Fleming Rutledge: The Haitian calamity

It is important to maintain two contradictory attitudes at once in many areas of Christian theology, and this is one of those areas. These are the two clashing points of view in this case:

Point of view #1: The creation does declare the glory of God, and the “Thunderstorm Psalm” (#29: “The Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon”) proclaims that message magnificently. God is not only the Creator but also the One who rules over the cosmos. The theophany in the book of Job (chs. 38-41) is the preeminent biblical passage treating of this subject, and the phrase “the doors of the sea” is derived from 38:8. Many people have experienced a sort of theophany–a manifestation of the power of God–even in the midst of destruction; people have testified to this even when they have had to face the dire consequences of a natural catastrophe (there are examples of this in Isaac’s Storm, the book about the hurricane that destroyed Galveston, and in David McCullough’s account of the Johnstown Flood). So the wild, untamed aspect of nature can be either comforting or exhilarating or both, depending on one’s point of view.

Point of view #2: At the same time, nature is not benign. Nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Nature, like the human race, is fallen and is subject to the powers of the evil one who continues to occupy this sphere. Flannery O’Connor wrote that her work was about the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil; we should not fail to realize that “nature” is part of that occupied territory. Nature is often hostile, as Annie Dillard has so powerfully shown us, and the nature-worshippers among us fail to acknowledge this hostility in their pantheistic enthusiasm. Only by action of the Creator will the peaceable kingdom arrive, where the lion lies down with the lamb (isn’t it suggestive that “Lion of Judah” and “Lamb of God” are both titles of our Lord?)

The conflict between these two realities cannot be resolved in this life. Does the Creator of all that is have the power to say to those tectonic plates, “Be still!” Of course. Then why doesn’t he? Why does he permit earthquakes in the poorest country in the hemisphere?

We do not know.

Read the whole thing.


Posted in * International News & Commentary, Caribbean, Haiti, Pastoral Theology, Theodicy, Theology

3 comments on “Fleming Rutledge: The Haitian calamity

  1. Pb says:

    Jesus rebuked a storm. Surely it was not of his Father’s doing. Job tells us where this stuff comes from even if it does not answer why the righteous suffer. I think she answered her own question.

  2. MarkP says:

    Anyone eager to reflect on this, especially the part about holding the two poles together in tension, can hold fire until Lent 3 this year, when Jesus will say, “those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.””

  3. J. Champlin says:

    Unfortunately I can’t locate Austin Farrer’s famous line about the Lisbon earthquake for an exact quote, but the gist of it is that God willed that the laws of nature not be abrogated. This goes to Fleming Rutledge’s first point — that there is a certain terror in the beauty of creation, as that beauty is oblivious to us. Plate tectonics have much to do with the majesty over creation over expanses of “deep time”. More, we cannot have faith in God if we do not accept this: “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things” (Is. 45:7). As much the Word is made flesh and dwells among us, there is a terrifying otherness and objectivity to God that we simply cannot compass by the measure of our minds. This seems to me a better way to get at the “contradiction” (paradox?) of which Rutledge speaks.

    There is mystery and darkness. There is also compassion. The natural disaster is, at the same time, a disaster born of injustice and poverty (David Brooks made a telling comparison to the LA earthquake). That is neither explanation or excuse — “a glib, monochromatic response to catastrophe”. Rather it encourages us to engage — the specific, human, and immediate responses that Rutledge praises as she concludes her reflection.