A certain televangelist with the last name Robertson once opened his mouth a few years ago. As is usually the case when this happens, he quickly put his foot in it. How did he manage this? He said that the then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke could be God’s punishment for Israel giving up territory in a bid for peace.

The founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network told viewers of his “700 Club” that Sharon was “dividing God’s land,” even though, he claimed, that the Bible says doing so invites “God’s enmity.” Robertson then added, “I would say woe to any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course.” And just so no one would doubt that he was being as rude possible, Robertson went on and noted that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated after similar attempts to make peace. Robertson said God’s message is, “This land belongs to me. You’d better leave it alone.”

I have to wonder once again why Robertson can’t learn to keep his mouth closed. If God was really in the business of punishing people for being “bad” as Pat Robertson believes, well…what I’m thinking isn’t very nice. Robertson apologized a week later. The timing was interesting, since it came just moments after Israel announced that they’d decided doing business with Robertson was not a good idea, canceling a fifty million dollar deal he’d made with them.

Of course Pat Robertson is not alone in being rude. Unsurprisingly, many public figures have a taste for their own feet. On a day when we celebrated the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., the then mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, suggested that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, together with other storms that year were a sign that “God is mad at America” and at black communities, too, for tearing themselves apart with violence and political infighting. “Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it’s destroyed and put stress on this country,”

I would suggest that neither of these two political opposites should be considered experts in theology. They instead illustrate a common error in human affairs: people who mistake their own personal likes and dislikes as somehow being a reflection of God’s personal likes and dislikes.

You don’t like an individual’s decisions in the realm of politics? According to Nagin and Robertson, then surely God must dislike him just as much as you do, and surely, unlike your own pure motives, the motives of your opponent must be completely slimy and reprehensible and selfish—even criminal. Your opponent, since he advocates different policies than you do, must not care about the poor, or the suffering or about anything that is good and right. In fact, your opponent must be an enemy of God. And since your beliefs are so obviously aligned with God’s will, and your opponent’s beliefs are so clearly not like your beliefs, your opponent obviously is, has been or will be cursed by God for all his misdeeds, lousy beliefs, and poor choices. Worse, because of his errors, everyone else is going to suffer too. Therefore, he must be opposed and made to shut up.

It is remarkable the number of people who are convinced that they know what God thinks, and it is equally remarkable that what God thinks seems to be precisely what they think.

What arrogance. And what presumption.

When something bad happens, there are those who take delight at looking at the horror and pronouncing that it is a judgment against the people who suffered. You got robbed? Well, they say, you shouldn’t have been carrying so much cash in your wallet. You got raped? Well, such people argue, if only you had been wearing a burka then you wouldn’t have had any trouble. You got murdered? Well, the cheerful critic insists, what did you expect going to that convenience store at night? It’s all your fault and you know it.

And meanwhile, the wonderful people who brought us 911 are saying exactly the same sorts of things that Robertson and Nagin are saying. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, together with the leaders of Al Quaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas, the terrorist organizations, believe that Sharon was being judged by God. They also have stated their belief that the hurricanes were evidence of God’s judgment on America. They are convinced that these bad things have happened because of American and Israeli policies.

Yeah, right. So if we only did what Robertson and Nagin and those like them told us to do, then all our problems would go away? I’ve got some free advice for Robertson and Nagin and anyone else tempted to say similar thoughtless things. Next time you start talking, look around and if a bunch of terrorists are nodding in agreement, saying “Amen” and “preach it, brother,” maybe you need to rethink what you’re saying. Or better yet, when someone gets ill, or something bad happens, why not simply say, “we’ll be praying you.” Or, “here, let me help you.” And, “we’ll try our best to keep something like this from happening again.” Saying “God’s mad at you and you deserved it” strikes me as more than just a little wrong.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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