Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haiti and Israel

As I'm sure everyone has heard far too many times by now, Pat Robertson is convinced that the earthquake hit Haiti because they've signed a pact with the devil. I will spare you my moral outrage – I have a very different point to make.

Robertson's is by no means the normal Christian response. A more common response would be that it wasn't God who directly caused the earthquake, but rather Satan who directly caused it – God merely allowed Satan to cause it. (Another common response would be admitting ignorance of whether or not Satan or God caused it and therefore not drawing a conclusion about the Haitians morality.) But for the sake of example, I'll contrast Robertson's position with the response that Satan caused it in opposition to God.

The first point I'm making is an obvious one. So obvious, that it may be confusing why I'm even bothering to say it. Here goes: the people who think God did it and the people who think Satan did it disagree with each other. These are different positions. Are you with me so far?

Okay, next point: because they are making clear claims about the agent of causation, and because they disagree with each other, at least one of them is wrong. Still with me?

I would like to pause and note that this conclusion is contestable. One could try to find a clever interpretation of one or both sides, so that we could reconcile these two positions with each other. After all, the people on both sides are Christians. So maybe they have some special knowledge that God gave, and we are simply getting two perspectives on the same thing. But to take this approach would be ridiculous. We can look at the two claims, see that they disagree, and therefore conclude that one or both sides isn't getting a special message from God. One or both sides are wrong. How could anyone see this any differently?

This is an extraordinarily common situation. Two sides disagree as to whether evil spiritual forces caused something, or good spiritual forces. It even happened in the Bible:

When David was king, there was a plague that killed 70,000 people in I Chronicles 21:14. And why? God was punishing Israel for David's sin. (Yes, God was punishing Israel for David's sin, although that's not quite the point I'm making.) Backing up a step, what was David's sin, and why did he do such a thing? David's sin was to take a census. Ignore, for the moment, whether or not this sin merited such a response from God. The point I want to make is in I Chronicles 21:1:

“Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”

That's what started this whole problem. Satan started it by tempting David who then incurred God's wrath and allowed Satan to get his way as Israel suffered. In that sense, the author of I Chronicles is rather like normal Christians.

But the author of II Samuel was more like Pat Robertson. He tells the same story starting in II Samuel 24:1, where he writes:

“Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, 'Go, number Israel and Judah.'”

Satan didn't do it. God did it. He was angry at the Israelites, and he needed David to sin so as to have an excuse to judge them.

I'll start with a trivially obvious point. The author who thought God did it and the author who thought Satan did it disagree with each other. Still with me? And because they are making clear claims about the agent of causation, and because they disagree with each other, at least one of these Bible verses is wrong.

I'm sure that you could find some creative interpretations of one of both so that they are still consistent. After all, both authors are inspired by God, so maybe he gave them some special knowledge, and we're just reading two different perspectives. But to take this approach is ridiculous. We can look at what the books say, see that they contradict, and therefore conclude that one or both sides aren't getting special knowledge from God.
One or both authors of the Bible are wrong. How could anyone see this any differently?

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