I don’t know who got the Haiti earthquake more wrong.
Pat Robertson or Jeffrey Johnson Sr.
The Rev. Johnson is the senior pastor at the megachurch Eastern Star in Indianapolis. The Rev. Robertson is, well, every atheist’s religious crackpot.
Johnson was the by-God spellbinder who had the amen corner at Plymouth Church in downtown Fort Wayne hooting and hollering loud enough to raise Dr. King from the grave. Our favorite college freshman Tanya said, “That was sure interesting.”
Johnson’s text was from Romans, chapter eight, about how everything works for good for those who love God.
He didn’t mention Robertson by name but he made it clear he thought anyone suggesting that the devastating earthquake was God’s punishment for practicing Voodoo. (Never mind that the vast majority of eight million Haitians practice Roman Catholicism.)
Johnson did point out that Haiti happens to be situated over a fault prone to geologic shifts, the natural cause of earthquakes.
Nevertheless, the preacher, citing his text from Romans, which he did frequently in the sermon, wasn’t content to let earth science account for the Haiti tragedy. He was persuaded that it would work for good. After all, that’s what St. Paul promised the Romans.
“Nothing happens that God doesn’t allow or cause,” the preacher reminded us.
He even had an answer to anyone who failed to see how good could come out of the Haitian earthquake. The answer, he suggested, had come to him as a kind of revelation.
“All things haven’t worked together for good – yet,” he said.
I don’t know what the preacher had in mind as this inevitable payoff for the many thousands of victims of the earthquake. But a prime spot of acreage in heaven was about I could conjure. Which is to say that you can forget about anything necessarily working for good in this life.
If I’ve got that right, then this promise in Romans chapter eight merely states in different words Jesus’ promise of eternal life to all his followers.
Trouble is, in Romans chapter eight St. Paul is reassuring Christians in Rome who suffer persecution that they have God’s spirit in this life. The focus is on suffering as a Christian in this life, not the happiness in the next.
Once again, one sees that believers really have no good answer to human suffering, not in the book of Job, whose poetic story explicitly takes up the issue of theodicy, and not in this generic promise in Romans.
Haiti’s many friends in this country, including Bill Clinton, have offered the hope that this cataclysmic and horrifying event will be the catalyst for renewal and rebuilding, whose early signs were beginning to show before the earthquake.
“God has not made us interpreters of Divine Providence,” Professor Elliott used to remind us theology students back in my seminar days.
Such an obvious and biblically sound observation hasn’t kept a multitude of preachers from raining blessings and judgments upon countless events during the course of human history.
As aid workers in the most backward of countries have learned, science is no match for voodoo.