Last week an earthquake devastated Haiti.
Descriptions of the earthquake event are difficult to imagine. The earth rising and falling like crashing waves. Buildings shaking and then collapsing. People screaming and crying out. Day after day we hear horrific stories from the aftermath that we find hard to grasp. Entire villages destroyed. Death tolls rising. Bodies piled in the streets. Mass graves. We hear the fears of the future even as rescue and recovery efforts are underway. Aftershocks. Outbreak of disease. Growing violence rooted in utter desperation.
Even as stories of the event’s destruction and the future’s fears are being reported, another kind of report has begun to be heard — amazing stories of hope. People being pulled out of rubble after being buried for days. Orphans being relocated to join loving families. Churches mobilizing teams to go into the affected region in the name of Jesus. Athletes and rock stars organizing fundraisers. Heroes rising to the occasion.
Sadly, some have seized the plight of the Haitians to further their own agendas by suggesting they know the reason for the earthquake. A televangelist who has for years hinted at exerting control over hurricanes now claims to know the earthquake was caused because of a deal the Haitians made with the devil in 1791. An actor who is no stranger to making headline-grabbing claims has suggested the earthquake may have been caused by our refusal to deal with his global warming concerns in a way he feels reasonable.
I am not writing to defend or accuse the Haitians regarding their religious tendencies (although my guess is that to talk about “the beliefs of the Haitians” is about as futile as to talk about “the beliefs of Americans”). I am not writing to advance a position on global climate change. I am writing to express some frustration with the need we sometimes have to provide logical, cause-effect reasons for everything that happens, tragedies included.
Yes, I realize this is nothing new and that these explanations are not limited to the aforementioned televangelist and actor. In fact, I remember in the Bible account of tragedy striking Job how everyone either wanted or had an explanation. We see Job wrestling with questions about why troubles had come his way. We see Job’s “friends” coming forth with explanations that made perfect sense to them. I am struck with how little things have changed and how determined we are to explain events that leave us reeling.
And yet there are some things we are never going to understand, at least not in this lifetime. I think the reason we find this so tough to accept is that it underscores our finite nature. It means I am not in complete control. I am not even completely “in-the-know.” Neither are you. And honestly, I do not like to admit my limitations of control or understanding. Do you?
So this morning I have spent some time reading through Job chapters 38-42. The first 37 chapters of Job tell the story of Job’s tragedies, Job’s search for answers, and Job’s friends offering their explanations. But beginning in chapter 38 God answers Job out of the storm. God’s answer includes question after question that seem to be designed to help Job know God in a deeper, more meaningful way. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
When tragedy strikes we often look for answers to the question, “why?” Sometime we offer our explanations. But what I want to do is seek not explanations, but seek God. Because one thing Job teaches me is that knowing God is better than knowing answers.