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The Earthquake in Haiti

February 09, 2010     Time: 00:19:29
The Earthquake in Haiti


Conversation with William Lane Craig.

Transcript The Earthquake In Haiti


Kevin Harris: Hey, it’s Kevin Harris with the Reasonable Faith podcast with Dr. William Lane Craig. We’re so glad you are here. We have a special podcast today. Recently we were able to catch up with Dr. Craig and get his thoughts on the Haitian earthquake. So many of you have wanted to here from Dr. Craig on this great tragedy. Recently, after a very busy Reasonable Faith meeting, I was able to catch up with him and get some of his thoughts. I do want to offer this disclaimer: our recording equipment for some reason was not functioning very well and so the quality isn’t that good, but the content is so good we wanted you to hear this podcast. It is important that we continue to pray and give and reflect upon Haiti. So let’s go now to Dr. Craig and this discussion on the Haitian earthquake.

Dr. Craig, another world tragedy has occurred – the earthquake in Haiti. A lot of people want to know if there are any answers in the Christian faith for tragedies that are this extensive. Tens of thousands of lives taken in the recent Haitian earthquake. Again, that is just one of many world tragedies that has occurred. This tends to bring up in the press and on street talk and water cooler talk profound theological questions.

Dr. Craig: Yes, it does, Kevin. I think that it raises the problem of evil in a very dramatic way that has tremendous emotional force. I have to say that I don’t think that the earthquake in Haiti has raised any new intellectual questions that challenge the existence of God. These sorts of questions were already evident when that terrible tsunami three or four years ago swept away hundreds of thousands of people in Malaysia and Indonesia. We confronted questions at that time of this nature. So I don’t really think the tragedy in Haiti serves to raise any new intellectual questions for the Christian believer, but certainly as we see the suffering and we see the wretchedness and poverty of the people there our hearts are broken and we are moved emotionally at the trauma that we see. But speaking as a philosopher, it seems to me that the way in which Christians have responded to the intellectual problem posed by suffering and evil in the world isn’t really altered by what’s happened in Haiti.

Kevin Harris: There are two aspects to the problem of evil – there is the philosophical problem (that is, how can evil and God somehow co-exist; how can a good loving God exist and also evil exist) but then what you are mentioning here is the emotional problem of evil and that is even if it can be reconciled it still hurts.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. You see a person or a child suffering and there is just an emotional, visceral reaction that no good God could permit something like this to happen. If that person is asked to defend that belief intellectually it is very difficult, frankly, to show that God couldn’t have morally sufficient reasons for allowing innocent suffering in the world, but nevertheless that emotional reaction still persists.

Kevin Harris: As well whenever a tragedy occurs like this and there is so much death it’s sometimes easy to forget that, well, God takes lives everyday. God takes thousands, even millions of lives, every day. But sometimes when it comes in a big group like this people start saying “Why did God bring this about?”

Dr. Craig: Yes, it is ironic, isn’t it? Because, as you say, we are all going to die, and God as the author and giver of life terminates our earthly existence, every one of us at some point. But there is an emotional impact when it happens to so many people at once. But on the Christian scheme of things God has sovereign authority to give and take life as he desires. He is under no obligation whatsoever to give me a gentle and easy death. I have no right to pray, for example, “God, let me die in my sleep someday.” God is under no obligation whatsoever to give me an easy exit from this earthly existence.

Kevin Harris: Or seventy years.

Dr. Craig: That’s right. If he should care to terminate someone’s life as an infant or a child, that is his prerogative as the author and giver of life. So if God does exist he has certain moral prerogatives which we human beings can’t gainsay, and the length and duration and nature of our existence on this planet is one of those.

Kevin Harris: The elephant in the room when it comes to these tragedies – the tsunami, earthquake, floods, and so forth – is that religious leaders will quickly start to pronounce God’s judgment and evaluate this and seem to have an inside track on what God is doing and pronounce what God is up to here. Usually God is doing this for a reason of judgment upon a people. Now, I knew this was going to happen with the Haiti earthquake, and the press jumps on it immediately whenever a religious leader starts making these declarations. Give us some guidelines, Bill, about declaring something a direct judgment of God. [1]

Dr. Craig: I believe God does judge peoples and nations. I think that the Scripture teaches that God will sometimes bring calamity or disaster upon people in judgment. But when he does so he always accompanies it with some sort of a prophet who will declare the meaning of the disaster and will issue a call to repentance and so forth. In this case, we have no such prophet. We have these Christian televangelists who are presuming to know God’s will in these matters, but have no direct revelation from God for saying what they do. I think when they make these kinds of presumptuous judgments they are contradicting what Jesus himself had to say about the problem of evil. If you look at Luke 13 there is a very interesting passage that I want to read to our listeners, Kevin. It says,

About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” [2]

Now what is interesting about this passage is that Jesus speaks to both the issue of moral evil (where Pilate had murdered some people that were innocent) and then natural evil (the collapse of this tower of Siloam that fell on eighteen people and killed them). In both the cases of moral evil and natural evil, Jesus said, “You do not presume that these people were worse sinners and that is why this happened to them. You have no right, no business saying that this is the judgment of God upon these people.” Instead he turns it around and issues a call to repentance to his listeners and says, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” So it is a call to self-examination rather than to presumptuous judgment upon others for why calamity has fallen on them.

