In recent days I have read and heard the opinion expressed that, in essence, the people of Haiti have been punished by God in retribution for their long history of Voodoo worship and their collective resistance to Christian indoctrination. From my perspective, there can be no more of an irrational response to this type of tragedy than to write it off as merely something that a large group of people had coming to them as a result of having made God mad.
Our planet has a long history of cataclysmic natural disasters. A sampling of those would include:
o In 1138, ~ 230,000 people perished as a result of an earthquake in Syria.
o During the period 1330 – 1351, the Bubonic Plague wiped out between 30 and 40 percent of the population of Europe. The death toll is estimated to have been as high as 75,000,000 people. Maybe the Europeans were not Christian enough.
o In 1556, an earthquake in China killed ~800,000.
o In 1815, a volcanic eruption in Indonesia resulted in a death toll of ~ 80,000.
o During the period 1918-1920, the “Spanish Flu” pandemic killed between 50,000,000 and 100,000,000 people world-wide.
o In 1931, the Yellow River in China flooded. Death tools are disputed, but are estimated to have been between 1,200,000 and 3,500,000.
o In 1976, an earthquake centered in Tangshan, China killed ~ 350,000.
o In 1985, a volcano erupted in Columbia killing 25,000.
o In 2004, an enormous earthquake in the Indian Ocean spawned a massive tsunami that killed an estimated 225,000 people.
o In 2005, an earthquake in Pakistan took the lives of 40,000.
o In 2008, a cyclone in Burma killed an estimated 140,000.
The death toll estimate in Haiti currently stands at ~ 200,000.
The above list is by no means complete, but by taking the low-end estimates for death totals we see that at least 128,290,000 perished as a result of these events. Over an 872 year period that is an average of 147,121 per year.
That is a lot of punishment.
Were all these catastrophes a result of God’s wrath? If so, what lessons were learned? What results were achieved? Have China, Syria, Columbia, Pakistan, or Burma mended their erroneous ways? Will Haiti learn its lesson?
If all this misery is the result of divine punishment then, it seems to me, that the method of punishment has been extremely ineffective. Some would argue that that merely substantiates the fact that man is fundamentally wicked and/or stupid.
Even if one assumes that God is punitive, it is still difficult to accept that God would continue to punish with means that have not proven to be very effective.
We live on a dangerous planet. Large-scale natural disasters are not within our puny means to prevent. We are susceptible to a wide variety of disease. When disaster strikes, it is perfectly reasonable to search for explanations. We can often explain the mechanics of a tragedy but seldom the “why”. Blaming the victims in the absence of a tangible “why” is easy and dishonest.
The standard refrain that “we are not meant to understand the mind of God” always leaves me feeling cheated and unsatisfied.