I was thinking about Haiti recently. Nothing unusual about that; I do it on a regular basis, which would explain why I’ve written three screenplays and a book on the topic. But this was in response to a sermon I’d heard. The scripture on which the message was based would normally be considered, to be kind, a dry selection. Not something someone would feel comfortable basing a half-hour long message on.
Exodus 20 begins with a bang: the Ten Commandments. Those laws, recorded in the first 17 verses of the chapter, are the fodder for countless sermons, and for good reason. In some ways, they lay the foundation for civilization as we know it.
Once you leave those verses, however, the text in the following chapters ventures into some pretty esoteric territory: The design of the clasps and crossbars used in the tabernacle, the colors of the pomegranates on the priests’ robes, the treatment of slaves (!), and the exact method of splattering blood from the animal sacrifices are among the minutia covered by the dicta described therein. They’re painful to read. Can you imagine preparing a meaningful, relevant talk on that trivia?
Which raises the question: Why are they there? What purpose do they serve? The speaker with the unenviable task of expounding on that text made the following observation: The Hebrews for whom those laws were written had been living in slavery for the previous 400 years. The generations who knew how to live in freedom were long past. This new group, recently freed from the oppression of their Egyptian captors, were suddenly thrust into a world of liberty and autonomy that was as foreign to them as moving to the moon would be for us. And just as dangerous.
How to begin a free, just society with no foundation to build on? God graciously provided them that foundation in Torah, the laws that govern – admittedly, down to the most precise detail – how to live in a free society.
Which brings me to Haiti.
Haiti had a lot in common with Israel. It was a nation of slaves who found themselves, through the blood and sacrifice of its people, suddenly free of the shackles of French tyranny. Where to begin in a land whose people had known nothing but unimaginably cruel mistreatment at the hands of their French captors?
Who would help these newly freed men? Not the US, a country supposedly founded on the principals of equality. Thomas Jefferson (who held the truth that all men are created equal to be self-evident; evidently not to him, however) was afraid the Haitian revolution would inspire his slaves to revolt, so he refused to recognize the nascent nation. This, in spite of the fact that Haitian soldiers had fought in the American revolution.
Certainly not the French, who enriched themselves on the backs and blood of the millions of slaves they brought from Africa and whose revolution had inspired the Haitians to seek their freedom.
In other words, if Haiti was to learn how to be a truly free nation, they would have to figure it out by themselves, without historical precedent – no nation has ever, before or since, been born of a slave rebellion – and without outside help. Is it any wonder Haiti has suffered through dozens of dictators accompanied by as many or more new constitutions? They’re still trying to figure it out.
Picking oneself up by one’s bootstraps is literally impossible for a single person, much less an entire nation. Would that God had given a new Torah to Haiti. Or that His people would be that outside source of help and inspiration. Handouts won’t cut it. Another new “orphanage” won’t move them in the right direction.
At the very least, we should be understanding of Haiti’s situation. A more appropriate response would be to be part of a solution.
After all, we helped create the problem.