Saturday, January 16, 2010

Defending Pat Robertson

Why isn't he right? I've been having this conversation with several Christians this week and its been very interesting. The bible is full of examples of God using natural events to pass judgement on our earthly actions and of course as Christians believe God is the Ultimate Watchmaker He either causes or refuses to prevent catastrophes like the Haitian earthquake, so it is hardly insane to assume then that He would choose to cause or allow events that were in accordance with His plan. But where's the love for Grandpa Robertson?

Dispensationalist Christians will tell you that since the crucifixion we're in a separate state of grace and God does not express His will in the same way He did in the Old Testament so that's why we should not interpret these natural events as expressions of God's Will and I find it kind of surprising that this tends to be a fundamentalists' view. However they seem not to also consider that even if God has been toning down the thunderbolts of late He clearly used to smite folks left and right so this kind of thing is very much part of His nature and should sound more old fashioned than crazy.

Well okay...but if disasters are not expressions of God's judgement then neither can good fortune be a sign of His favor or blessing. Right? Well not exactly. Insofar as I can tell ALL Christians believe that God blesses us on earth even if He isn't passing out disfavor. In fact I'd go so far as to say that fundamentalist dispensationalists are especially inclined to see God's favor expressed explicitly. This is finally what American Exceptionalism is all about, but it really can't run both ways AND be serious.

But even non dispensationalists, like Catholics, do not see the hand of God at work here even though they tend to be more comfortable with the idea of God's judgement in our time. All of which brings us back to Robertson's bat shit crazy comments.

I find that believers in general struggle mightily with the notion that their active God might behave in a way that offends their sympathy. For instance I think most Christians are somewhat comfortable with the idea that AIDS is God's judgement on gays. Ostracizing gays is part of their socio-political agenda but watching children suffer the consequences of a natural disaster is not and I don't think it is an accident then that almost no Christians see the hand of God in Haitian suffering.



  2. "I never question why things happen the way they do."

    That's what Texas quarterback Colt McCoy said recently after an injury sidelined him in the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) National Championship game during the first quarter of play.

    If you follow football at the University of Texas, no doubt you've heard Colt McCoy "give God the glory" week after week, year after year. He walks from fist-pumping and back-slapping with his teammates after each game (he is the winningest quarterback in major college football history), meets the ESPN reporter at the sidelines and opens with, "I just give God the glory."

    He has done it every time. For four years.

    He stuck to the script, mostly, after he watched his beloved Longhorns fizzle out on his college career-ending field of dreams. He stood bravely facing the national TV audience, his throwing arm hanging limply at his side and said, "I always give God the glory. I never question why things happen the way they do."

    Oh my, Colt McCoy has a lot of life yet to see.

    I can appreciate Colt's determination to be faithful in all circumstances. I can honor a young person who lives all of life, including the part that involves throwing a ball, in awe of the Creator who put all of life in motion. I can even abide a naive worldview that imagines a God who cares about which team wins a college football game.

    But the comment "I never question why things happen the way they do" erased believability from the strength of Colt McCoy's glories to God for me. I couldn't suppress a cynical laugh and a bitter comment.

    "Really, Colt? Really?" That's what I said to the TV.

    Perhaps when the "things" that happen in life begin to ooze outside the confines of 100 yards of well-kept grass, Colt McCoy will have a question or two. Maybe when he has time to look up from impressive personal stats and game-day clipboards, he'll find the millions of questions the rest of us are taking to our moments with God each day.

    Why do the world's children die hungry while America dies fat?

    Why is killing innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam or Hiroshima not murder?

    Why do healthy, creative young people suffer with illness or succumb to tragedy way before their time should end?

    Why are people hated because of the color of their skin, the choice of their mate or the preference of their religion?

    Even the most faithful saints of all time have wondered, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

    Maybe Colt McCoy will discover, as I have, that trust in God is strengthened in those moments of deep longing for answers to life's painful questions. I find no greater affirmation of my belief in God than I do when I meet a grieving Creator who does not stand at the control panel dishing out tragedy to test the strength of my resolve to believe, but stands with open arms and a broken heart to say, "I'm sorry it hurts so much. There is confusion and disappointment and evil in the world. I am here to hold you."

    So what's a God-fearing, heart-broken, high-profile, NFL-bound quarterback to do when the nation turns its eyes and ears to him for a comment at the end of such a night?

