Enough ink has already been spilled objecting to Pat Robertson’s comments describing Haiti’s disastrous earthquake as the result of a pact they made with the devil 300 years ago. If you’re unfamiliar with the comments you can view the video below. Not only are the remarks insensitive and ill-timed, but they bespeak an flawed mentality common in biblical times that Jesus himself moves away from. I’d like in this post to examine the passages where it seems clear that Jesus himself would have something of a rebuke for Mr. Robertson.
First, just a few facts. Whatever pact Mr. Robertson thinks Haitians made 300 years ago with the Devil, the current population of Haiti is overwhelmingly Catholic and Christian. Approximately 80% of Haitians are Catholic. It is true that there are vestiges of voodoo intermingled with the Catholic Faith of some Haitians. Haitians who observe some voodoo rituals still think of and refer to themselves as Catholic. The Catholic Church to be sure condemns this intermixing of ancient voodoo with Catholicism though it persists in some places, especially in rural areas. But voodoo is not satanism. The Church condemns it as idolatry, not as satanic. False or imperfect religious practice and intermixing of idolatry are not unique to Haiti. But lets be clear the vast majority of Haitians are Catholic Christians, even if some are imperfectly so, they are NOT worshippers of Satan.
Now, let’s return to Pat Robertson’s remarks. The premise of them seems to be a philosopy not uncommon in biblical wherein those who suffered catastrophic loss must have been guilty of some sort of sin for this misfortune to have happened. Perhaps they were born blind, then their parents must have sinned. Perhaps they were killed in a sudden accident, then they must have sinned. At least this was the thinking.
Now such a thinking carried forward into Jesus’ times and he both encounters and deals with the attitude. In effect he sets such thinking aside or at least dispenses with the notion that God singles out certain people or groups out for punishment. Let’s look at these texts.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (John 9:1-3)
Note how the disciples manifest the typical attitude of the day that it must have been the sin of the man or his parents that he is blind. But Jesus says that he is not blind sue to the fact that he sinned and then goes on to set forth an entirely new understanding that suffering is often an opportunity to manifest the glory of God shining through our human weakness. Suffering and the cross lead to glory. But it is clear that Jesus does not accept the notion advanced by his disciples that link this man’s suffering to his or his parents sin. Hence, even if we were to accept Pat Robertson’s rather questionable historical data that the ancestors of these Haitians made a pact with devil it hardly follows from Jesus’ teaching that they are suffering today due to that. Let’s consider another text:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
Here again Jesus refers to the attitude that those who suffer calamities are worse sinners than the rest. He refers to it only to reject it. But then Jesus turns the tables on those with such an attitude and warns them that something far worse than the physical loss of life will await them if they do not repent. He warns them that they will perish unto hell. This much is clear for he goes on to tell a parable (not reproduced here) of a fig tree that comes under judgement. It will be spared for one year more but it still does not bear fruit it will be cut down and thrown into the fire (cf Luke 13:6-9). So here again, Mr. Robertson’s theory that the Haitians have suffered due to some sin that makes them as the parable puts it worse sinners than all the others, is rejected quite explicitly by Jesus.
Further, consider the over all approach of Jesus toward the crippled, the lepers, the blind, deaf and others with similar physical maladies. Jesus does not say to any of them that they have these problems due to sin that they or their ancestors committed. He heals them without mention of sin being the cause of their distress. There is one exception to this in the paralyzed man let down through the roof (cf Mark 2:1-12). When healing him Jesus says, have courage son, your sins are forgiven. This causes a stir among the Pharisees who declare that God alone can forgive sins. To prove his power to forgive sins Jesus heals the paralyzed man. And this seems to be the general context of the passage which is more an affirmation of Jesus’ power to forgive sins than a teaching that the man was paralyzed due to his own sin.
Finally, a couple of disclaimers. Jesus teaching does not exclude ANY relationship between sin and suffering. First of all, in a general sense, ALL suffering is traced back to Original Sin which brought suffering and death into the world. Secondly there are surely some sufferings we experience in relationship to sins committed. Maybe it is a hangover from too much drinking, or a sexually transmitted disease from fornication, and so forth. But it is not as though we can claim that everyone who suffers anything is guilty of some sin or that God singles some people out for special punishment. These are things we cannot know, especially in the case of natural disasters that affect so many people.
Let’s be honest, most of us have never gotten the the punishment we really deserve. If God were “fair” we’d all be in hell. As it is he is merciful, thanks be to God! To point to others in a disaster and say, “Look at them, they must have sinned” is to invite disaster upon ourselves. Because as Jesus in effect says above “If you think they are worse sinners than you, wake up, I’ve got something coming for you that might be far worse if you don’t shape up.” So careful Pat Robertson, not only are you at odds with the New Testament and Jesus himself, you also risk a stern warning from Jesus that you repent or experience something far worse.
Pray for the people of Haiti right now.