Sunday, January 17, 2010
They say a blog entry should be short, but what can you do when a man like Pat Robertson causes such a mess? Some things take a while to clean up. Hopefully you’ll bear with me.
If you somehow missed it, you can read the text of Pat’s comments and see the video here. To be fair, he said these things in the context of a broader report in which he expressed sympathy for the Haitian people, and it was part of a fund raising segment for earthquake relief, so I’m not going to comment on his intentions. Pat Robertson may have genuine love in his heart for the suffering people in Haiti. But what he said was very wrong.
Many people have slammed Pat, of course, and I hate to pile on too, but to my dismay, some friends of mine—well-known Christian authors who should know better—seem open to the idea that Pat was right. “Look at all the times God punished other nations with disasters in the Old Testament,” they said to me. “It’s Biblical!”
Well, no actually, what Pat Robertson said is not Biblical. On the contrary, it’s heretical.
Before I mention a few of the many theological arguments against this grave error in thinking, let’s ponder the human cost. If we allow ourselves to start believing any specific natural disaster is the result of any specific nation’s sins, we need not go much further along that same path before we find ourselves calling a specific case of cancer (for example) a punishment from God. After all, in the same way the Bible shows God using disasters to punish nations, so it shows Him physically punishing individuals for their sins. Think of Nadab and Abihu, or Ananias and his wife. The Bible does indeed teach us God has sometimes supernaturally entered history to physically punish both nations and individuals for their sins. It also says God will do it again one day. But how heartless it would be to use that as an excuse to tell a woman she just lost her breast to cancer as a punishment from God!
That is essentially what Pat Robertson said to the Haitian people the other day. Maybe he simply has a very inappropriate sense of timing. Maybe the love is there. I don’t know his motivation, but I do know there are grave dangers in what he said. Judgmentalism. Legalism. Isolationism. Fatalism. So much evil can flow from the prideful notion that we are equipped to know a disaster on any level, national or individual, is a particular punishment or admonishment from God.
Ask yourself: after we have moved from attributing God’s wrath to nations to attributing it to individuals, what is the next step? Why, imposing divine wrath on God’s behalf, of course.
Nineteen men and women were hanged and one was crushed to death in Salem because of a natural extension of this theology. Here’s how the logic went: “The Bible says God blesses good people in this life, and curses bad people, and I am being good yet bad things are still happening, so the neighbors must be devil worshippers.” After all, the same Bible that tells us about God’s use of natural disasters also says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” And sure enough, following exactly that same logic after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson famously blamed their neighbors, their fellow Americans who are “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians.”
So much for the human cost. Let’s look at this heresy of Pat’s from a Biblical perspective, beginning with the fact that the Bible says “In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.” Certainly there are places where the scriptures tell us the righteous will be blessed and the wicked will be cursed, but elsewhere it says the righteous sometimes get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked get the rewards of the righteous.
This is not a contradiction. It simply means we don’t know nearly enough about God’s intentions to be able to connect any person’s behavior with the earthly blessings or curses he receives. God has his own reasons for giving easy lives to some and trials to others. We can never fully understand those reasons.
This should be especially obvious to Christians. After all, Jesus taught us that our righteousness will often lead to suffering. We are told we must pick up a cross to follow Him, and “In this world you will have trouble.” If God-fearing believers are guaranteed suffering in this life (and we are) where is the logic in Robertson’s statement that Haiti’s suffering is a curse for devil worship? Isn’t it just as possible, based on what the Bible says, that this earthquake is a cross for the faithful Haitian Christians to bear?
In the wake of Robertson’s comments, some have pointed to passages such as this one, this one and this one to assert that humanity’s sins can “defile” the “land” though sins such as sexual immorality, the wrongful shedding of blood and idolatry. Read those scriptures carefully and you’ll see it’s a giant theological stretch to apply them to any "land" except the promised land of Israel, but never mind that for now. Let's pretend "the land" means any land, anywhere, just for the sake of conversation.
If any land could still be "defiled" by sexual immorality, the wrongful shedding of blood or idolatry, then every land on earth would be pretty much equally defiled. After all, what nation can claim it is innocent of those sins? Yet few nations have ever suffered a natural disaster on the Haitian scale. In fact, many nations which have been "defiled" by those sins have been richly blessed on the whole, including the USA of course, despite our rampant adultery, homosexuality, history of genocide against the American Indian and the African slave, and widespread worship of the almighty dollar and all the idols it can buy. So while the idea of cursed land makes for a great scenario if you’re a novelist, it just doesn't have any basis in observable history.
Another flaw in this theology is found in the root of the word translated in all those verses as "defile." That root is tame, the same Hebrew word translated elsewhere as "unclean" to describe houses where a person has died, bowls which have contained unclean food, chairs where an unclean person has sat, and of course unclean foods, among many other inanimate things. We know from Peter's famous vision of the sheet filled with animals that God has made all foods "clean." That's one of the proof texts used in support of the doctrine that Christians are no longer required to observe the letter of the Mosaic law. Funeral homes, dishes, chairs and pork are no longer "defiled" for us. Would this be true of everything inanimate except "the land" itself? Of course not.
The idea that the land of Haiti was somehow “defiled” centuries ago in a way that caused an earthquake here and now runs counter to everything the New Testament teaches about the law.
If we apply those Hebrew verses to "the land" of Haiti, then we have no consistent justification for disobedience to anything else the Mosaic law has to say about cleanliness and uncleanliness. Are we really prepared to return to that? Or do we agree with Paul that "...through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death"?
Moving on, consider a similar discussion that once took place between some Jews and a rabbi. Rather than comment on it I’ll just quote the conversation, with a few minor modifications to make it more obvious how it relates to the topic at hand (please do compare my version to the original):
“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the New Yorkers whose blood Osama bin Laden had mixed with their office building. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these New Yorkers were worse sinners than all the other Americans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those thousands who died in the earthquake in Haiti — do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in the Caribbean? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’”
If we ever had any doubt what Jesus meant when he warned us “Do not judge,” this conversation should remove those doubts. Don’t let anybody tell you different: Jesus doesn't want Christians saying the kind of thing Pat Robertson said the other day.
Posted byAthol Dickson at 6:28 PM
Labels: The Jesus Way