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Robertson’s Judgment

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Somethings can be counted on. You can count on Pat Robertson to speak out when he should keep quiet. You can count on the Anti-Defamation League to call his remarks “un-Christian and a pervsersion of religion.” You can also count on Americans United for Separation of Church and State to take Robertson to task and accuse him of having a political agenda. And you can count on the media to faithfully report the potshots taken by all sides.

For a Christian, the obvious question is: Is Robertson right? Is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s brain hemorrage a divine punishment for carving up the Promised Land? Those who are not Christians don’t need to bother about this point.

It’s not always easy to answer questions about God’s purposes and designs. For one thing, he doesn’t consider himself accountable to anyone else, so he has a disconcerting habit of not explaining himself. Biblical examples of God taking out a political leader come to mind. When Herod let people proclaim him a god (Acts 12:20-23), the Bible says, “Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Moreover, there is Robertson’s passage in Joel 3 to consider, where God makes it clear that he is bringing judgment for “dividing the land.”

Herod’s sin was pride, usurping God’s glory, the oldest and most grievous sin. He was not stricken because he traded land for peace. Robertson called Sharon a “very tender-hearted man.” I doubt anyone would have so described Herod. In fact, it doesn’t look like there are any significant parallels between the account of Herod and what we know of Ariel Sharon. So although God might bring judgment on a political leader—and there are no doubt occasions when we wish he would—it doesn’t look like he has done so in this case.

But what about Robertson’s quote from Joel? The relevant passage is Joel 3, which is clearly set in an apocalyptic time of judgment. Those being judged are not the leaders of Israel but the foreign nations who have raided her and carried off her people into exile. “They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine that they might drink.” It doesn’t say that they provided land for a nation of outcasts and gave homes to the homeless. Robertson has pulled a mere phrase out of context and used it declare God’s judgment on Ariel Sharon. I would say to him, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7).

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Why Faith?

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Why does God insist on faith? This is a question of some importance. It would be so easy for him to persuade us completely by reason alone. All he would have to do is make regular appearances and do a few tricks for the crowds. If he would make himself observable, we skeptical humans could grasp his reality more surely. So why doesn’t he do it?

As John Piper has noted, God’s primary motivation is his glory. He has made everything for his glory, to bring honor to his name. Perhaps, then, faith brings greater glory to God than a relationship based on tangible evidence of his existence. Even in relationships between humans, faith is an essential element. We don’t usually doubt one another’s existence—although some have claimed to have such doubts—but we do doubt one another in countless other ways. Perhaps I doubt my wife’s fidelity; I might hire a private investigator to follow her and see if she’s really doing what she says. Or maybe I doubt the sincerity of my boss’s praise. His boss gives him all the credit when I do all the work. He’s just trying to stay on my good side.

These doubts all involve things we can’t easily verify. They are intangible. My wife may be outwardly faithful but inwardly drifting further and further away from me. My private investigator won’t tell me that. And how can I determine my boss’s sincerity? Would it make his praise more sincere if his own efforts went unnoticed? Or is it my own envy that makes his sweet words bitter?

Let’s go a bit further. Is it really true that God could appear in such a way as to remove all doubt about himself? It seems to me that there are two answers to this question. The first is, yes, of course, God can overpower us with his awesome might. He can inspire such love in our hearts that we can’t help but yield to him. He can do such marvelous works on our behalf that we are compelled to acknowledge him. In short, he can make us trust him against our will and even against our reason. How does that serve his glory? What honor is there in being honored by automata—if indeed, it can be called honor?

The second answer comes from a more human perspective. If we assume that God does not overpower our will or reason, then we might have to say that God already appears in such a way as to remove all doubt about his existence. We only cling to doubt as a way of justifying our own rebellious indifference. For most humans throughout history, the existence of a Creator, a being who made everything, has been self-evident. It has not needed “scientific” justification. It was considered to be indisputable fact. It is only to the modern mind, educated by so-called Enlightenment thinking, that such doubts even occur.

The (r)evolutionary notion of human progress and perfectibility has taken such hold on the modern imagination that we no longer see a need for God. We have our big-bang theory to explain the universe (though, in fact, it only describes the process by which the universe came to be as it is without at all settling how it originated or what it all might mean). We have our theory of evolution to explain our own existence (though it, too, only describes a process without giving it meaning). We have come to believe that we can save ourselves, make heaven on earth, bring peace to the world, and shape our own destiny despite massive evidence to the contrary. How do we continue to hold on to these utopian dreams? What amazing faith we have in ourselves!

Who then is the greater fool—the one who believes in a God he cannot see but who provides ample evidence of his loving care or the one who puts his faith in fallen Man whose record of broken promises continues to grow? Our modern theories have taught us that nature is rife with selfish competition and opportunism, but an older view sees nature as the bounty of a loving God who provides even for the smallest of his creatures. “If God so clothes the grass in the fields which springs up today and is cast in the flames tomorrow, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith.” (See Matthew 6:30).

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Biblical Illiteracy

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Christian churches no longer teach the Bible. That is the inescapable conclusion of a report on Bible literacy released earlier this year by the Biblical Literacy Project. Researchers conducted a survey of teenagers in which they asked questions about the Bible. Students were asked, for example, to identify which of four statements about David was not true. Only one-third correctly knew that David did not try to kill King Saul. One in four believed David was not a king of the Jews, and one in five believed he did not love Bathsheba. “Perhaps surprisingly, born-again and Evangelical teens were often only slightly more likely than other teens to display Bible literacy. In the whole sample surveyed, just 44 percent of born-again teens could correctly identify a quote from the Sermon on the Mount, compared to 37 percent of all American teens” (Bible Literacy Report, 25).

I’ve seen some of the odd mish-mash of pop psychology, contemporary values, and Bible stories that pass as Sunday school curriculum nowadays. Nearly all of them have a core lesson summed up in a few words. The teacher parrots these words throughout the session. Nearly all bury the Bible story in a five-minute segment that serves to re-inforce the core lesson. There are usually other activities and stories also designed to drive home the core lesson. The actual details of the biblical narrative are lost or even altered to fit the core lesson. No wonder even church-bred kids are growing up not knowing the Bible. Churches have substituted abstract lessons for the nitty-gritty details of messy and—let’s face it—politically incorrect stories.

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