Haitian Pain Raises Questions about God; There Aren't Good Answers, but We Can Do Good in Response
Byline: Gary Bauer and Daniel Allott, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
On the morning of Nov. 1, 1755, one of history's worst sequences of natural disaster struck Lisbon, Portugal. First, with its citizens at Mass, Lisbon was shaken by an earthquake that toppled most of its buildings. Then, an hour later, a tremendous earthquake-induced tsunami crashed into the harbor, followed by two more giant waves that rushed up the Tagus River, drowning thousands who had fled the rupturing roads for the safety of their boats. Further inland, fires broke out that raged for nearly a week.
As many as 90,000 people (in a city of 250,000) perished in the natural catastrophes that destroyed 85 percent of the city, including nearly every major church.
The Great Lisbon Earthquake, occurring on All Saints' Day, shook the faith of pious Portugal, with philosophical aftershocks that reverberated across Europe. Voltaire, for instance, saw the cataclysm as a repudiation of the notion of an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God.
The disasters prompted conversations among Europe's citizens about the nature of a God who would allow the almost complete destruction of such a devout city.
Centuries later the discussion continues.
The recent earthquake in Haiti, with the estimated number of dead and injured already reaching into the hundreds of thousands, has undoubtedly caused many to wonder: Where was God? That question may have added resonance because Haitians are, as President Obama said last week, no strangers to hardship and suffering.
For Christians, who believe that God's perfect world was destroyed by man's disobedience in Eden, suffering highlights the ongoing struggle to reconcile an apparent incongruence. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain :
If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore, God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.
For some, what Lewis called the problem of pain quickly becomes the problem of faith.
Following the tsunamis that ravaged the Indian Ocean in 2004, killing some 230,000, many writers took direct aim at God. Writing in the Guardian, British Journalist Martin Kettle asked: Are we too cowed now to even ask if the God can exist that can do such things? Writer Heather MacDonald called for a boycott of God, whom she called a monster for centuries of passively sitting by as human life is wantonly mowed down.
Atheists' anger at a God they insist doesn't exist begs the question, as Dinesh D'Souza writes in his recent book, What's So Great about Christianity : Where is atheism when bad things happen? Mr. D'Souza notes that while neither atheism nor theism have complete explanations for suffering, only theism, and in particular Christianity, offers a better way for people to cope with the consequences of evil and suffering. …