Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Why Doesn’t God Stop the Suffering in Haiti?

“I know God knows all, is omnipresent, immanent, does things on his own time, and has a sense of mystery about him. My question is, why doesn’t God take the people of Haiti out of constant poverty and continuous humiliation when he is strong enough, powerful enough, honest enough, loving enough, omnipotent, and sovereign when he is able?


A wise Haitian student raised this central theological question in my Theology Survey I class. It is called among theologians a “theodicy” question. It’s taken from two Greek words: theos for “God” and dikaios for “righteous.” And what it is asking in essence is: “If God is all good and God is all powerful, why is there suffering in the world?” What the above question does is go to the heart of the issue. It centers on the nature of God, whether God is really a completely good, just, and loving God and is not the source of all evil, if so, whether God really is not omnipotent, but doing the best God can under the circumstances.

Neither of these solutions is orthodox historical Christianity. We have to find a deeper truth.

My student’s question centers on the relationship of love and justice. God is revealed in 1 John 4:8 as love. But God’s love never sets aside God’s justice. Instead, God’s love fulfills it. Order pervades all of God’s creation: physical and spiritual. Few if any of us humans take the existence of evil as seriously as God does. In order to achieve our salvation, the almighty God had to come to earth through the Person of the Triune Godhead born into humanity as Jesus, “God’s Son,” and die for our sins to defeat evil and reconcile us to God.

In the ramifications of the fall of humanity and the struggle for liberating the world from evil and reconciling humans with God, the Bible gives 4 reasons for suffering: 1) A fallen world, 2) punishment for sin, 3) suffering in a fallen world for advancing the good news of reconciliation in Jesus, 4) mystery.[1]

Humility and gratitude demand that we keep in mind that God did not need us. God was already in an eternal relationship in the Trinity, totally satisfied. But the nature of love is to be shared, so God created humanity to share that love. But for God to do so, to give us a choice to love and obey or not to love and obey, our heavenly Parent did not create us to be automatons: like fembots and malebots programmed to give set responses. Each side of the predestination debate recognizes human free will. God allows people to act upon their own desires. Are our desires to please God, our Creator and rightful Ruler, or to take power ourselves and rule others? God made us both men and women to be stewards of the earth together as recorded in Genesis 1:26, commanded to rule the earth as God’s regents. So, when we rule unjustly, everything and everyone else suffers.

The question about Haiti is right on target. As with so many issues in our fallen world, this one is complex with current events and deeper roots of fear involved. Right now, the current events causing the continuing upheaval in Haiti are the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the 7.2 earthquake in Les Cayes (Aug. 14, 2021) and its aftershocks.

Wikipedia has rounded up an impressive number of sources to try to explain what happened. Let me summarize these.

  On July 7, 2021 at 1 a.m. EDT, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at his residence. “A group of 28 foreign mercenaries are alleged to be responsible for the killing. First Lady Martine Moïse was also shot multiple times in the attack, and was airlifted to the United States for emergency treatment… According to the head of the National Police of Colombia, General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, the Colombian attackers were recruited by four companies. He stated that monetary motivation seems to be the only reason behind the attackers agreeing to do the job… Moïse called several police officials for help after discovering the attackers, but none of them arrived in time.” The attackers “started shooting in his office and bedroom, and then ransacked the two rooms. Moïse was severely beaten before he was shot multiple times, killing him at the scene. He was shot with 12 bullets in his chest, arms, right leg, and left hip, and had a shattered left eye. The house was riddled with 9mm and 5.56mm bullets. First Lady Martine Moïse was also shot multiple times in the attack, suffering gunshot wounds in her arms and thighs, in addition to severe injuries to her hands and abdomen.”

This was a vicious, deadly assault to annihilate the president and his family. I think it was much more than an assassination. I think it was a warning.

“The Haitian National Police engaged the alleged assassins after they left Moïse's residence. ..Angry civilians joined the search for the assailants, and helped police track down some of them who were hiding in bushes. ..As of 30 July, 44 suspects have been arrested, including 18 Colombians, three Haitian-Americans, 12 Haitian police officers, and six other Haitian civilians…Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph described the suspects as highly trained and heavily armed foreign mercenaries, a description that was corroborated by the Haitian Ambassador to the United States Bocchit Edmond.”[2]

I decided to check the Wikipedia with people I trust who regularly visit Haiti.

Back in 1992, I had an outstanding Haitian Student in my class and Aida had another in her class. One night, my student told me of his calling from God. He had a burden for a town outside of Port-au-Prince, which had an 30% infant mortality rate. The reason was the people had to use the river for everything, drinking water, washing clothes, their latrine, and watering their animals. I introduced him to Aida, who had been a community organizer for Spanish speaking people before she went to seminary, and she, and these two students, now graduates began to build two boards of directors, one in Haiti and the other in the USA. We made this vision a mission of our church, so it could receive non-profit donations. Over the next years, we found a Christian water ministry with whom we built a well (that plummeted the infant death rate), then a school to educate the newly surviving children, then a church, then a road in and out, and then a clinic. The ministry, named Doorway to Peace Haiti, has sent many teams to help build all these things. Our former Haitian students became a minister and a ruling elder of our church. They remain pillars of our church, intrinsic to its ministry.[3]

 So, I asked them what the assassination was all about. Here was their answer. The president was an honest and just man. His vision was to weed out all corruption in the government. This is why he fired so many administrators and replaced the national chief of police. My former student laments that the president went too swiftly in his reforming campaign. Particularly, he went after the use of the ports for drug trafficking and the involvement of so many high level people in the drug trade.

