Pat Robertson, Haiti, and Urban Legends

It is another natural disaster, so clearly it is time for Pat Robertson to explain the Divine cause and effect. As if on cue, in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake the next edition of The 700 Club featured Pat’s prophetic view. And just as predictably, there was the mostly liberal Christian and secularist backlash as soon as Pat expounded how God’s wrath was triggered this time. This, then, entrenches Pat’s supporters and probably a few other conservative Christians (who hate secularists and liberals more than they worry about Pat being increasingly bonkers)  into the battle against the forces of evil.

I have no problem with the idea that God can and/or does mete out judgement on individuals and nations. This does not mean, however, that every natural disaster is an act of God’s judgement and wrath upon a particular group of people. It doesn’t even mean that any natural disaster has to be an act of God’s judgement. Rather it is presumptive to assume that it is.

Certainly there are some Christians who are emboldened by their faith in their own gift of prophecy – or their faith in someone else’s. However, most of the time I’ve found that prophecies about the cosmic significance of newsmaking events fit neatly in the theological presuppositions of the prophets and their hearers. For those expecting everything to point to the “end times”, amazingly everything does. For those expecting to see God’s justice done for this or that evil, sure enough God comes through. It may not directly effect the evil doers, but it shows that God is angry nonetheless.  The propensity of some to live from one “prophetic word” to the next only enhances this perception.

We know from Pat that Hurricane Katrina was a result of legalised abortion in the US. Katrina resulted in 2,500 deaths, though not especially those of abortionists or even people who support abortion. I would suggest that in fact, southern Lousiana, Mississippi, and Alabama would be areas of the US with a particularly low rate of abortion and with elected officials that are opposed to it.

Likewise, I wonder what caused the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 with over 6,000 deaths. Must have been something worse than abortion. It would seem that the pact made with the devil by the Haitian leaders who were trying to get out from “under the heel of the French, you know, Napoleon III, or whatever” was even worse that abortion in America, because it has and will result in somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths. After all, God’s judgement must be just.

Some people have pointed out a key flaw in Robertson’s view is that Napoleon III came to power in France in 1852 and the Haitians revolted against the French in 1791. Napoleon III’s uncle Napoleon I didn’t even take control of France until 1799.

We will set aside for the moment whether it could have been verified that the devil said “Yes” as affirmed by Robertson. Pat presumes that if anyone or any group of people offer to enter into a pact with the devil, the devil necessarily agrees to it. We’ll also set aside the issue of whether or not some 18th century revolutionaries could bind the whole of the country into a league with the devil. Further, we’ll have to set aside whether the actions of these handful of revolutionaries has caused God’s wrath to be extended to tens of thousands of people 219 years later.

We have to set all of this aside because the biggest problem is that there is no historical evidence that any such agreement was attempted. It’s an urban legend. That right, forget all the dodgy theology, even if you wanted to get wrapped up in it. There was no pact, no agreement, no curse, no whatever.

Nonetheless, I wonder if Pat Robertson is familiar with the words of St Issac the Syrian, “As the grain of sand cannot be compared with a great amount of gold – the same way God’s need for justice cannot be compared with his mercy. Because man’s sin, in comparison to the providence and the mercy of God, are like a handful of sand that falls in the sea and the Creator’s mercy cannot be defeated by the wickedness of the creatures.”

God of the Present Tense

I recently sent a message to the son of a deceased friend and was about to mention what a great man I thought his father had been. I caught myself before I phrased it that way. I realised that in the Christian life, there is no past tense.

There are events in the past, but the life remains. I suppose that if I thought my friend had been good at one point in time and had ceased to be good later, I could say that he was a good man. The man remains. Even while the body is in repose, temporarily going back to the earth from whence it came, the man remains.

As Orthodox Christians we are reminded of this when we venerate the saints through their icons, though when talking of the saints, I lapse into the past tense: who was St Athanasius or who was St Paul. When I teach about Jesus in school, I am very vigilant to always speak of Him in the present tense, because I want the kids to understand that Easter happened after Good Friday. And since we pray to Jesus, we have a habit of speech that constantly recognises Him in the present tense.

