If there is anything the most elemental study of the Bible, theology and church history will reveal it is the simple, but profound, truth that we have no business trying to explain divine providence in terms of what God is saying or doing in a catastrophe or tragedy. American history is, however, littered with preachers telling us what God was specifically saying to the world, or to some person or group of people, when a particular event took place. The greatest illustration of this problem occurred during the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was once asked, "Whose side is God on in the war?" He said he was not concerned with that question but rather with the question of whether or not he, that is Abraham Lincoln, was on God's side. That is the point!
Lincoln, not even a member of a Christian church, understood better than many ministers when to speak about providence, and how, and when to be quiet. But the problem persists. Ministers tell us why lightning strikes here and not there, or why a genocide takes place in Africa and not America. The most recent illustration of this problem once again brought broad attacks upon both the man and his message. I refer to Pay Robertson's comments last week about the earth quake in Haiti.
A friend, who is a good theologian, pointed out to me a letter that appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. This letter is worth reprinting.
The letter has some excellent literary references. My friend notes that both Luther and Lewis commend mockery to push back the devil. He adds, "Sorry about the biting ending." What do you think?
Minneapolis St. Paul Star Tribune Letters to the Editor
January 14, 2010
Dear Pat Robertson,
I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth — glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox — that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it — I'm just saying: Not how I roll. You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings — just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract. Best, Satan
Lily Coyle, Minneapolis