Yesterday, Pat Robertson graced us with more thought-provoking theology from the lunatic fringe. His statements characteristically pissed me off to the point where my husband had to stage an intervention involving a warm bath and a cold drink and a mild lecture about the blood pressure perils of going into orbit whenever Pat Robertson opens his mouth and sounds come out. The issue this time is the dreadful judgment God may visit upon the Denver Broncos for trading Tim Tebow to the New York Jets. The nature of God’s justice in this case? Peyton Manning getting injured.
Let me try to clarify Pat’s position theologically. Pat’s idea about divine justice here is the equivalent of saying: “The sins of the father will be visited upon the next door neighbor.” It’s like saying that because Cain killed Abel, God will smite Eve; or because Jacob cheated Esau, Isaac had better watch out; or because David boinked Bathsheba and murdered her husband, the child of that union would suffer for seven days and die…oh…wait a sec…
Pat’s apparent belief that God can and will pretty much nail anyone for anybody’s sins – and please believe me when I say that I don’t think that trading Tim Tebow necessarily constitutes a cardinal offense – reflects one particular point of view on one of the Bible’s most disturbing stories – that of David and Bathsheba.
For those of you not familiar with the story, allow me to summarize:
David’s too lazy to go off to war with his army, so he sends them and sits around for awhile. Gets bored, starts peering into neighbors’ windows, sees Bathsheba in the shower, sends for her, sleeps with her, then dismisses her like yesterday’s dirty laundry. Finds out she’s pregnant, freaks, calls her husband Uriah back from the battlefield and encourages him to go have a little weekend romp with his wife. Uriah refuses, saying his duty is to fight for the king. Whereupon, David orders his general, Joab, to stick Uriah on the front lines in the hopes that Uriah will go down like cannon fodder. Which Uriah does.
David’s now comfortably in the clear. Except that the pesky prophet Nathan gets wind of all this and basically nails David’s lazy, lecherous, lying, homicidal hide to the wall, saying, “Because you’re a king-sized weenie, God’s going to kill your kid.” Which God does. After the child lies gravely ill for seven days.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but…WTF???
There is nothing simple about a story like this. And this is sacred scripture of two world religions, so we can’t just throw the smote-by-God baby out with Bathsheba’s bathwater. Cherry-picking difficult texts leaves us with a flat, watered down faith that accomplishes little more than justifying our personal status quo. No, I think if we want faith with integrity, we have to deal with material like this. And this is as nasty as it comes. In this text, we’re met with profoundly disturbing images of not only one of the most important folk heroes in Judeo-Christianity, but of God as well. We see David as a self-entitled, conniving deviant, a rapist, and a murderer. Even more troubling, we see God as a vicious, vindictive arbiter of inexorable retribution, one who is perfectly satisfied with designating a child as a scapegoat.
For Christians, especially as we hurtle toward Holy Week, it’s difficult to miss the parallels between the death of Bathsheba’s child and the atonement theology of the crucifixion.
Which brings me back to Pat Robertson. It seems to me all of this is very simple for Pat. It boils down to human beings being utterly depraved (terminology favored by my own denomination) and God pretty much being justified in doing whatever he wants to remind us that he’s wise to how bad we suck all the time.
I hate this theology. For one thing, it’s too easy. God is good – therefore justified in destroying whoever God wants to destroy – because everything that isn’t God is baaaaad. It presupposes a cut-and-dry, black-and-white worldview that doesn’t even begin to resemble the complicated world human beings actually inhabit. I also hate it because it always seems to accompany a casually cruel mentality that figures, “if it’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for me!” If God can torture and kill an innocent child…or God’s own son…people like Pat Robertson must be justified calling down judgment on a quarterback…or Haitian earthquake survivors…or American hurricane victims. I would strongly argue, however, that the kind of behavior God displays in the David and Bathsheba story is not good enough for God. And I think Christians do an appalling disservice to the gospel message by acting as if that kind of behavior could ever be worthy of God.
But if it’s not good enough for God, why are we told that God did it? Moralists like Pat Robertson might say the story illustrates the righteous shadow that God’s justice inevitably casts over the stain of humanity’s sin. To that I would say, thanks to the cross, God got out of the smiting business. But that answer seems to imply that the God of the Old Testament isn’t the God of the New Testament and that’s the sort of theology that used to get people burned at the stake.* So, there’s got to be another way to reconcile the diabolical God of the story with the unconditionally loving God many of us believe in.
My apologies, fearless readers, but I have no idea what that way is. At this point in my theological career, I don’t have the education to speak to it academically. And at this point in my life, I don’t have the perspective to make sense of it experientially. But I’ll continue to chew on it, wrestle with it, and hold it up to the light. The process of interacting with these tough texts and refusing to accept pat (pun intended) answers should be the daily practice of all people of faith. We may not come up with a good answer. But, at the very least, I take comfort in knowing that Pat Robertson’s reasoning isn’t it.
* For an example, check out Marcionism, one of early Christianity’s “also ran” sects.
© Marian the Seminarian, 2012