When I talk about the earthquake with my youth group kids, my neighbors, my friends, I often hear the same phrase: “God is so good because He spared my life.”
Yes. I think God is good because He spared my life too. In fact, if I look at my earthquake experience, there are a million things that make me say, “God is good.” But there are also a few that don’t make me say that.
When I came back from Christmas in the US, I met Ben Larson, his wife Renee, and their cousin and best friend Jon. They were seminary students staying at St Joseph’s, working with the Lutheran church in Haiti. I don’t usually get to know the guests at St. Joe’s very well, but these three were an exception. Perhaps it was our proximity of age, perhaps it was our common interest in the Haitian church, or perhaps it was their curiosity about everything in Haiti. It wasn’t me. They were the ones who saw me passing by on my way to the roof and pulled me into conversation. They were the ones who invited me to play cards and to eat watermelon in the evenings. They were the ones who came knocking at my door and spent 2 hours sitting around my table telling hilarious and embarrassing stories about each other.
On January 12th, the trio came with me to walk the Ravine. They gave out worm pills, washed heads of tinea capitis, and took photos. Renee had a parade of children following her the whole time and Ben got the chance to be a fake doctor and help me convince a young mother that she had to breastfeed her baby day and night or it would die. When we returned from our walk, I took them to Petionville for lunch at a Chinese restaurant, Ben’s choice. At the top of the hill of Delmas 91, we separated ways, them going back to St Joe’s and me going to meet a friend at Quisqueya Christian School. The earthquake struck less than 2 hours later.
Ben, Renee, and Jon were on the dance floor, 5 stories up. Ben immediately moved away from the edge and close to a large supporting column. Renee and Jon watched as the concrete from the two upper stories collapsed around them and crushed Ben. Somehow, they ended up in a little pocket and were able to punch through a weak spot and climb out.
Shortly after I arrived at St Joe’s that night, the boys brought out a ladder and got Renee and Jon off the roof. I remember so clearly running to them and grabbing Renee in a tight hug. She sobbed on my shoulder and I tried not to cry too, for Ben and for Bill, who at the time was also presumed dead. Jon joined us and for a few moments, we made a tiny circle of grief. But then the first injuries arrived and I had to leave them.
Renee and Jon spent the first night on the field with us. I know they were absolutely devastated, but they came to me every few hours to ask how Bill and TiPatrick were doing. In the morning, they walked to the US Embassy to report Ben’s death and though they did not want to leave, the Embassy evacuated them on Thursday. I was coming home on Thursday afternoon when I passed a friend. She gave me a handwritten letter – it was from Renee and Jon, telling us good-bye and promising their prayers and forever friendship.
When I think about Ben’s story and particularly about the sorrow that Renee and Jon are living with, I do not feel the urge to proclaim that God is good. A young man who loved God and who was on the road to great things in the US and Haiti died, leaving behind a godly wife and a godly cousin and best friend. What about that should make me say, “God is good”?
It has taken me weeks to acknowledge how angry and confused Ben’s death makes me. The truth that I keep coming back to is this: we have a flawed conception of God’s goodness. If God’s goodness is circumstantial, based on things that we conceive of as “good”, then God ceases to be good when “bad” things happen. In a God like that, I cannot and will not believe. Either God is good all the time, regardless of what happens, or He is not worth believing in.
I am still grateful for all the “good” that surfaced during the post-quake days, but I don’t want to point to that as proof of God’s love. I want His love to be higher than my circumstances so that when a tragedy that I do not understand happens, I can still say with confidence, “God is good”.