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How Pat Robertson was wrong and right

At a time when the world should be focused on the tragedy of the Haiti earthquake and how we can best help the people of the Carribbean nation, Pat Robertson’s insensitive comments are an unwelcome distraction. If he wasn’t so well-known, Pat Robertson could be easily dismissed. Instead, his claim that the Haitian earthquake was a result of a Satanic pact has caused Christians to both cringe and join in the outrage of others. If you haven’t heard, Robertson’s comments came on the Christian Broadcasting Network, where he explained to viewers:

…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. . . the Island of Hispaniola is one island cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is, is, prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty, same Islands, uh, they need to have, and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come, but right now we’re helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable.

Robertson has made many injudicious statements in the past, but this has to be his most stupid. It is a difficult thing to read into God’s intentions concerning specific disasters and it is never acceptable for us to pronounce why God has done something unless He has actually already told us. While the Bible reveals that God has often judged nations in the past, and has used natural disasters to implement that judgment, it does not follow that every natural disaster is an instance of His judgment. Our understanding of these events should be set in the context of Jesus’ response in Luke 13:

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or 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? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5 ESV).

Suffering should remind us of our own self-centeredness and finitude, and force us to reconsider our theology by the cold light of reality. John Mark Reynolds also makes some good points about the appropriateness of Robertson’s comments:

Robertson has been inhuman in two ways.

First, even if he were right, he has picked a horrid time to pontificate. When my friends 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.

Recently Robertson faced major health problems and rightly asked for our prayers. It would have been wrong to be facile and associate his problems with sin. Robertson should grant the people of Haiti the same treatment that he demanded in the case of his illness. (HT: JT)

Melinda on the Stand to Reason blog also makes the important point that for all the ridicule that Robertson is receiving we should not ignore the fact that he is not wrong to remind us of the real-world consequences to religious beliefs. She writes,  “The consequences not only affect our lives now, but also have eternal consequences.  Religion is real and the choice is serious”. Melinda goes on:

“Pat Robertson had no grounds to claim he knew the earthquake was God’s judgment on the Haitians for voodoo.  He was right to point out that practicing voodoo is evil and results in a curse, as do all false religions.  People are truly lost when they follow a lie, and are truly saved when they follow the truth.  There are consequences to practicing false religion because the spiritual world is real.”

Pray for Haiti

If you haven’t heard, Haiti was today shaken by one of the strongest earthquakes the Carribbean country has seen in more than 200 years. The shallow, 7.0 magnitude earthquake centered around 16km from the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the death toll is rumoured to be in the thousands. It’s difficult to imagine what the people over there are facing and our thoughts and prayers go out to them. Even for a nation whose history already seems like one long heartbreak, from despotism to destitution, this tragedy looks to be utterly devastating.

Here are some options for donating towards the disaster relief:

TEAR Fund

World Vision

Habitat for Humanity

Oxfam NZ

UNICEF NZ

Save the Children

Samaritan’s Purse

Compassion International

Feed My Starving Children

Food for the Hungry

World Relief

Love a Child

Northwest Haiti Christian Mission

(Photo by Lisandro Suero / AFP-Getty Images)