    Well, I was grateful he didn't cry. And I was struck by his poise and the absence of bitterness in his voice. But I do wish he'd left God out of the conversation for once. Talk about the team, the helplessness of the situation, the injury. Sum up the interview with a smile and a wave and a "God is still God" if you must.

    That's honest and believable.

    Colt McCoy: "I never question why things happen the way they do."


    Teresa of Avila: "The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too."


    God is on the journey, too. Sometimes it's just a puzzlingly bad trip.

    Jan Chapman

  3. As many know by now, Pat Robertson, televangelist and aging leader of the 700 Club, has once again spoken from his ignorance about an appalling tragedy; this time inferring that the earthquake that hit Haiti was God’s judgment for Haiti’s past pact with the devil (Robertson's Comments). You will recall that both he and Jerry Falwell came out after the events of September 11, 2001 proclaiming that God was judging America. Robertson continued that refrain after the devastation of hurricane Katrina.

    After learning of Robertson’s recent remarks, I commented to someone that I had thought about responding to his theological blunder, but I decided that I did not want to waste my time on this so-called preacher who often acts more like the proverbial crazy uncle that says things that makes the rest of the family cringe. However, after some reflection on his statement, and the growing inner compulsion I felt to remind folks that he is not a legitimate Christian leader, I have decided to offer some measure of response.

    Many others have written very well thought out replies to this theological lunatic, and so I do not want to repeat what they are saying. But the question that keeps coming to my mind concerning his way of thinking when he responds to these kinds of tragedies is, “Why does Robertson, and others like him, feel the need to make these sorts of statements?”

    I am not really sure I can fully answer this question, but it seems to me that there is some motivation behind these sorts of comments that tells us something more about the way these misguided preachers think. In other words, terrible happenings like the earthquake in Haiti serve as opportunities for these kinds of folks to preach their off-kilter theology, and it seems that they will not allow these opportunities to pass without sharing what they believe about God, regardless of the damage it will cause...

    Continued at...

    Drew Smith

  4. The depth of suffering in Haiti deserves a more thoughtful assessment than simply slamming Pat's myopic worldview. And even though we know from the beginning there will be no satisfying answer to the problem of evil, it remains a question we must ask.
    Traditionally the problem is stated something like this: If God is good, then the suffering of innocent human beings is something God would work to prevent at all costs. And if God is all powerful, then the prevention of innocent suffering is certainly something God is capable of accomplishing. In the face of unspeakable human suffering, including the suffering of innocents, we are faced with the prospect that either God is not all powerful or not good.
    Through the centuries many different theological ideas developed to address this dilemma. For instance, there are those who argue that the justice of God supersedes whatever compassion may exist in the goodness of God. Even if God wanted to show compassion on a sinful humanity, the justice of God would not allow it. The law is the law and even God cannot get around it. All have sinned, Paul wrote, therefore no one is truly innocent.
    This is basically where Pat Robertson left Haiti. When bad things happen to us, it's probably because we did something to deserve it.
    Of course we can always just give up on God altogether. The universe is random and things happen according to a course of natural law. Earthquakes happen because the earth crust moves, and innocents suffer because they live on the crust. The earth is a naturally occurring phenomenon, and the best thing we can do as humans is try to live where it does not move.
    There may be another way. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible describe God as filled with grief and sorrow when the widow and the orphan are neglected. They portray God as angry when the poor are exploited, but also dismayed because they suffer. In other words, God seems to really care what happens to us.
    Jesus said that the most important thing we do in this world is love God unconditionally. There is great wisdom in this saying. If we only love God when we get what we want, or if we only love God when God protects us from harm, then we are engaged in a very one-way relationship. To love God regardless of circumstances puts us in a position to endure whatever life throws at us. If we have some sense that God is with us and for us no matter what is going on, and we are committed to that God, great comfort is possible.
    Jesus also taught us to love our neighbor. But if we are preoccupied with what God is or is not doing for us, we probably won't pay much attention to what is happening next door. But if we can get to the place where we are no longer anxious about where God is or who God is for, then we can pay attention to the people we share this planet with and hopefully build an actual human family.
    This does not solve the problem of evil, but we knew from the start that was not going to happen anyway.
    James L. Evans