by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

February, 2010

As I write this, the nation of Haiti is reeling from the effects of a massive earthquake. The quake registered a magnitude of 7.0, which is quite powerful as earthquakes go, with destructive energy equivalent to 32 million tons of TNT. Three million people—30% of Haiti’s population—were affected by the event. The U.S. has sent ships, planes and supplies to the ravaged country—many from our Illinois neighbor, Scott Air Force Base—and President Obama has appointed former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to lead private-sector fund raising efforts. Recently I discovered children in the next block from our home operating a hot chocolate stand to raise money for Haiti relief, and our own church has formulated plans to raise funds through the annual spring chili supper. It seems that everywhere, donations are pouring in.

Meanwhile, the spirit of the Haitian people remains unbroken. They refuse to give up. Lack of tools or resources has not stopped them. There have been stories of Haitians with virtually nothing sharing their meager resources and digging a 200 foot deep well by hand, with only shovels. People are wrapping their hands with trash bags and digging for increasingly rare survivors.

And yet, in the midst of all this, it is easy to ask, “Where is God?” Some say the earthquake itself is a form of divine retribution. Others have suggested that God has abandoned Haiti—and perhaps humanity in general—by “allowing” the earthquake to happen. Some have suggested that the Haitians somehow deserved the untold suffering inflicted by the earthquake, or that there is no need to donate because we have already done so through paying income taxes. Pooja Bhatia, a fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs, wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece, “If God exists, he’s really got it in for Haiti. . . . Why, then, turn to a God who seems to be absent at best and vindictive at worst? . . . Perhaps a God who hides is better than nothing.”

But we don’t simply have a God who is “better than nothing.” Psalm 46 says, “God is our refuge and strength, / an ever-present help in trouble. / Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way / and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, / though its waters roar and foam / and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psa. 46:1-3 NIV [emphasis added]). We have a “refuge” not just a God who hides; a loving, compassionate God, not just one who stands idly by (Matt. 10:29-31).

The challenge to us as God’s representatives is that if God seems to be hiding, if God is nowhere to be found, it is because God is not to be found in us. Jesus’ last words to Peter were “‘Feed my sheep.’” followed closely by “‘Follow me!’” (John 21:17b, 19b NIV). Those words echo down through the centuries to us as well: “Feed my sheep. . . . Follow me!” An uncredited story in the Suffolk, VA News-Herald made this observation: “Just because you can turn the channel doesn’t mean the tragedy isn’t still there. Just because you can turn the front page doesn’t mean the need for aid is not still great. Just because you can click to a new Web page doesn’t mean that lives are not still in danger and lives are not still being lost.” We could turn away but we have the example of a savior who refused to turn away from us, even when the task was unpleasant (Matt. 26:39). God did not ask whether we were worthy of grace (Romans 5:8) because if God had asked the question the answer would certainly be a resounding “No!”

Are we feeding God’s sheep? Are we following Christ? In answer to the question, “‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29b NIV), Jesus told the now-familiar story of a Samaritan who found a Jew who had been beaten, robbed, and left naked and half dead (Luke 10:30-35). The “Good Samaritan” didn’t ask himself whether the victim “deserved” his help. He didn’t ask whether the victim was one of his own people. He simply helped. This is the unrelenting standard of God: Help those who need help; feed my sheep. This is the call to each of us. I pray we will be ready and worthy to answer.

“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me,
for in you my soul takes refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.” (Psa. 57:1 NIV.)

Copyright © 2010 by David Phelps