A pastor in New Zealand recently claimed that the earthquake which struck the island nation is evidence of God’s judgement against gays. In the US, the Calvinist pastor John Piper suggested to a distraught husband that his wife’s miscarriage might well have been causally linked to his viewing of pornography. When I was 19, I attended a church which was of the view that a young biker who had died in a road accident had actually been killed by God – or rather – euphemistically – the Almighty had ‘lifted His protective hand from him’. His offense? The good-looking lad (whose hair was a little too long and whose denims were a little too tight) had recently joined the church band. Playing guitar before the congregation he was considered somehow libidinous for having caught the eye of the pretty girls in the dour, pentecostal pews. Surely his untimely death was an act of God! A woman in the same congregation, a mother of two young boys, died some while later in a car crash: there were dark insinuations of suicide, and – more disturbing still – whispered conjecture that God had taken her life. She had been falsely accused of infidelity, labelled an adulteress and “disfellowshipped”. An apparent ‘prophetic word’ had even been uttered that seemed to foreshadow her death. Jesus simply forgave the woman ‘caught in the very act of adultery’, rather than condemning her, and confronted her accusers with their own vicious hypocrisy. But the pentecostal exegetes and casuists were adept at performing hermeneutical acrobatics to constrain the Bible to their harsh judgements. Saint Paul’s strange words in I Corinthians 5:5 “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” were cited to intimidate those who might be inclined to stray from the fold. I recall the sense of fear and dread which descended on the occasion of both these deaths: had these people been “handed over to Satan?” The death within the year of two believers disquiets me still: for me it marked the beginning of a long journey away from a punishing god. And what a strange and pathetic god he seems to me now: parochial and small-mindeded, a petulent and angry god, spiteful and unpredictable, easily offended, estranged from his own fallen world, ever vascillating between a conditional acceptance of – and rejection of – his fallible children. This god apparently preferred a prurient huddle of puritans to a lost and unclean “world”, or to “worldly” believers, as if the Creator had created two distinctly different realities, one for the local congregation and one for everyone else. “the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it” as they would say. Apparently, their god’s mercy was continually displaced by his plain nastiness. Was this stern god of the pentecostals simply a distorted reflection of his followers’ pitilessness? Or was he the same despot that had presided over the Salem witch trials and the cruelties of the Inquisition? For it seems to me that we do indeed create God in our image. I discovered this was not my God, this Thanatos whose face resembled austere and petty men.
It disquiets me to write about the dead, . It is unconscionable to contemplate those one has loved being killed by God; and for Christians to suggest it is devastating.
“what is stronger
than the human heart
which shatters over and over
and still lives”(1)
Haiti: Where is love?
There was a widely held view amongst evangelical christians at the time of the 2010 Haiti earthquake – in which some 300 000 people lost their lives – that the disaster was God’s judgement on an evil people. Pat Robertson, American media mogul, faith healer, televangelist and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, made it clear that God had sent the earthquake as punishment for the Haitians’ alleged “pact with the devil”. Was Robertson simply ignorant of seismology (Haiti is on a tectonic fault line) history (The 18th century legend of a pact with the devil has absolutely no basis in truth) and theology, or was this simply one more example of religious bigotry? How could he presume to judge a world for which Christ died – the poor and needy, widows and orphans, the victims of such tragedy? (2)
Where, o where in all this is the spirit of Christ? Where is love? Where is mercy? Where is grace?
“dissembled piety will be reckoned double iniquity”
– Matthew Henry Commentary
Jesus: the friend of sinners, healer of the sick, succour of the poor, the morally fallen, outcasts, rebels, prostitutes, adulterers, fornicators, demoniacs, sell-out-tax collectors, addicts, murderers, thieves, men and women whose deformities and diseases were put down to some inherited sin. This prophet reprimanded the religious leaders of his day (as he does those of our own time):
“What sorrow awaits you experts in religious law! For you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.”
” God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”… God so loved the world….”
“Silence is the language of god,
all else is poor translation.”
Somehow I hope for an end to words: my own words, as cluttered as a hoarder’s house, feel oppressive under the weight of too much divarication. In my imagination I walk with Piper, Robertson and the elders of the Assemblies of God: we look upon the decaying bodies of children pulled from the ruins of the collapsed buildings in Port au Prince, the bloodied interior of a wrecked car where a christian woman died, the operating table where a defeated surgeon holds a dead baby. We would listen to the keening of widows. We would put down our leather-bound annotated reference bibles and cradle the orphans in our arms. Amidst the suffering, we would find our words depleted of meaning. Perhaps there, only the words of the poets would suffice: Eliot, Roethke, Plath, Sassoon, Rupi Kaur. Perhaps there we could renew our love for the world for which our Saviour was crucified.
“The theory that Haiti is a nation built on a pact with the devil has circulated on a number of websites, each tracing back to an apocryphal tale of Haitian voodoo priests sacrificing a pig and drinking its blood in 1791 in order to secure Satan’s aid in expelling the French occupation.
(1) Rupi Kaur
(2) Robertson, who claims to speak for Christ and His church, is a controversial figure. I read recently that he founded Operation Blessing International Relief and Development Corporation (OBI) which “has operations in 105 countries … providing goods and services valued at more than $3.1 billion. Implementing programs that provide disaster relief, medical aid, clean water, hunger relief, community development and orphan care”(Wikipedia). Yet according to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Robertson_controversies, Robertson has made comments such as “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” He attacked Hinduism and Islam as “satanic” and “demonic”, and stated that “… the acceptance of homosexuality could result in hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, terrorist bombings and “possibly a meteor”. He has been involved in shady and illegal diamond sdealing, and has financial ties with genocidal African dictators such as Liberia’s Charles Taylor ( who was found guilty of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, slavery and the use of child soldiers.) He was also involved with the brutal dictator of former Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko.
A documentary exploring the Operation Blessing controversies, entitled Mission Congo, premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.