I recently received an email from a friend with a simple question: Where was God in Haiti?

I imagine this question (hardly a new one) has been on many minds – and on many hearts – in the past few weeks.

I am not so bold as to attempt a thorough answer here and now; in my mind, there may be no more difficult question to answer. (Such answers, of course, have been advanced.) Instead, I have my own slightly different question to ask: Where were we in Haiti?

Admittedly, here has been an outpouring of aid to Haiti since the earthquake, which speaks both to our filthy lucre and to our compassion. (Americans gave about one billion dollars to tsunami relief in 2004 – about four dollars a person, or one cup of coffee at Starbucks. Compassion, yes, but hardly overwhelming.)

And yet…geologists knew an earthquake would be coming. It is true that some damage is inevitable – and yet almost 3,000 times as many people have died in this most recent earthquake as died in a 1989 earthquake of similar magnitude in San Francisco.

Why hundreds of thousands of deaths in Haiti and a few dozen in San Francisco? It’s not a mystery: Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world, the United States one of the wealthiest. This disparity is not the result of simple chance; on the contrary, the people of Haiti have been continually repressed by all sorts of foreign powers, including (surprise!) the United States.

What’s the point of all this? Is it that we’re personally responsible for all of the historical unfairness toward Haiti? No. Is it that we should feel guilty because all we did for Haiti was text “Haiti” to 90999? Not necessarily.

The point is that the catastrophe in Haiti was a product of sin as much as it was a product of plate tectonics. Our institutions, our societies, our nations are steeped in sin – as are we, as individuals. On January 12, Haiti learned this firsthand.

When it comes to Haiti’s poverty, before and after this earthquake, we are without excuse. We are without excuse, and yet we are numb to the notion that we might even need an excuse for our conduct.

If all the human effort and resources wasted on war, adultery, theft, fraud, and greed, and sheer apathy had been devoted instead to the selfless love of neighbors, earthquakes would be nothing more than jokes; we would have figured out how to handle them long ago. We would have a veritable paradise on Earth.

Instead, the earthquake in Haiti left hundreds of thousands dead. The joke is not the earthquakes, but the psychological pats on the back we’ve given ourselves for our meager donations to Haiti. (I am as guilty of this as anyone.) We have forsaken paradise, and the Earth and men mourn.

Thomas Jefferson is far from my favorite president, but his words ring truer than ever at this moment: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever…”

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