Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pat Robertson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God, and Haiti

Pat Robertson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God, and Haiti

The deepest faith, the most vibrant hope
I have ever seen was in Haiti,
our largest and poorest Episcopal diocese.
The massive earthquake there killed thousands
including the Roman Catholic Archbishop.
Our Episcopal cathedral and diocesan offices, two of our schools,
St. Margaret’s convent, the Jubilee Center,
and our bishop’s home were destroyed.

The next day, televangelist Pat Robertson
said this earthquake was God’s vengeance
for a pact Haitians made with the devil in 1791
as part of the revolution that ended slavery
and French domination.
Pat Robertson thinks God was on the side of France
and slavery while Satan was on the side
of Haitian freedom fighters led by a devout Christian,
Toussaint L’Ouverture.
He claims that God punishes the acts of people
who died 200 years ago by killing 50,000 people
including 4 Episcopalians to whom
I have given communion with my own hands.

Rev. Robertson also said the deaths in the World Trade Center
on 9-11were God’s judgment on America.
Robertson and Osama bin Laden
both understood that tragedy the same way.
I have several words to describe Pat Robertson’s theology:
false, blasphemous, heretical, diabolical, and evil.
Christians must not tolerate such slanderous lies
about our God.

But after we reject Pat Robertson’s lies,
we are left with hard questions:
Does God cause natural disasters?
Why would a good God allow such suffering?
Is God wicked? Or is God powerless?
I have been struggling with these questions for years
and I don’t have perfect answers.
But I believe I have cleared away some mistakes
in the questions.

If we assume everything that happens is God’s will,
we are not talking about the God of the Bible.
Throughout Scripture, we hear over and over
that God is not at all pleased
with the way things are going on earth.

So how did we get the idea that whatever happens
is God’s will?
Theologians in the 4th century made a few little mistakes,
and people took those mistakes in a bad direction.
Over the centuries,
those mistakes eventually grew into the idea
that God is the puppet master of the universe.
Whatever happens, God did it – especially if it’s something bad.
So let’s ask ourselves: who is this God we worship?
What makes him God?
Why do we trust him with our very souls?
Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall asks,
“Where (God) is concerned is our foundational assumption
that of power or of love?
(W)hen we think of “God” do we think the last word
in sheer might, authority, supremacy, potency?
Or do we think compassion, mercy, . . . grace?”

God is powerful alright,
but the thing that makes God God is love.
The Godness of God is not dominance over everything,
but infinite mercy.
The God revealed in Jesus isn’t in the business
of destruction and death.
Our God is in the business of healing and resurrection.
That’s why I have no use for the cruel theology of Pat Robertson.

Other religious voices give us better ways of thinking
about God in the face of suffering
– better but not good enough.
One is Rabbi Kushner.
His book, Why Bad Things Happen To Good People
is much better than Pat Robertson.
It has a lot of good and kindly truth.
But in the end it doesn’t quite work.
It defends the goodness of God by saying
God is not really involved in the world.
God does not have the power to affect real life.
Robertson’s God is a sadistic monster.
Kushner’s God is an innocent bystander,
a nice guy but not someone who can help.

Another idea that we hear a lot is true,
but it’s only half the truth.
This is the idea of God as “the fellow sufferer who cares.”It is Martin Luther’s idea of the “crucified God.”
Great Christians like Dietrich Bonheoffer say
God is not power, but compassion.
God feels what we feel, suffers what we suffer,
and cares for us.
That, brothers and sisters, is absolutely true.

That is the God we see in Jesus on the cross,
the God who is so present with the hungry
that his stomach cramps –
so present with the lonely that his throat constricts
and cannot call out for comfort.

We must be very careful what we believe about God
because we always become like the God we believe in.
Believing in Pat Robertson’s God will make us cruel and vengeful.
Believing in Dietrich Bonheoffer’s God, believing in Jesus
changes us in the opposite way.
We relate to suffering, our own and that of others,
in a different way.
We acknowledge our own pain, then notice
that we aren’t the only ones who feel this way.
We dare to look at the suffering of others
– the abject poverty in Haiti and Zimbabwe,
the loneliness, shame, and remorse in the people right next to us.
We see that all forms of suffering are essentially the same.
Life hurts. We all hurt. We all go to the cross.
But we do not go to the cross without hope
if we go to the cross together with Christ and with each other.
When we bleed together, that’s Communion.
Martin Luther called that the theology of the cross
and it’s all true.

But it’s only half the truth.
It comforts us with a God who cares
but it doesn’t offer hope in a God who can save.
There is more to God than a fellow sufferer.
The eternal God who is and was and ever shall be
has a power to save.
But it isn’t the kind of power we understand.
We think of power as domination.
We think of power as Rambo breaking down the door
and shooting all the bad guys.
We think of power as imposing our way on someone else.
When God doesn’t do that,
we don’t recognize his power.
That’s why people didn’t recognize Jesus as King.
He didn’t act like an earthly king.

God’s power is his love.
God’s’ power is the love that created the universe,
brought life out of inanimate matter,
raised life up into consciousness,
and consciousness into art and spirituality.
God’s power did not kick in the door
to kill Pilate and the Roman soldiers.
But it did raise Jesus Christ from the dead
and make him Lord of All.
God’s love power works in two ways.
The first is right here and now in this world.
But 99% of what God does in this world,
God does through us.
St. Theresa of Avila said,
“Christ has no body now but yours,
no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now but yours.”

Martin Luther King, Jr did not say poverty and segregation
were God’s will.
He called on God’s power working through God’s people
to overcome them.
God is not interested is convincing us
the suffering in Haiti is just or right.
He is interested in healing it, through our action.

But not everything can be set right in this life.
Here is the key to God’s love-power in the age to come.
God alone is eternal.
God is the highest good, the truest truth, the most beautiful beauty.
That was true before the Big Bang
and it will be true when this universe is no more.
God is forever.

Everything against God will pass away.
Death, disease, sin, injustice
– whatever is opposed to God –
is mortal and futile.
God wins by persistently being God forever.

Human souls are of God.
Love is of God.
Beauty, justice, kindness, and mercy are of God.
These things endure.
No earthquake, hurricane, or genocide can erase them.
In this life, we have suffering,
but God does not abandon us.
God joins us in it, shares our pain,
and calls us to help each other.
Then at the last day, God will redeem us,
each and every one of us
with infinite mercy and grace.

St. Paul said, “our sufferings in this present age
are not worthy to be compared to the joy
God has waiting for us.”
God will dry every tear, mend every broken heart,
and raise the least of us from the grave.
Glory to God forever.