God’s word mis­used in dis­as­ters


Hu­mil­ity would re­quire not pre­sum­ing to know the mind of God

‘‘Be still and know that I am God.’’ – Psalms 46:10

It’s an ad­mo­ni­tion some of us strug­gle to obey.

In­deed, some of God’s self­ap­pointed spokes­peo­ple seem to find it es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult. Thus, be­fore the first rain­drop fell, the first palm tree bowed, or the first trans­former blew, they came out to tell us what He meant by point­ing a mon­ster hur­ri­cane at Florida.

A Pas­tor Keith Swan­son said Hur­ri­cane Irma would be di­verted if the Supreme Court im­me­di­ately out­lawed abor­tion and same-sex mar­riage. Mean­time, for­mer teen idol Kirk Cameron said the storm was the de­ity’s way of teach­ing hu­mans ‘‘hu­mil­ity’’.

Ac­tu­ally, hu­mil­ity would re­quire not pre­sum­ing to know the mind of God (‘‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nei­ther are your ways my ways’’ – Isa­iah 55:8), but leave that aside. The point is, this sort of thing is com­mon. To the scorn­ful de­ri­sion of non­be­liev­ers and the mor­ti­fied em­bar­rass­ment of those people of faith who strive to be also people of thought and com­pas­sion, ev­ery dis­as­ter seems to bring out some nickel prophet who claims to have di­vined the mo­tives of the Almighty.

When Hur­ri­cane Har­vey smacked Hous­ton, a ra­dio preacher named Rick Wiles blamed the city’s ‘‘LGBT de­vo­tion’’. When Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina drowned New Or­leans, Catholic priest Ger­hard Wag­ner called it ‘‘di­vine ret­ri­bu­tion’’ for the Big Easy’s gay-friendly ways.

This pen­chant for as­crib­ing dis­as­ter to a peeved de­ity does not stop at in­ter­na­tional bor­ders. As Haiti strug­gled to dig out from a dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake, TV preacher Pat Robert­son said the im­pov­er­ished is­land na­tion was suf­fer­ing un­der a curse from God.

Nor is the afore­men­tioned pen­chant lim­ited to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. Jerry Fal­well no­to­ri­ously di­ag­nosed the September 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks as God’s ver­dict on the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, among oth­ers.

It is telling that the God such people con­ceive is al­ways so per­fectly in sync with their own pol­i­tics and bi­ases. It never seems to oc­cur to them, for in­stance, that th­ese calami­ties might be God’s way of pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity for some­one to be a bet­ter hu­man, to reach a help­ing hand to some­one else in need, to ‘‘love one an­other as I have loved you’’.

For that mat­ter, it never seems to oc­cur to them to just shut up. But it should. As much as or more than it is any­thing, faith is sur­ren­der, an ac­cep­tance of one’s own small­ness and lim­i­ta­tion, a will­ing­ness to be­lieve that what­ever comes – what­ever God brings, no mat­ter how painful – will re­dound, in the end, to love. That can be dif­fi­cult to main­tain in the best of times, but in the test of times, when the wind howls or the ground heaves, it be­comes ex­po­nen­tially harder.

That is what you are see­ing demon­strated when th­ese nickel prophets proph­e­sise. The palm trees shred, the rain slants side­ways, the ocean rises like a wall, and they speak with a pon­tif­i­cal cer­ti­tude about What God is Try­ing to Say. They fill awed si­lence with bab­ble.

It is, yes, hu­man na­ture to seek an­swers. It’s a way of as­sert­ing or­der upon an un­ruly uni­verse. But that or­der is only an il­lu­sion. It doesn’t mat­ter how loudly you blame the lib­er­ties union or the LGBTQ com­mu­nity, there still comes a mo­ment when you must con­tem­plate how small you are, how un­cer­tain life is, as mea­sured against the an­gry and capri­cious storm. And this is where the truth is told. After all, it’s easy to find scape­goats and call it God’s will.

What’s hard is to feel the storm rise and yet, obey that hard ad­mo­ni­tion. Be still, and know.

Leonard Pitts Jr, win­ner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for com­men­tary, is a colum­nist for the Mi­ami Her­ald.

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