Kevin Harris: The Scripture that you are referring to in Isaiah 45:7, “I, the Lord, formed the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil.” That is what the King James Version says. The Hebrew word there can be translated (and most often is in a lot of translations) “calamity.” So that can be troublesome to believers and is thrown in their face a lot that your God creates evil and that would seem to be contradictory. What are some good grounds for identifying that verse?

Dr. Craig: I think exactly what you said, Kevin. There it is talking about God is the source of calamity as well as prosperity. So it is within the sovereign will of God that this earthquake occur in Haiti. He has morally sufficient reasons in his providential plan for human history for allowing this to occur. Indeed, it is actually easier in one sense to understand how a disaster of this magnitude could occur than a little tiny instance of suffering like, say, hitting your thumb with a hammer or stubbing your toe. Because the ripple effect that an event like this sends through history is so incalculable that it makes it just impossible to say that God couldn’t have morally sufficient reasons for allowing this suffering to occur. Whereas in the case of some trivial evil, it is often difficult to see how some good might come of it. But in a case like this or the tsunami, the effect upon human history is so vast and so incalculable in its ramifications that it is not at all improbable that God could have morally sufficient reasons in his providential plan for this planet for allowing these disasters to occur. So I want to affirm, yes, God is sovereign and he brings both good times and bad times into the lives of nations and into our lives as individuals. What we’re called upon to do is not to question God as to why he allows this because most often or not we won’t know the reasons, but rather this is a time for us to seek deeper dependency upon God, deeper faith in God, to go through these difficult times, and then also to react with compassion and mercy to those who are suffering and to come to their assistance in Christian love.

Kevin Harris: I guess we need to perhaps distinguish between a direct judgment of God and an indirect judgment of God. Bill, if I’m reading the Scriptures correctly, we live in a fallen world and that is, in a sense, a judgment from God that things like these occur in a world that is fallen and has been tainted by sin. But then the Bible also records more direct judgments of God due to evil or due to his sovereign purposes. But distinguishing between the two would be the job of, like you said, a prophet. Is this an indirect or direct judgment of God?

Dr. Craig: What you described as indirect – I’m not sure I would even use the word indirect judgment of God, Kevin. [3] I think that in a planet that is characterized by plate tectonics, you are going to have earthquakes as these plates move about and shift and people are going to be injured and killed in the earthquakes that result. But that plate tectonic activity is overall good for this planet. In fact, it is vital for life on this planet or life would cease to exist if we didn’t have this kind of movement of the earth’s crust. Similarly with weather systems that can cause tornadoes and disasters. So these natural evils shouldn’t be thought of as judgments necessarily, I think, upon people, even in an indirect sense. Though you are right – in certain cases there can be direct judgments. For example, God’s judgment of Israel was clearly in the Old Testament something that was directly brought about by God upon Israel, and he sent prophets to Israel to warn them of the impending disaster that was coming so that it could be avoided if they would repent and turn to him, which they did not. In the absence of that kind of prophetic judgment, we need, I think, to be humble and not presume to know why these disasters are falling upon certain individuals or countries. It may be, as you say, an indirect result of living in a fallen world or it may simply be the result of living in a world that is governed by the laws of nature.

Kevin Harris: I guess I was thinking the line of thought that being that we live in a fallen world, and God commanded in Genesis that we take dominion, we subdue the world, but sin has prevented us from doing that. We would have taken care of the problem of earthquakes and tornadoes and tsunamis and other things but the Fall has hurt our ability to do that. I guess that is what I’m trying to think. We live in a fallen world – Romans 8 – so you move out where there is a fault line, it might be beautiful out there but you might get killed.

Dr. Craig: The point you are making is a really important one, and that is these natural evils like occurred in Haiti are inextricably entwined with terrible moral evil. Nations like Haiti have been ruled by rapacious dictators like the Duvaliers. These are men who impoverish the people, they rape them financially of any sort of prosperity they might have had, and as a result this is a country which cannot afford to have safe building codes and buildings that would withstand the earthquakes. If this earthquake had occurred in the United States it wouldn’t have had near this sort of disaster because we have better building and zoning regulations. So this is really inextricably bound up with moral evil and a result of the human Fall as you say.

