Back in January of 2010, there was a massive earthquake in Haiti. It was one of the most devastating natural disasters of the century, as it was a 7.0 earthquake hitting only 16 miles from the capital city Port-au-Prince. The island’s population density, combined with an inadequate infrastructure, contributed to a catastrophic loss of life, with death tolls ranging between 100,000 to 220,000. Obviously, Haiti was what the world was talking about during the start of the new year. Funds were raised, aid was sent, volunteers and groups organized relief and support. Some of the national commentary was supportive and had meaningful things to say, while others suggested things which were not very helpful. One prominent and outspoken Christian surmised that perhaps the earthquake was the result of a percentage of the country’s population’s historical reliance on the religious practice of voodoo, and that the earthquake was a demonstration of God’s judgment against that practice.
Obviously, this sound bite generated a massive response, and it certainly put Christianity in a negative light. And while a Christian worldview does not provide for the belief other religious practices as a way of living out and practicing our faith, it would not be wise, or correct, to suggest a natural disaster is the direct hand of God in judgment of others. One, it’s an incredibly hypocritical and prideful thing to suggest. It assumes that the sin in one person’s (or people’s) life is worse and more deserving of judgment than the sin in another’s. Secondly, it’s making assumptions and speaking for why God allows certain events to happen. Jesus clearly speaks agains this in Luke 13:3, when He asks this question after a tragedy happened in a nearby city, accidentally killing a bunch of people: “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.” What Jesus was combatting was the knee-jerk reaction some religious people when they said that the recipients of the tragedy deserved it for their sins. Jesus is saying that they were no more guilty of sin and judgment than anyone else. To explain a tragedy by suggesting someone deserved it because of their sin goes against grace and the gospel.
Anyways, as a ministry, we wanted to let our campus know that we disagreed with the perspective being put out into the media regarding how some Christians suggested that the earthquake in Haiti was due to their belief in the practice of voodoo. So we launched an outreach on campus, with a giant sign on Sproul asking the question, “Does God love Haiti?” The intention was to invite students to talk about the previously mentioned controversial stance with actual Christians at Berkeley, and help them see that we vehemently disagreed with the narrative being put out by other Christians in the media.
Well…let’s just say most didn’t understand what we were attempting to do. In fact, we overestimated how informed the campus really was regarding that quote by the famous Christian leader. Ironically, most Berkeley students who weren’t a part of Cru assumed we were suggesting the very thing we were standing up against. Many assumed we were suggesting the Haitians deserved to experience that tragic earthquake, and that God did not love them. And believe me, I heard an earful from many angry Cal students. I tried to explain to them our actual position, and the actual stance we were attempting to make, and that we were in complete agreement with the Berkeley students, not the other way around.
I’ve never felt so misunderstood in my life. I attempted to put myself out there, standing up for Jesus, and it felt like it all blew back in my face. It felt like I had put another black eye on the Christian community at Berkeley. And as I looked at my heart, and I searched my conscience…I couldn’t see where I went wrong.
Sometimes we’re just misunderstood. And it stinks. It’s really difficult. But it’s a part of life, and it’s certainly part of the Christian life. This is because in all times, in all cultures, the Christian worldview will stand at odds with different aspects of the culture’s values. This is because all cultures are made up of people. And humanity has been completely impacted by sin. Sin has stained every aspect of our humanity, and when you put them all together into a culture and world system, you’re going to find that what comes out is something opposed to God’s design in one area or another. Not all areas, but many. And whenever Christians authentically live out their faith, inevitably, they bump up against cultural values opposed to a Christian worldview. Doesn’t matter the century, doesn’t matter the people group.
God hasn’t promised that we will be understood. He doesn’t promise that we’ll be able to convince everyone. But He does promise His presence. One of the most well-worn promises God gives His followers is found in perhaps the most well-known Psalm. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, them comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
There are times in our lives when we don’t understand why we’re being misunderstood. It doesn’t seem fair, and our hearts and intentions are being misrepresented, either unintentionally or intentionally. The reality is, we can’t control how other people choose to respond to us, or the expression of our faith in God and what He has said. But we can know and rest that God is not oblivious to these things. He has also promised us that all of these things will work towards “the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28). In the short run, that might not seem very helpful. But…who’s walking their walk with Jesus for the short run anyway?