God is Good; God is Great

Yay for mangoes! They are delicious!

It is difficult for me to balance occasionally giving a friend needed money to support his wife and new baby with teaching him financial planning and fiscal responsibility. He receives $450 (Haitian; roughly $63 US) per month for directing a local project. I asked him to sit down with his wife and plan how they would feed their family of five for a month; the following is the grocery list:

  • $200: 10 cans of rice (1/2 can per day, supplemented by some homegrown crops)
  • $120: 3 cans of beans
  • $60: 1 gallon of oil
  • $25: vegetables
  • $20: 3 sacks of Maggi cubes (bouillon cubes)

We had to cut out the last $25, which had been allocated for meat, in order to have some savings aside. The oil will have to be used sparingly, and we talked about different ways to flavor the rice when it’s only been boiled in water. Given he does not have to pay taxes, all his money is going to food, and unfortunately, if this month follows the pattern of the previous ones, it will not be enough. Though my friend’s income is on the lower side of the spectrum, it is a job, which is more than most people here have.

It hurts me say this, but it is my responsibility to communicate Haitian life, and in order to do so I must present the following juxtaposition:

  • 25,000 Gds: a cock-fight bet; two people throw throw down a total of 50,000 Gds on a single fight; this may happen a couple times a month in Bayonnais.
  • 50 Gds: the selling price for many prostitutes in Gonaives; this price may drop as low as 25 Gds in some brothels.

Please pray for my friend, Facile because his father died yesterday afternoon. It is especially painful to me because I remember Facile mentioning his father being sick when we took the video for his blog; his family didn’t have the money to send him to the hospital. Thank you to the anonymous donor supporting my work here, for I was able to use some discretionary funding to send a neighbor’s wife to the hospital recently.

I was blessed with the challenge of preaching Sunday morning in Creole/French. My topic: human suffering and the will of God, for questions of this nature have become increasingly active during my time here. The sermon, which ended up lasting over 40 minutes, drew upon many beloved sources, including professors at Davidson, pastors in Charlotte, cherished theologians and philosophers, and my friends and family. I was a quilter, throwing in a patch or two of my own, and the assemblage has brought much catharsis. By request, I’ll offer abridged reflections below tailored to a non-Haitian audience.

“God is good, God is great, let us thank Him . . .” Most know the prayer. The kicker is how can God who is both good and great allow his children to suffer? In order to address this question–which we can’t ultimately answer–we need to examine the will of God, which brings us back to the beginning, to creation. Pieces of James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation” provide an insightful reference:

“God stepped out on space. God looked around and said, “I’m lonely. I’ll make me a world.” God smiled and the light broke. God rolled light around in his hands and made the sun. God stepped down and walked, and where he trod his footsteps hollowed valleys out. God walked around. God looked around and said, “I’m lonely still.” Then God sat down on the side of a hill where he could think; by a deep, wide river he sat down; with his head in his hands God thought and thought, till he thought, “I’ll make me a man!” Up from the bed of the river God scooped some clay; and by the bank of the river he kneeled down; and there the great God Almighty, who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky, who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night, who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand–This great God, like a mother bending over her baby kneeled down in the dust toiling over a lump of clay till he shaped it in his own image and blew into it the breath of life.”

In his image. . . God had to make an important decision: whether or not to give man freedom. He could have made man a puppet, attached by stings to divine will; man would never get hurt and man would always return God’s love. . . but would that be love? No. Like the loving father of the prodigal son, God risked his heart by letting go. In giving man free will, in creating man in his image as a creator himself, God gives birth to Love but also makes suffering possible, for we all know too well the consequences of man’s poor creations.

Man bites the apple. Satan didn’t shove it in his mouth, so man can’t escape responsibility for his action. (I think Satan is the personification–and perhaps incarnation–of Pride by the way.) The fact is: we all bite apples; we all make poor decisions that are life-taking rather than life-giving; we all participate in nailing Love to a tree. This identification allows us to become our “brothers’ keepers,” (Gen. 4:8-9) to accept responsibility for poor use of free will–even if it is not our own, to follow Jesus in taking the sins of the world upon ourselves and not blinding the world by taking another eye, to forgive others without the condition of their asking pardon. However, we are but men (rock!), and offering grace is no easy business; thank goodness God is experienced and willing to help. (don’t worry if you didn’t get the “rock” reference)

Offering grace is hard because human suffering can be so radically cruel. A few of examples of man’s poor creations include slavery, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, and suicide bombers. It is not hard to find man raising himself at the expense of another, objectifying the other as a means for sexual satisfaction or the subject of an entrenched grudge for example. He may wound most deeply with words, failing to follow the golden rule.