Kevin Harris: If we are not careful, the Washington Post is going to be knocking on our doors because they will think that we are pronouncing judgment, but it is another elephant in the room. It is easy to presume that God would bring about a judgment on Haiti because of the intense proliferation of voodoo there. I’ve seen videos that will just make your hair stand on end. 80% are supposed to be Catholic but that is really misleading. The vast majority do embrace this witchcraft, this voodoo, but still it brings up the question why doesn’t God wipe out my hometown? There are plenty of sinners there. Why not wipe out Omaha or Florida or New York or things like that. You get real arbitrary here.

Dr. Craig: Haiti is a bizarre case. I was talking to a missionary who for many years worked with Haitian missions. He told me that in 1791 the Haitian people devoted themselves to serve Satan and evil spirits through voodoo for two hundred years. President Aristide then sought to renew this covenant with Satan for another two hundred years in 1991 when he became the president. It just boggles the imagination to think of a country that could do something like this. So you are quite right that there is a lot of Christo-paganism that saturates this country. But that is not to say that this earthquake was the judgment of God upon Haiti for its voodoo and Satanism. There is no prophet that enables us to say that. No divine revelation that says that. But what we can say is that Satanism as well as the rapacious sort of dictatorship that has governed Haiti are evil and certainly deserve moral condemnation.

Kevin Harris: The New Atheists have naturally jumped all over this as well. Richard Dawkins has written an article that has been widely spread about this whole thing that we are talking about. But he doesn’t understand what you just said, and that is unless you have the credentials of a prophet, unless there is a prophet of God in the world, then who are any of us to declare this as judgment? The other thing that he’s done is he started to try to raise money in support to show that people of non-belief can be what? Moral, too? [4]

Dr. Craig: I hope so! Thank goodness! I hope he’s very successful in doing that. But even Pat Robertson wouldn’t claim to have a direct revelation from God. He doesn’t claim to be a prophet. This was his own human judgment that he was making. I think it was presumptuous. But on the other side, I do want to say, Kevin, that I think it is equally mistaken to think of God as this sort of Father Christmas in the sky who wants to create a nice comfortable world here for his human pets. It is that kind of milk toast Santa Clause God that is really called into question by disasters like the Haitian earthquake and the tsunami that occurred in Malaysia and Indonesia. As C. S. Lewis so nicely put it, Aslan is not a tame lion. This is a God who has the sovereign control of the world and who brings, as you say, both good times and bad, prosperity and calamity. Both come from his hand. We are not dealing here with just some sort of a Santa Clause God who would not ever bring judgment upon a nation for its sins and its ills. In that I think a lot of the media reaction to Pat Robertson has been quite unjustified. They have this Santa Clause image of God where he would never bring judgment upon any nation for anything. I think we want to say, “No, no. Now wait. That kind of God doesn’t exist.” This earthquake provides a good reason for thinking that kind of God doesn’t exist. But a God who is sovereign over human history can allow certain sorts of disasters and calamities to occur with a view toward morally sufficient ends that he has in mind that would justify allowing this sort of innocent suffering to take place.

Kevin Harris: Bill, as we wrap up today, one final issue that I think often comes up in these discussions – I believe it was Camus who wrote The Plague – he brought up the so-called dilemma of “If this is God’s will then why should believers go and work to relieve the suffering?” If it is not God’s will and we are to go in and relieve the suffering then God is not sovereign. So he puts us on the horns of a dilemma. If this was all God’s will, why give any of them a dime? Let them die.

Dr. Craig: I think Camus’ dilemma is just completely fabricated. It is a false dilemma. God willed to allow the tectonic activity that resulted in this earthquake. Then the damage results, as I say, partially because of the human evil that caused these people to be so impoverished that they couldn’t build buildings that would withstand that kind of earth tremor. So this suffering results. Then God also wills that those of us who have goods come to the aid and assistance of those of our fellow man who are suffering terribly. So I see it all as within God’s design – both that some will suffer, that we will suffer on occasion, and that those who then have the ability to alleviate suffering will come to their aid and show Christ’s love and compassion.

I’m glad you chose to close on this note, Kevin, because the reason I wrote to my friend who’s working in missionary work in Haiti was to ask him, “What would be the best venue for Jan and my giving some money for the relief of those suffering in Haiti?” We didn’t want our money simply to go down a bureaucratic rat hole where it wouldn’t really impact anything. This gentleman said after thinking of all the different mission agencies and relief agencies that work in Haiti, he recommended to me this one: Missionary Flights. They have a website What these people do is they run a kind of Christian air force if you will. They fly in relief supplies, they fly in goods, they fly the sick and the injured to places where they can get medical attention. This Christian mission organization conducting these missionary flights, he says, is one of the finest organizations doing work in Haiti and would be one that he thought would be well worthy of our support in this time of disaster.

Kevin Harris: I am sure that you join me to encourage all who are listening now to do what they can where these tragedies occur.

Dr. Craig: Absolutely, Kevin. We can all show Christ’s love to our fellow man by coming along side of him in a time of need like this. [5]