Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Haiti - God in the love and the ruins

Why are the media so discreet when it comes to publishing graphic images of dead and wounded westerners, and yet offer so little discretion and dignity to those whose suffering we observe from a distance?

In all the harrowing images of Haiti, I found myself dwelling on these few from a website on CNN, because they dwell not on mutilation and death but on compassion and, dare I say it, even a dark and dignified hope that, beyond this immediate senselessness, there is yet love in the world and meaning to be discovered.

We'll never find God through objective argument or through seeking some external evidence of God's existence. Rather, we ourselves must make God - rather as we must make love if love is to exist. This is different from inventing God, for we do not invent love but we express it and give it meaningful existence through our relationships with one another. Through expressing our care, our compassion and our co-dependence, we draw love in, weave its presence within the material world of which we are a part, and make it true and real. I think we must do the same for God - and, in the end, aren't they one and the same activity - making love and making God?

We're used to images of the Madonna and child, but if we're to go beyond the idea of God the Father as a distant patriarchal authority meting out punishment to the world, we need to find images which show fatherhood as well as motherhood as a relationship of tactile and sorrowing love. This image above speaks to me of how I want to imagine God the father, the relationship of God to Christ's suffering and ours, and the trust which such embracing love invites in the child's uplifted arm.

In our modern quest for meaning, we secularised westerners so often point to suffering and tragedy as evidence of the absence or non-existence of God. From a distance, we live vicariously in relation to God, seeking to justify our non-belief through the suffering of others. I don't want to deny the challenge which suffering poses to faith, nor to suggest that the personal experience of suffering doesn't sometimes lead to a loss of faith. Yet in these images, I see the human made in the image of God, expressing dignity, love and beauty in the midst of the most unthinkable desolation. Maybe we should kneel at the feet of the people in these images, and see in these suffering neighbours of ours the evidence they offer us of the compassion of God made real in their compassion for one another.

These people have taken such care with their clothes, wearing spotless white in the midst of such chaos and filth. It's a reminder that human creativity and the desire for beauty, the desire to preserve our dignity in the image we present to the world, is perhaps a more deeply rooted human need even than our physical need for food and shelter. We must take care that in seeking to meet the physical needs of those in extremis (necessary though that is), we don't deprive them of the dignity that is the essence of their humanity and ours. Such dignity is preserved when we know how to receive as well as to give, when we recognize that, while we might have material goods to offer, in our driven quest for autonomy and affluence we may have lost some more fundamental good that we witness in images such as these, the good of being together and sustaining one another.

This image is a living crucifix which speaks not of betrayal and torture but of trust, communion and co-dependence. We so readily look for evidence of human failure, eager for reports of looting and mayhem, of lawlessness and violence, and the media are quick to satisfy our appetite for cynicism and savagery. But images such as these tell a different story of how humans behave towards one another in times of despair, and maybe they invite us to think again of how God too behaves towards us in times of despair.


  1. I'll be wanting to quote the passage on weaving love - and God - into our lives.

  2. Every moment of resistance to temptation is a victory. ....................................................


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