When bad things happen, is this punishment from God?

New Orleans Museum of Art (New Orleans)
March 16, 2010
Frederic Adams
March 18, 2010

When the deadly earthquake devastated Haiti in January, televangelist Pat Robertson was quick to state that the hundreds of thousands of people who were killed or injured in the earthquake were victims of God’s vengeance for a “pact” Haitians made with the Devil to free themselves from the French.

The truth is that the Haitians are very religious Christian people. Very few practice voodooism. Thank goodness, the Archbishop of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Cardinal Nicolas Lopez Rodriguez, firmly rejected the idea that the tragedy in Haiti was a punishment from God. “I have always maintained that God is a God of love. God can permit this to shake the consciences of insensitive people who see so many in need but do nothing.”

Robertson went on to say, “The Island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On one side is Haiti. The other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. But, Haiti has to endure hardships due to God’s vengeance for deals with the Devil.”

The French controlled Haiti and the Dominican Republic was a territory of Spain. From 1791-1803, a slave rebellion lead to an extended 13-year war of liberation against St. Domingue’s colonists and later, Napoleon’s army helped by Spanish and British forces. The reason Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to the United State was to attain money to recapture Haiti from the former slaves.

France constantly threatened Haiti. However, in 1838 the French government recognized Haitian independence in exchange for financial compensation of 150 million francs. Most nations including the United States shunned Haiti for almost forty years, fearful that its example could stir unrest here and in other slaveholding countries.

Over the next few decades Haiti is forced to take out loans of 70 million francs to repay the indemnity and gain international recognition. In essence, they became financial slaves.

Some people are quick to blame God for every disaster that takes place, I remember a priest and a minister who said that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was God’s punishment for the homosexuals freely expressing their sexual orientation.

We all know now that faulty levee construction was the cause of the flooding in the Crescent City. In fact, the section where many homosexuals live got the least amount of damage.

In the time of Jesus it was the general belief that suffering was God’s punishment for sin. They believed that if a tragedy came to a person, God sent it because they deserved it or their parents deserved it.

This attitude is expressed in John’s Gospel when the disciples saw a man who had been blind from birth. They asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) Jesus strongly rejects this notion by saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” Then he goes on to show God’s mercy to the blind man.

Jesus’ followers also asked him about two separate events in which bad things had happened to good people. Their first concern was the murder of some Jews from Galilee by Pilate. The second incident involved the collapse of a watchtower that killed some 18 people who were standing beneath it.

Jesus tells us that the suffering that comes to innocent, upright people is not the act of either God or the devil. It is the creation of human beings. Much of the suffering that we are subjected to, we have created ourselves.

Let us look at our failures to live according to God’s commandments, our self-centeredness and selfishness. When some tragedy happens, let us reach out with God’s love and not blame God or others.