But it is not just those glorified heroes of the Faith that are still alive with Jesus. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. (We can discuss various Catholic and Orthodox theories about how instantaneous this is, but it still is.) Likewise, the disembodied soul in the presence of the Lord is but a temporary arrangement.

God only has a present tense. He revealed it to Moses. He revealed it in Jesus. Though we are created beings and have a beginning, as we are knitted together in our mother’s womb, once created in God’s image we share in his eternity. When we live in communion with Him, we share that eternity with Him. As Jesus told the Sadducees, God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Jesus’ Resurrection was the down payment to guarantee our own.

My friend Mark has been away from his body for a number of years now. God took him quite suddenly and quite young. Because he trained me to be an Emergency Care Attendant and an ambulance driver, I still think about him every time I use my cut-through-anything EMT shears. There will be a time when EMT shears won’t be needed, but for now they remind me that there is a time after time when those who have gone before and those of us who will go sometime hereafter (for death comes to all men) will rejoice in the presence of God together in the new creation.

St Basil the Great

Born just after the First Council of Nicea in 325 and reposing two years before the First Council of Constantinople in 381 (otherwise known as the First and Second Ecumenical Councils), one man is more responsible than any other for the key changes to the Creed ratified at the latter. Our father among the saints Basil of Caesarea – Basil the Great – helped us understand the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.

Not one to use a few words when 206 will do (at least in an English translation), in a sentence he summarises the nature of the Holy Spirit:

We are compelled to advance in our conceptions to the highest, and to think of an intelligent essence, in power infinite, in magnitude unlimited, unmeasured by times or ages, generous of Its good gifts, to whom turn all things needing sanctification, after whom reach all things that live in virtue, as being watered by Its inspiration and helped on toward their natural and proper end; perfecting all other things, but Itself in nothing lacking; living not as needing restoration, but as Supplier of life; not growing by additions; but straightway full, self-established, omnipresent, origin of sanctification, light perceptible to the mind, supplying, as it were, through Itself, illumination to every faculty in the search for truth; by nature unapproachable, apprehended by reason of goodness, filling all things with Its power, but communicated only to the worthy; not shared in one measure, but distributing Its energy according to “the proportion of faith;” in essence simple, in powers various, wholly present in each and being wholly everywhere; impassively divided, shared without loss of ceasing to be entire, after the likeness of the sunbeam, whose kindly light falls on him who enjoys it as though it shone for him alone, yet illumines land and sea and mingles with the air.

What does this mean for us?

So, too, is the Spirit to every one who receives it, as though given to him alone, and yet It sends forth grace sufficient and full for all mankind, and is enjoyed by all who share It, according to the capacity, not of Its power, but of their nature.

In other words, we can have as much of the Holy Spirit as we can handle.

Multi-tasking

His body was for Him not a limitation, but an instrument, so that He was both in it and in all things, and outside all things, resting in the Father alone. At one and the same time – this is the wonder – as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father. Not even His birth from a virgin, therefore, changed Him in any way, nor was He defiled by being in the body. Rather, He sanctified the body by being in it. For His being in everything does not mean that He shares the nature of everything, only that He gives all things things their being and sustains them in it. Just as the sun is not defiled by the contact of its rays with earthly objects, but rather enlightens and purifies them, so He Who made the sun is not defiled by being made known in a body, but rather the body is cleansed and quickened by His indwelling, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.”

St Athanasius, On the Incarnation §17

Who Instead of How

Mike’s got ’em worried. One of the searches that turned up my blog for someone was “huckabee (theocrat OR theocracy OR theoc. . . ” – it cuts off after 40 characters. After all, nobody wants a theocrat, unless he worships their theos. Everybody has one, even if they think they are a-theos. They are usually autotheist.

As a former Baptist pastor, it’s not surprising that Huckabee’s view of evolution is of interest to that handful of Americans who find it a convincing theory. I’m usually not one to embed YouTube videos, but I’ve added this one: