‘ Your God is my devil’

The Compass - - OPINION -

Per­sonal em­bar­rass­ment

Damn­ing a na­tion

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.

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 JeanMax 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 the­olo­gian­friend. 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-yearold 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.’”

Un­der­stand­ing God

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.

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