Yes, but what about hurricanes, tsunamis, and other evils of nature? I wonder if just as God created Love by risking free will to man, so God created Beauty by risking freedom to nature. The same forces which bring rain to our crops and beautiful sunsets may conspire under certain conditions to make such things as hurricanes and tsunamis. (And if we talk of global warming, we see but one intersection of man and nature’s freedoms going awry.) The design beneath the great evolutionary variety of creation is also responsible for drug-dodging bacteria and incurable diseases. We may argue that the the painful prices of Love and Beauty have God in debt to us; we may even try to sue God for giving freedom, but I believe God’s very presence in the courtroom would rest the prosecution in less than an instant.

God does not send suffering. Read Jesus’ response to the fall of the tower of Siloam (Luke 13:1-5) or identify with Qoheleth’s observations of injustice (Ecclesiastes 7:15). However, God does let suffering happen. God allows people, even innocent youth, to fall subject to the negative sides of His creation’s freedom. “Why?!” we cry silently or otherwise. . .
“Apres la souffrance: delivrance!” This line from one of Actionnel’s sermons last month affirms that deliverance follows suffering, encouraging others to hang in there. But why must deliverance come in the form of death for so many people stricken by extreme poverty? Why must deliverance for a starving mother of several children in Cite Soleil be leaving a life emptied of hope, constrained to mud cakes, hunger, and sadness?

We know God’s response is via compassion and resurrection, for not only did he sacrifice his son, his very self, on the alter of our pride, but he took the greatest sin, the greatest affront to love, and breathed into it new life; the greatest sin of killing God was resurrected in the salvation of mankind.

We often talk of waiting on God, and it is true that we are a people of Saturdays, a people in between a promise and its fulfillment. However, we do not often talk of God’s waiting on us. (Paradox: divine intervention is and is not limited by our decision of whether or not to participate in love.) The invitation is to love, to receive God’s love and have the grace to offer it to others, for in doing so we manifest the presence of God in this world, we testify to the ordering Word of the universe despite the surrounding disorder. Friends, this Word is love. Life and salvation are received when we choose to participate in love. (John 1:1-4 ; 1st John 4:7-8 ) (Jesus, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Actionnel Fleurisma, riding the bus to show solidarity with school children the day after a suicide bombing on the same route, telling someone they’re meaningful by offering them your time, and treating others as you would like to be treated are all examples of love.)

However, we don’t always act in solidarity, we don’t always give our time; in fact, these days we’re often so busy it’s as if we don’t have any to give. If we make eye contact with the longing gaze of some poor soul confined to poverty, we are likely to break it as quickly as possible, for we are afraid to recognize ourselves as our brother’s keeper. We’re afraid, and too busy, sometimes to even approach this responsibility, even when it is as simple as approaching him or her.

Sunday morning, at the risk of elevating myself and my work in Haiti, I apologized for much of my life and on behalf of so much of the world that is simply advancing too quickly to notice those who have fallen behind. I apologized for all us 3-meal-a-day-ers, who simply can’t understand why someone would use “Clorox” to describe hunger, when we respond with no more than a conciliatory or politically correct gesture because the superficiality of news media will never amount to a human relationship. I asked pardon for all of us when we simply don’t know what we’re doing, and I expressed gratitude for all of us when we try to do what’s right in spite of the world’s confusion.

We don’t know how God moves apart from our decision of whether or not to participate in his work. However, we do know that God moves, and we can wonder at how He balances this movement with touching the freedoms allotted to man and nature, for to touch them too much may mean undermining creation itself, undermining Love and Beauty. (Touching them too much or in the wrong way could also mean enslaving man to a miracle.) We don’t know why God doesn’t always answer our most passionate prayers for which we would sometimes trade our very lives. However, we can trust in a God of love who promises resurrection, who in walking the walk Himself offers eternal compassion. We can try to trust. . . though it is not always easy. . .

God created us in his image with freedom as creators–creators capable of giving life or death. The invitation is to receive and participate in love as exemplified in the life of Jesus, for in so doing we find salvation and life.

Look around and see that you are not alone. How are you going to participate in creation?

Believe it or not, that is abridged. The Creole/French version hit many of the same themes but stayed more down to earth, not lending itself to nearly as many abstractions and playing with local examples and even a Haitian proverb. I didn’t expect it to hurt me to write some of what has become the English version. . . I don’t know if there is any venom, cynicism, or self-righteousness above, but if there is, please know that it would only escape from a wounded heart, one wounded not by subjugation to but by first-hand observation of injustice, by witnessing a thick strata of poor decisions bearing down upon friends who should never have to support such weight.

Well, this has been a cheery blog, hasn’t it? To lighten the mood, get this: if a guy has unrequited love for a girl and wants to pay a witchdoctor to help him out, placing a spiced ground-hummingbird powder where she has peed will do just the trick. No worries ladies: if your man needs convincing (WARNING: THIS IS REVOLTING), simply offer him a cocktail of sweetened beet juice with a splash of your monthly cycle.

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