 Aida’s former student added that he himself grew up as a next-door neighbor of the future First Lady. He said she and her family were wonderful godly neighbors and she is a righteous Christian helping in the reform.

  This assassination fit under the 3rd reason for suffering in the Bible: suffering for advancing God’s reign. One of the main reasons we planted our school is that we want to train future Christian leaders. There are many schools run by Christians with the same aim all over Haiti. But this mission is presently very difficult.

 Haiti is subject to frequent earthquakes. We ourselves were in the Dominican Republic when the last major earthquake hit (Jan. 12, 2010). We were driving on a bridge when it shook, but it did not collapse. Neither was the building where we have a condominium damaged. No one died. But the Haitians suffered more than 250,000 deaths by the same earthquake. Why was that? Because builders there do not build into their structures earthquake protection like they are supposed to do and often paid to do. This is a common corrupt practice. The Doorway to Peace well was damaged and we need a new pump. That’s expected. But our teachers are afraid because no one in Haiti is sure if our school building is safe and classes are being held outside. That is not expected, because we paid for a sound, earthquake proof building to be erected.

 Haiti is in the grip of a power religion that is all about controlling other people. One piece of common knowledge in the Dominican Republic is that some Haitian workers - and the Haitians do nearly all the building there – automatically sabotage your building at the end. So, we tried to stave that off by giving gifts like watches to all the workers and making sure they had health care. My former student even paid for an operation for one worker who had a cancerous growth). And we paid fair wages and made certain our workers were protected so that no one died at our worksite, as happened at the condominium construction next door. At the end, we had little damage, just a token pouring of cement down one of our toilets, but little else. Our building in the Dominican Republic has been sound through all the storms and earthquakes.

 When that previous earthquake hit, the Dominicans organized countless caravans of trucks with all sorts of supplies which they brought over the border and experts and volunteers from the Dominican Republic and all over the world came to help rebuild. We had teams from the USA sleeping in our apartment, some on the floor. This went on and on. Juan Luis Guerra, a devout evangelical Christian who is a world-class musician and composer living in the Dominican Republic and considered a national treasure, at his own expense built a hospital on the border just for those injured in the earlier earthquake. Many individuals, churches, and businesses donated to the rebuilding effort.

 But at that time the Haitian government was corrupt. The then president of Haiti was all over the news because he demanded money from the Red Cross when it offered to build free homes. He claimed he owned the land and wanted to be paid. Then he put a heavy embargo on the egg trade, the main benefit the Dominican farmers had with Haiti. The Dominicans were outraged and disgusted. It was already difficult to take in supplies since the militias controlled the borders and shook down all people trying to help, including the doctors, largely Dominicans, who volunteer at our clinic. The militias create their own tolls for travelers and charge their own excises, even for bringing in medical supplies to help their own people. The army and the police at the time turned an eye away. But the Red Cross event and the egg embargo during the last earthquake were the last political aftershocks the Haitian people were going to tolerate. So outraged at their president’s greediness they forced him out of office, hoping to get a righteous ruler. That’s also why they aided police in catching the assassins this time around.

 Another Haitian graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and one of my Athanasian Scholars and the Founding Director of a Bible Institute[4] here in Boston and in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, just shook his head and explained to me, “The watchword for each president is ‘It is your turn to pluck the chicken. Just don’t take too many feathers." That president took too many feathers.

 But, where sin abounds grace abounds and I know no other people more godly than Haitian Christians. I have had many Haitians excel in my theology classes and become Athanasian Scholars. One of the authors of The Global God, Dr. Dieumeme Noelliste was the Dean of the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology in Kingston, Jamaica.[5] The school flourished under his leadership. He is now a chaired professor at Denver Theological Seminary. The pastor at the church we attend in the Dominican Republic, Father Bruno, has founded ten schools in the north of Haiti.

 Why doesn’t God stop the suffering in Haiti? God is doing it all over Haiti. God works through people, through us. If we want to see change in Haiti and a fair life for all its suffering citizens, we need to support Haitian ministries that are trying to bring about that change.     


[1] You can read about these in the book Aida and I wrote together: Joy through the Night: Biblical Resources on Suffering (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1994).

[3] To learn more about Doorway to Peace, see Doorway to Peace Haiti (dtphaiti.org).

[4] P R E S S BIBLE INSTITUTE - DORCHESTER CENTER, MA - Business Data (dandb.com). He credits the quotation to Jean Jacques Dessalines, the Father of the Haitian nation. It goes: “Pluck the feathers of the chicken but avoid that it doesn’t cry.” It was an acknowledgement of the corruption that was to be done moderately. 

[5] “Transcendent but Not Remote: the Caribbean,” The Global God: Multicultural Evangelical Views of God, edited by Aida Besancon Spencer and William David Spencer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 104-126.