sisters in Haiti.


I heard a radio report from Port-au-Prince a couple of days ago that began with the sound of women’s voices singing a hymn in French. They were praying for God’s help. I was struck by their tenacious faith in the face of overwhelming catastrophe. Then yesterday a friend told me of seeing news footage of a Haitian woman being freed after having spent a week trapped under the rubble of a collapsed building. The moment she reached safety the first thing she did was to sing out loud a song of praise and thanks to God. She was obviously addressing the Psalmist’s God, the one whose mysterious ways are simply not our ways, but who, faith tells us, has a plan for each of us, a plan for ultimate happiness and eternal peace.

The New York Daily News ran an article last Sunday on the resilient faith of the victims.


The Roman missal includes a collection of special “Prayers for Various Occasions,” among which is one that may be said at the time of an earthquake. The prayer in the English missal is quite prosaic and not very inspiring. But the French missal used in French-speaking countries around the world has the following beautiful oration (which I’ve translated below):


Dieu de la vie, notre Dieu,
Toi qui veux le bonheur de l’homme,
C’est toi que nous implorons
Quand les forces de la nature se déchaînent
Qu’elles nous épargnent si c’est possible
Et ne fassent pas vaciller notre foi.
Par Jésus Christ.

God of life, our God,
You who wish mankind’s happiness,
We implore you
when the forces of nature are unleashed:
May they spare us if possible
And not shake our faith.
Through Christ our Lord.

The earthquake shook Haiti’s mountains but could not shake her faith. As we pray for her people, we ask the Lord for a share of their unshakable faith!


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