I’m sure you’ve heard all about it: Pat Robertson said that Haiti’s founders made a pact with Satan in 1791 and the nation’s ongoing woes are a direct result of that diabolical beginning. Whoops!
Um, what’s the Aramaic word for “retraction”?
Predictably, the condemnations have been thundering. But let’s be honest. It’s incredibly tempting to look for immediate answers to tragedies. Why them and not me? Did someone cause it? We want to know.
Of course there is never a simple answer. If God were in the business of punishing sin in obvious ways, NBC President Jeff Zucker would have been struck by lightning weeks ago — perhaps more than once. But it rarely works out like that. Bad people seem to thrive. In the Psalms, King David even asks: “Why do the wicked prosper?” And King David didn’t even know about Jeff Zucker.
But let me say something truly shocking myself. I’m usually willing to give Pat Robertson a pass when he says things he shouldn’t. That’s because for every wacky, regrettable thing he says he does a hundred thousand non-wacky good things that you’ll never hear about on television.
Operation Blessing, which is the humanitarian arm of CBN, does so much good around the world it would make your head spin — not literally, just to be clear. They’re in Haiti this very minute, showing the love of Jesus by feeding the hungry and helping the suffering. But don’t worry: other than now, you’ll never hear about it. You’ll only hear about when Pat says something unpleasant.
Just recently, President Obama and the First Lady were willing to give Harry Reid a pass for his “light-skinned negro” comments, preferring to focus on his good deeds, which they felt outweighed the ugly gaffe. So too I would rather look at Robertson’s decades-long record of giving aid to the poor and destitute around the world.
But back to the goofy gaffe for just one more moment… In his comment, Pat was referring to the slave rebels who founded Haiti and who, during a voodoo ceremony made a pact with the devil, slaughtered a black pig, and generally did not behave like they were attending a Presbyterian church service.
It’s impossible to say if this is historically accurate, but most people would agree that if it is, starting a nation this way might not be the best approach. Is it so crazy to suggest that praying for the blessings of almighty God would be a safer bet? Still, there’s something about bringing this up when tragedy strikes that doesn’t sit right with most people. And it just so happens that Jesus himself had something to say about it.
In Luke Chapter 13, Jesus is asked about a recent tragedy in which Pontius Pilate murdered a group of Galilean Jews. Jesus says: “Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all Galileans because they suffered these things? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
In other words, no, they didn’t die because they were more guilty than you. Period. And by the way, instead of thinking about how sinful those people were, why don’t you think about your own sins? Thinking about the sins of others give us a nice warm feeling of moral superiority. But thinking about our own sins is a humbling experience, which is generally way less fun.
In case his audience didn’t get the point, Jesus referenced another recent tragedy, when a tower fell and killed eighteen people in Siloam. Again he asks: “Do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?” And again he answers his own question: “By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
What could be clearer? Jesus tells us to worry about our own sins. In another passage of the New Testament he tells us to worry about the plank of lumber in our own eye before we worry about the speck of dust in someone else’s.
So it’s tempting and natural to want to understand what causes tragedy, but we have to be careful not to point our fingers at the sins of others. By the way, we might want to think about that when we are tempted to point our fingers at Pat Robertson. I’m just saying.