What Do Pat Robertson and President Obama Have in Common?

Seriously!? What could a charismatic conservative Christian commentator and former Republican presidential candidate have in common with a former participant in the progressive Chicago political scene and current Democratic President of the United States?

Well, perhaps not much on the whole. But they do share one thing: less than stellar comments on the Haiti earthquake disaster.

If you haven’t already heard, Pat Robertson recently offered this on the Christian Broadcasting Network:

And you know, Christy, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it, they were under the heel of the French, uh, you know, Napoleon the third and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil, they said, we will serve you, if you get us free from the Prince, true story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free, and ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor. . .

To be clear, the idea that disasters (natural or otherwise) are from the hand of the Lord and at times in direct response to sin and rebellion is, in fact, a biblical one. But as John Mark Reynolds has ably pointed out, Robertson’s particular comments are not only suspect historically, but theologically dubious and pastorally inappropriate as well. I’ll include two substantial quotes here. The first deals with theological problems:

Robertson has proposed a bad theology, because he too easily equates any natural or man made disaster with Gods’ will. The Lord Jesus points out that God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust. As Saint Augustine points out when some Roman era pagan Pat Robertsons blamed Christians for the fall of Rome, God’s providence and will are not easy to see.

Even some seeming blessings can be curses.

He specifically addressed the issue of whether natural disaster [sic] are because the victims are somehow worse than others when he said (Luke 13):

1There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

All of us are broken and will die. Nobody is safe and nobody should take their righteousness for granted.

Even if we grant that sometimes a prophet in the Bible (Amos) could, by divine revelation, equate a natural disaster with God’s judgment this should be done carefully. This kind of insight is available to few of us and Robertson has not demonstrated a track record (prophetic accuracy) that meets the Biblical standard for accuracy (Deuteronomy 18).

The second quotation touches on Robertson’s lack of pastoral sensitivity:

Robertson has been inhuman in two ways.

First, even if he were right, he has picked a horrid time to pontificate. When my friend is suffering from cancer, even if it is his fault, it is the wrong time to remind him that I told him he should have stopped smoking. It is ugly and useless.

Heal the sick, bury the dead, feed the hungry and then deal with root spiritual causes. Safe to say every nation, and Haiti is surely one, has made philosophical and practical decisions that help cause tragedy. We can talk about that when the people of Haiti have been helped by the Church.

Second, even if his theology were sound, he has stated it in such a way and at such a time that it will be misunderstood and will be mocked. He has pronounced a “truth” that (he must concede) would be hard for our culture to hear in a way and at a time that brings that “truth” into derision.

If Robertson were right in his theology and philosophy, his timing has fed his pearls to swine on a silver platter.

President Obama’s reaction to the crisis has been far different, and in many ways laudatory. From what I’ve seen, he has attempted to act quickly to bring our nation’s resources to bear in caring for those who desperately need it. But near the end of an otherwise solid Newsweek piece outlining the importance of U.S. involvement in the current crisis, the president mentioned this:

In the aftermath of disaster, we are reminded that life can be unimaginably cruel. That pain and loss is so often meted out without any justice or mercy. That “time and chance” happen to us all. But it is also in these moments, when we are brought face to face with our own fragility, that we rediscover our common humanity.

Now, I don’t know how much of a biblical Christian worldview/theology President Obama ascribes to. For that reason, I certainly don’t want to fault him for being inconsistent with something he doesn’t necessarily believe. But the fact does remain that these comments are noteworthy in that they apparently presuppose an impersonal naturalistic universe. Such a picture, by definition, has no place for a sovereign God ordering the events of the universe in ways that, if often inscrutable from our current limited perspective, are ultimately consistent with his good, just, and even merciful purposes. In other words, it leaves no room for God as he really exists.

Practically, this makes a great deal of difference. If the universe really is blindly cruel, if we all are simply helpless before the merciless effects of time and chance, then there really is precious little hope to be had. Rediscovering our common humanity offers little consolation if, in the end, it amounts to understanding we’re nothing more than debris caught up in the impersonal, inexorable forces of nature.

Thankfully, that’s not the biblical picture.

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