by Derrick G. Jeter
The numbers of the displaced, injured, and dead coming out of Port-au-Prince, Haiti are mind-numbing. The dead alone have reached to near 200,000. And that gruesome statistic will probably increase as days pass and rubble is picked through. In human terms these figures are incalculable—whole families lost, permanent physical, mental, and spiritual disabilities, and dreams and laughter forever entombed in crushed bodies. The earthquake that struck Haiti has left us with images of darkness that can only shine from the blacked eyes and grisly smiles of the lifeless.
As we try to comprehend the enormity of such human tragedy questions naturally plague our minds. How could it be? How could God—a good and gracious God—permit the crushing deaths of some 200,000 men, women, and children? Couldn’t He have held those tectonic plates in place or allowed them to shift some place else; somewhere where lives wouldn’t have been lost? And perhaps the most stinging question of all: where was God when the earthquake struck?
Questions such as these, which splinter the mind and soul like shards of shattered concrete, demand an answer. As a Christian, I do not pretend that biblical answers to questions of suffering will fully satisfy people of other faiths or of no faith. Suffering from the human vantage point is simply too profound a mystery—not even everyone within my tradition may agree. I acknowledge, even as a follower of Jesus Christ who believes in the goodness and power of God, that unraveling the mystery of why humans suffer so terribly is no easy task. But some answer must be given.
A Portuguese proverb declares, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” Christianity affirms that we may not always know why God is doing what He is doing or why He allows suffering, but we can trust Him to make straight that which is crooked. And we who follow the Christian faith believe He will. God made the world good and He will make it good again; the wasteland will give way and the garden will bloom anew. Until then, we press on with hope and faith, knowing that as each day passes, whether in pain or in pleasure, we are one day closer to the fulfillment of our heart’s desire—the day suffering is no more.
To the cynic, such hope is folly and madness. And so it is to those who scoff at faith, but to we who believe, such hope is founded upon the fact that we worship a God who suffered. No other god sheds tears. When Christ died on the cross, God entered into the depths of human agony. And though Christianity doesn’t teach that the cross removes our suffering it does assert that through the cross God shared our suffering. It was on the cross that Christ took the worst evil could devise and defeated it; on the cross Christ announced to the universe that the days of suffering were numbered; on the cross Christ answered the question of “Where was God?”—He was there on the cross . . . and in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, in the villages and cities of Rwanda, on the airplanes and in the World Trade Center on 9/11, and in the crumbling buildings of Port-au-Prince. On the cross, on that terrible instrument of death, death died.
No other god can understand our suffering, because no other god has wounds. Some may ask, “Who needs a God who suffers?” But who needs a god who does not suffer—a god who cannot understand or feel our pain? What good is a god so far removed from his creatures that he is unmoved, having no knowledge of or concern for the the suffering they must endure? Is that god good? Or is that god indifferent . . . or worse?
The Bible’s answer to “Where was God in the earthquake?” is not a philosophy but a Person, not something but Someone, not a word but the Word, not a myth but the Messiah, not commentary but the cross, not human reason but divine resurrection. The Bible’s answer is Jesus Christ.