Jan. 14, 2010— -- The earthquake in Haiti is a tragedy of such gargantuan proportion that it's natural for the faithful to wonder how -- or why -- any god could allow it.
Enter the Rev. Pat Robertson, who always seems to have a ready answer for the unanswerable.
"You know ... something happened a long time ago in Haiti. … They got together and swore a pact to the Devil," Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club" Wednesday.
"They said, 'We will serve you if you get us free from the French.' True story."
That's right: Robertson seems to suggest the Haitians brought the earthquake on themselves, in a deal with Satan.
"And so, the Devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out," he went on. "You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another."
Robertson's words instantly triggered a firestorm across the country, including a rebuke from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who told reporters "at times of great crisis there are always people who say really stupid things."
Earlier today, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said on "Good Morning America" that she is "speechless about that kind of remark."
"Our heart goes out to the people of Haiti. … That's not the attitude that expresses the spirit of the president or the American people, so I thought it was a pretty stunning comment to make," Jarrett said.
In a statement on its Web site, the Christian Broadcasting Network said Robertson was speaking objectively about Haiti's history that has led "countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed.
"Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God's wrath," the statement reads. "If you watch the entire video segment, Dr. Robertson's compassion for the people of Haiti is clear."
Robertson is actively involved in helping launch and finance relief efforts to help the Haitian people and called on viewers to donate money to the cause on Wednesday's show, according to the network.
Still, some members of the Christian community said they were stunned by Roberston's words, which they suggested may be un-Christian.
Dr. Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas said, "It is absolute arrogance to try to interpret any of God's actions as a judgment against this person or that person. … Our duty as Christians is to try to help these people pray for these people and to help them."
Franklin Graham, the evangelist son of Billy Graham and president of the Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse, said he also disagrees with Robertson's assessment.
Graham's group is working in Haiti to provide humanitarian relief and, Graham said, he plans to go to the country in the coming days.
"He must have misspoken," Graham said of Robertson. "But we need to get on the path of helping people right now. God loves the people of Haiti. He hasn't turned his back on Haiti."
But a vengeful God has long been Robertson's weapon of choice.
After Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke in 2006, for instance, Robertson said it was God's retribution for Israel ceding land to the Palestinians.
"I am sad to see him in this condition," Robertson then said, "but the prophet Joel makes it very clear that god has enmity against those who 'divide my land.'"
Robertson and the late Christian conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell created a stir in 2007 when they said the 9/11 attacks were God's punishment for loose U.S. morals.
People "who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen,'" Falwell said on the "700 Club," which is the Christian network's flagship news talk show.
"Well, I totally concur," Robertson said in response.
And the cause of Hurricane Katrina's devastation in 2005? God's anger over abortion, Robertson said in the aftermath.
"We have killed over 40 million unborn babies in America. … Some of the attacks that are coming against us either by terrorists or now by natural disaster, could they be connected in some way?" he said.
Robertson Cites French Legend for Haitian 'Curse'
Robertson elaborated Wednesday on his explanation for the tragedy in Haiti, saying that the devastation is the latest in a line of curses to hit the island people.
He also cited the relative success of the Dominican Republic, as a contrast.
"That island of Hispaniola is one island," he said on the "700 Club." It's cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republican. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island."
Robertson advised people to pray for Haitians to have "a great turning to God."
"Out of this tragedy, I'm optimistic something good may come. But right now we're helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable," Robertson said.
Robertson's tale stems from a legend that Jean Jacques Dessalines, who led the Haitian revolution against the French Army, entered into a pact with Satan disguised as a Voodoo deity in exchange for a military victory, which finally happened in 1803.
One minister of a Haitian-American church, who does not believe this legend, recently wrote about the frequent references in Haiti "to a spiritual pact that the fathers of the nation supposedly made with the Devil to help them win their freedom from France.
"As a result of that satanic alliance, as they put it, God has placed a curse on the country sometime around its birth," he said, "and that divine burden has made it virtually impossible for the vast majority of Haitians to live in peace and prosperity in their land. … The satanic pact reputedly took place at Bois-Caïman near Cap-Haitien Aug. 14, 1791, during a meeting organized by several slave leaders, under [Dutty] Boukman's leadership, before launching what would become Haiti's Independence War."
Attributing natural disasters to divine intention is nothing new.
In an ABC News poll conducted after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 23 percent of Americans said they believed hurricanes were "a deliberate act of God."
Of those, half called the storms "a warning," about a quarter called them a test or punishment and the rest said they occur for reasons impossible to understand.
ABC News' Jake Tapper, Gary Langer and Kristina Wong contributed to this story.