February 10, 2010
We watch the news reports covering the devastation in Haiti and respond by bowing our heads in prayer. But we still feel ineffective after we say our amen. We hear the radio reports from Port-au-Prince about orphans wandering the streets and how there is no food, clean water, or medical supplies—so we write a check that will enable workers to purchase whatever supplies are needed. The next day, however, it seems that little has changed—the numbers of dead and dying have increased, along with the number of homeless children, and the sick have not only remained sick, but have grown more ill by the hour.
It can be discouraging, especially when someone desperately wants to help. The truth, of course, is that all of us can only help so much when it comes to natural disasters as monumental as the Haiti earthquake. And that realization alone can bring us to a place of despair, confusion, and even a kind of faith crisis. Although God has directly told us that he "works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28), sometimes when faced with so much misery such a concept is difficult to keep ever-present in our hearts.
But when God says "all things" in this passage, I believe by faith that he means "all things"—even when it comes to the tragic scenario we have seen unfold in Haiti.
One way to rise above the horror of it is to find a place to put our grief and anguish. We must acquire a biblical point of focus that extends our perspective far beyond just financial giving, or even getting on a plane and going to Haiti. In this way, we can use the situation to make us better people, better Christians, and better followers of God. If we look beyond what we can do to change the situation, then perhaps we will be aware of how God might use the situation to change us. This will create a whole new dimension to the disaster—a more purposeful aspect to it—that God will then be able to use in ways that otherwise may have been overlooked.
Obviously, there is a direct social responsibility to lend a helping hand in response to a disaster. One aspect of true religion, in fact, is to "look after orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27). And most natural disasters certainly produce a fair share of widows and orphans, particularly in less privileged countries. But a deeper responsibility that comes to my mind when I see the events in Haiti relates to the many disasters (earthquakes, if you will) that are occurring each day in our own communities, on our own city blocks, often along the very street we call home.
God often uses Haiti-like tragedies to stir up our compassion and love for everyone—particularly those nearest to us. Is there a neighbor too ill to get food for himself? If so, God has provided you with a perfect opportunity to supply "disaster relief"? Is there a friend whose family is being torn apart by strife? If so, could you offer some free "trauma counseling"? Are there any homeless transients that you regularly pass on the street? If so, some "volunteer work" at a "rescue mission" is something you might want to consider. Jesus told his followers, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).
And what about the disasters—the earthquakes—taking place in our own hearts and minds? Have the structures that Jesus built on our love for God fallen down around us? What has become of the pure streams of living water that used to well up from deep within our souls? Are they now polluted? Why is the smooth road on which we once walked with our Lord now strewn with rubble and debris that hinders our forward progress? Perhaps, as we behold the destruction in Haiti, we can draw parallels to our own spirituality. Have we had an earthquake in some area of our faith and obedience? "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9; also see 2 Chronicles 7:14).
Remember that God can, and does, use everything we experience in life in order to bring growth in those places that matter the most—our faith, love, maturity, and service (to both him and to our fellow human beings). A heartbreaking catastrophe like the one that we have all been watching in Haiti, if we allow ourselves to meditate on the event and ask God to speak to our hearts, could be the very thing that God uses to mold us, shape us, renew us, transform us, and spiritually invigorate us to take action in our own lives and in the lives of those inhabiting our immediate circle of contact. We do not have to get on a plane to change the world or make a tragic situation better. We can do it from right where God has already placed us.
We must never forget that God is in the midst of everyone's misery, pain, suffering, and anguish. Jesus promised us, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). As we hurt and weep, we can also learn and grow. We can walk as Jesus walked, with a heavenly mind (Philippians 2:5) and with our eyes focused on the eternal: "Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
If we bear such truths in mind, then from out of the dark depths of disaster, the light of Christ will shine—first in us, and then through us (Matthew 5:14-16).
If you'd like to support earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, consider joining some of Crosswalk.com's partners in their work: Global Aid Network (GAiN) USA, Food for the Hungry, Samaritan's Purse, and World Vision.