Just wondering... -
I read today that Pat Robertson celebrated his eightieth birthday on March 22. For those of you who don't know, or perhaps don't want to know, who Pat Robertson is, please allow me to tell you. In so doing, I will also reveal something I've been wondering about recently.
There are times when I'm embarrassed to admit two things about myself. First, I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit that I'm a Christian. And, second, I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit that I have been an ordained minister for more than 30 years.
No, I'm not embarrassed about what I personally believe. As a convinced follower of the Christ, I hold to certain theological beliefs and engage in certain religious practices. And, I'm prepared to propound and defend those beliefs and practices, if called upon, because I believe the religion of Jesus Christ is a viable model for twenty-first-century emulation.
What embarrasses me are those leaders of a significant portion of Christianity who periodically make inexcusable comments about various matters of a religious nature. My fear is that I will be wrongly classified with such individuals.
Damning a nation
I'm thinking particularly of Pat Robertson, the American Christian televangelist. In the wake of the recent devastating 7.0 earthquake that shook the nation of Haiti, he made some rather inane comments that can serve no useful purpose, but serve to inflame and to bring reproach on the religion of love and acceptance that Jesus both lived and taught.
After Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said that well over 100,000 people may have died in the natural disaster, Robertson took to the airwaves to express to his followers his peculiar opinions on everything Haitian.
"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti," he opined, "and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other."
Sadly, Robertson's comments are not unique. Earlier, he linked Hurricane Katrina and terrorist attacks to legalized abortion.
I wonder why some people make such inexplicable and inexcusable comments.
Shame on Robertson! To quote my late parents who, by the way, were also ordained ministers, "he should know better."
A theological objection
I take strong exception to anyone who dares to suggest that natural disasters such as earthquakes are the judgment of a loving God on the human race. My contention with Robertson and others like him takes the form of a theological objection. I promise not to turn the remainder of this column into a theological treatise. Still, I must make some basic points by way of personal response to such outrageous comments.
Many people, when reading the Old Testament, are left with the impression that the God depicted therein is nothing more than a God of wrath and judgment, whereas the God of the New Testament is a God of love, acceptance and forgiveness. Not without reason are Christians - yours truly included - bothered by this common perception.
Truth be known, there is judgment in the Old Testament. But, there is also love. Conversely, there is love in the New Testament. But, there is also judgment. God presents himself first and foremost as a God of love. However, the God of love is also a God of justice. Love and forgiveness, not punishment and damnation, are offered to the repentant.
My overriding problem with statements like Robertson's is expressed well by the statement: "Your God is my devil." If this is the God I serve - one who judges a nation because of an alleged pact with the devil - then he is not my God, for such a being is unworthy of my worship. Indeed, such a God would be none other than my devil. The God, in whose Kingdom I willingly serve, is one who offers unconditional love and forgiveness. He does not judge nations with earthquakes, snuff out innocent lives with automobile accidents or sentence homosexuals to lives with AIDS.
While preparing this column, I discussed this topic with a theologian-friend. He suggested that "God is the same in both Testaments; his nature does not change. God's vengeance is based on, or is a part of, his justice and, in justice, he acts in love. And, God always acts justly."
I have in my personal library the autobiography of William Barclay (1907-78), the well-known Scottish scholar. He relates in gut-wrenching prose the tragedy of losing his 21-year-old daughter and her fiancÉ who were drowned in a boating accident.
"God did not stop that accident at sea," he wrote, "but he did still the storm in my own heart so that somehow my wife and I came through that terrible time still on our own two feet."
Barclay also tells of receiving an anonymous letter after his daughter had died. "I know why God killed your daughter," the correspondent declared. "It was to save her from corruption by your heresies."
Barclay added: "If I had known the writer's address, I would have written back in pity, not anger, saying, as John Wesley [1703-91] once said, 'Your God is my devil.'"
I will be the first to admit there is much I as a Christian do not understand about God. However, I refuse to accept the perception of a vengeful God who unilaterally damns a nation, which had apparently made a pact with the devil. Such an act on the part of Divinity would cancel any inkling of the love, acceptance and forgiveness that is part and parcel of the God of the Bible. Such a God would be a bully, a reprehensible terror, unworthy of our love. Such a God would be my devil.
Burton K. Janes writes from Bay Roberts, where he wonders about many things firstname.lastname@example.org