Let’s recap. Our story began in the smoking ruins of Haiti in January 2010, with one weak cry winding out from deep within the concrete rubble of a collapsed hospital. The cry was from six week old Landina, severely wounded in the devastating quake that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands. The horror naturally prompts the question for a Christian theist: why the quake? Why the suffering? Why baby Landina’s misery?
Enter Pat Robertson as he makes an extraordinary assertion that the quake was a divine punishment for Haiti’s alleged pact with the devil made two centuries earlier. Thus, Robertson’s view offers the following explanation for that weak cry winding up from concrete rubble: Landina is being punished for the sins of the Haitians.
Once Robertson had proposed his solution there was a nearly universal chorus denouncing it. (Note I said nearly universal. Sadly, at the wasteland at the Christian Post where I originally blogged about this case several Christians commented that they supported Robertson and his interpretation.)
But here’s the problem with a categorical repudiation of Robertson’s thesis: Lamentations depicts Israelite children being punished for the sins of Israel. And whether that punishment comes through an invading army or a terrible earthquake, the principle remains that it is possible for God to punish infants and children through disasters because sometimes God does punish infants and children through disasters. Thus it follows that Robertson’s analysis of Haiti’s misery could be correct, even if we presently lack sufficient evidence to say that it is correct.
And that brings us to a rather embarassing problem. How could it possibly be the case that Landina was buried in concrete as a just divine punishment? Remember, the point at issue is not whether every single child or infant injured in a disaster is injured because they are being punished. That’s not the claim. Rather, the point at issue is whether it is possible that any child or infant is injured in a disaster because they are being punished.
In search of an answer we then countenanced a first attempt to rationalize babies being punished: perhaps they sinned in a previous life. Needless to say that suggestion didn’t work. So we moved to a second: maybe God imputed the guilt of Adam to infants and if the guilt of Adam can be credited to them then perhaps the guilt of Israel or Haiti as well. The problem is that this explanation depends on the notion that the guilt for sin can be imputed from one person to another, and there is absolutely no reason to accept such a claim. Needless to say there is doubly no reason to think that the guilt of Israelite or Haitian adults could justly be imputed to Israelite or Haitian infants, thereby leading to the just injury or killing of those infants.
With that background we can now turn to our third blushing attempt to explain Landina’s being buried in concrete as punishment. Could it be that Landina was actually a sinner herself? In other words, could it be that she was punished not for her own sins in a previous life, or for the sins of her society, but rather for her own ongoing sin?
This possiblity is introduced by Augustine in Confessions where he describes the phenomenon (as he sees it) of sinful babies:
“Myself have seen and known even a baby envious; it could not speak, yet it turned pale and looked bitterly on its foster-brother. Who knows not this? Mothers and nurses tell you that they allay these things by I know not what remedies. Is that too innocence, when the fountain of milk is flowing in rich abundance, not to endure one to share it, though in extremest need, and whose very life as yet depends thereon? We bare gently with all this, not as being no or slight evils, but because they will disappear as years increase; for, though tolerated now, the very same tempers are utterly intolerable when found in riper years.” (Confessions, bk. 1; I apologize for the dated Pusey translation, but it is the only one I had at hand)
So what should we think? Is it possible that Landina was justly punished for her rebellious life as a six week old? Perhaps she expressed an intolerable greed for the breast of her care giver.
Here’s my reaction: poor Adeodatus (Augustine’s only child). Can’t you see the scene between Augustine and his newborn? “Stop crying! Stop crying I say you greedy brat! You ate two hours ago. You’re just selfish, hoarding all that milk in your bloated tummy. Sinner! Sinner!”
Hmm, methinks we have a disturbing case of projection here. Infants don’t sin and Augustine’s suggestion that they do is ludicrous. It also is strictly speaking irrelevant to the present case since the punishment in question is given because of the sinful society (Israel; Haiti), not the sin of the infant itself.
Augustine was a great thinker. But even great thinkers made foolish points. This third attempt to explain how Landina’s horrific experiences could have been a just punishment must also be judged a failure.