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HAITI'S EARTHQUAKE/ Adventures in theodicy: the phenomenon we call life

January Sat 23, 2010

haiti_R375_20set08.jpg

 

When arise we all awaken to news. I am always more than a little surprised to find each day that the world continues to turn when I am asleep, even though as I get older sleep does not come as easily as it used to. The news I am fixated on this morning is that Haiti was hit by an aftershock that registered 6.1 on the Richter scale, a fair earthquake in its own right. This fact tells us something important about this natural disaster and others like it; we call them natural disasters because they happen as the result of forces that are beyond our power to manipulate. Haiti's earthquakes and the Asian tsunami of five years ago are attributable to plate tectonics, the shifting and moving that happens below the earth. Port au Prince sits on a fault line that extends all the way across the Caribbean to Central America. It seems a strange irony that the same geo-physical dynamics that so devastated Haiti's capital also made the island of Hispañola, which the Dominican Republic and Haiti share.

 

Since the Haitian earthquake, I am even more conscious that my house, the very place I sit typing, is situated very near, nearer than I care to contemplate, to the Wasatch fault line, which runs north-to-south along the foothills of the Wasatch mountains, part of the chain of the great Rocky Mountains. This makes me realize that in important ways my life is not as secure as I often delude myself into thinking it is. My situation is only slightly less precarious than that of the Haitian people. I am firmly convinced that true solidarity with the people of Haiti can only arise from this awareness.

 

So, in a very real sense, to quote words from an old Howard Jones song, "no one is to blame " (i.e., "You can look at the menu, but you just can't eat/You can feel the cushion, but you can't have a seat/You can dip your foot in the pool, but you can't have a swim/You can feel the punishment, but you can't commit the sin"). Even at our most irrational we do not blame that damn old tectonic plate, at least not for more than a few seconds. As Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete surmises in his post over on America magazine's In All Things blog, whether we are people of faith or of no faith "our humanity demands that the question 'why' not be suppressed, but that it be allowed to guide our response to everything that happens. This is the only way to a possible redemption of our humanity."

 

Indeed, why?, is the most human of all responses. It shows that as human beings we do not just seek or demand meaning, we need it, we must make sense of things. A detailed explanation of plate tectonics and geo-physical facts that contributed to the earthquake, or the tsunami in Asia do not satisfy us. So, we turn to God. This turn usually causes us to look up, to the great god in the sky, but the God of Israel is not the great sky god who manipulates the world as a puppet master. Neither is God the god of deism, who constructs the watch and lets the laws of thermodynamics run the course.

 

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