The Answer Lies Somewhere Between Pat and Bono

By now we’ve all heard Pat Robertson’s explanation of the tragedy in Haiti. According to him, the earthquake was the result of a pact that Haitians had made with the Devil 200 years ago. As soon as I heard what he said, I posted the following on my Facebook:

“If Pat is correct, and Satan is the ruler of this world, shouldn’t Haiti be the most prosperous nation on the face of the earth?”

Why do some Christians see the need to defend God with bad theology? Why do we feel that we have to have an answer for everything under the sun? If you and I had an answer for everything that took place in this universe we wouldn’t need faith.

On the other hand, there are those like Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, who believe these tragedies are a direct result of poverty. His solution? Foreign aid and lots of it. After all, Western countries don’t have as many disasters because they are rich. But, is that really the answer? According to Rabbi Daniel Lapin, “The problem is not poverty, it is priority.”

Take, for example, the continent of Africa. Since 1970, rich countries have given a staggering $2.74 trillion in aid to African nations, but to no avail. Most African governments are corrupt to the core. The leaders of these nations embezzle most of the foreign aid and the help never gets to where it’s supposed to go.

On December 26th, 2003, over 30,000 victims perished in a massive earthquake that struck the city of Bam in Iran. Being a victim-mentality government, Iranian authorities explained away the death toll inflicted by the quake as a direct result of poverty.

For many, it is very easy to blame poverty for such devastation, however the same people fail to realize that just a few days after the Bam earthquake, the United States had one of the same magnitude, which struck the California town of Paso Robles with almost no casualties. Why? Because it is more important for the corrupt Iranian government to spend billions of dollars on a large-scale nuclear weapons program than it is to retrofit buildings in an earthquake-prone region. People, in their minds, are dispensable.

Right after the quake in Bam, I sent several thousand dollars to one of our pastors in Iran, directing him to use it to help the people in the destroyed city. After a few weeks he sent me several newspaper clippings that showed the wide-spread corruption that was taking place in the midst of all that misery. For example, the German’s rescue dogs were stolen at the airport. Supplies sent by the US were sold on the black market. Iranians were stealing valuables off dead bodies, and to expedite the process, the thieves were cutting off bodies’ arms, fingers and ears with the valuables still on them.

So, if it isn’t the Devil or poverty causing this, then what is?

According to Rabbi Lapin, it is the lack of Biblical worldviews. Whether Americans like it or not, in the United States, the standard bearer of Western civilization, “We have two cultural imperatives embedded deeply within our national DNA. Both flow from the Bible with which our founders were intimately familiar and by means of which they sculpted their worldviews.”

The first cultural imperative is to leave ourselves less vulnerable to nature. Americans believed it was God’s will to developed medicine and medical technology to defeat disease. They found insecticides to protect the food supply and built dams to control rivers. They took God’s commandment to Adam and Eve (“Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.”) seriously. Americans knew they were pleasing God by making the nation safer and more secure for themselves and their neighbors, which then seemed to be blessed.

The second distinctive cultural imperative is the importance of preserving human life, which is driven from America’s Biblical roots and distinguishes her from the peculiar fatalism toward death found in so many other cultures.

As Lapin said, “Together, these two values enshrined in the West in general and in America in particular, are chiefly responsible for the vastly diminished impact that natural disasters inflict upon our society.”

Let me finish this post with Rabbi Lapin’s exact words:

God runs this world with as little supernatural interference as possible. Earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and yes, tsunamis happen. It is called nature, which is not benign. Fortunately God also gave us intelligence and commanded us to make ourselves less vulnerable to nature. He also implanted in us a culture in which each and every life is really important. That is why Deuteronomy chapter thirty states, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live.”

God may have allowed the earthquake to happen, just as he has allowed germs to exist and just as he has allowed cold weather each winter. However under the influence of Biblical culture, people have defended themselves against germs and they have learned how to produce energy to defeat winter’s frigid conditions. A long time ago, in His book, God provided the incentive and encouragement to survive nature. He isn’t to blame for the deaths in the Asian disaster. Many of the deaths are attributable to slowness in adopting the western values that promote technical and economic development along with profound respect for each human life.

You Are How You Act, Not Just How You Believe

“Hey, why the long face?” asked my pastor.

That Sunday morning, I was feeling so bad about something that had happened the day before that my pastor could see it on my face.

“Well, I’m kinda embarrassed to tell you,” I replied.

“Come on, Shah. You know me better than that. Tell me what’s bugging you.”

Like a kid caught after breaking his next-door neighbor’s window with a slingshot, I spilled the beans, “In three years of marriage this has never happened to us. For the first time one of our checks bounced.”

With a surprised look on his face, he began to laugh, and said, “ Let me tell you a secret. For the first time in my marriage, I wrote a check that didn’t bounce.”

Of course, he was exaggerating, but like a neon sign on top of a cheap motel, a light went on in my head, “So, you don’t have to live within your means, and it’s OK to write bad checks? Wow…There really are people who live this way?”

I was raised in a culture where we had to purchase everything in cash. No credit cards. No loans from the bank. There were no entitlement delusions. You were only entitled to that which you could afford in hard currency. No cash, no carry! That was the end of that tune. My parents spent years saving their money so they could carpet a room, or buy a secondhand car – not because they were poor, but because they were wise and practical with their finances. That is why, that Sunday, I was rather ashamed of what had transpired the day before, and did not expect my pastor’s response.

Sure, my pastor was joking, but I’m amazed at how, today, the same entitlement mentality prevails even among Christians.

While at a wedding, in a circle of Christian friends, I over heard one man, without batting an eye, boast, “My house is going into foreclosure. I haven’t paid my mortgage for the last six months, and now I’m looking for a smaller house.”

My first reaction was to slap the brother and scream at him, “Where is the honor in your action, you who boast of your Christian faith? Who told you, somehow, you are entitled to buy a house you couldn’t afford? And now, instead of settling your debt, you’re looking for another house!”

36 years ago when Karen and I got married, I inherited her 1969 VW Bug that her parents had given her as a high school graduation present. I still have the car and drive it on occasion. At one time, some of my church members told me how embarrassed they were to see their pastor drive such a beat-up car, but that didn’t matter to me. I wanted to be an example to my church and was hoping for the members to learn the importance of living within their means even in a land that is built on spending and credit. Besides all that, I truly loved driving my VW. In fact, in 2000 I had it completely refurbished – a job that was done by a friend whom I paid gradually as the work progressed.

In 2005, after paying off our mortgage and existing car loans, I looked through our finances to see if I could afford to purchase a new car (because, any more, I could not hack the summer heat in a car with no A/C). As it turned out, we could afford it, so for the second time in my life—The first time was over 37 years ago–I went out and purchased a new car for myself.

Let me sum up what I’m trying to convey to you in this New Year: You are how you act and not just what you believe. Telling people what you believe isn’t going to cut it if you don’t live accordingly. Jesus told us to let our light shine so those around us would see it and glorify the Father. In these economically tough days when many are desperately looking for solutions that can offer them comfort, we can be that light by putting aside our childish entitlement attitude, and as an example, live wisely within the means God has granted us.