This article was published in the St.Catharines Standard.
While pondering the question in the headline, a story from a few years ago came to mind. The Niagara Freethinkers Association had invited me to debate Dan Barker from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, on the topic, “Is there a God?” During the question and answer segment a woman, rather upset, turned to me, “Why do you keep saying that God will send me to hell?” I reminded the lady that in our three-hour debate, I had not made a single reference to hell. I assured her that such matters belonged to God alone. She responded, “I’ve lived in this region for most of my life, and the born-again Christians I meet tell me that I am going to hell, and I assumed that’s what you were thinking”.
Has someone ever told you, “God told me to tell you”, or “I am speaking for God”? I googled the phrase, “God told me” and the top options were “to kill”, “to skin you alive”, “to marry you”, “to invade Iraq”, to run for president” and “to retire”.
Why do some people have a seeming need to preface statements with “God told me”? I suggest the root may be a deeply held insecurity compensated by implying a direct connection to God. Sometimes ‘God told me’ is a euphemism for ‘I want to’, or ‘I want you to’.
What about when Christian ministers make statements on behalf of God?
Former U.S. presidential candidate and television preacher Pat Robertson is known for making claims that natural disasters are warnings from God. Last month he suggested that if only more people had been praying God would have stopped the killer-tornadoes from sweeping across the Midwest. This is more guilt on Christians who already feel guilty for not praying enough. Coupled with Robertson’s earlier assertions that 9/11 and hurricane Katrina could be blamed on the godlessness in America, the message seems clear; Robertson believes that he is speaking for God.
Hopefully many Christians do not agree with Robertson’s assertions, but the sad effect is that the public at large may assume that evangelical Christians are drawn to the idea of a severe vengeance-orientated God. A couple of years ago Robertson stated that the Haiti earthquake was connected to the people of Haiti making a pact with the devil. Undoubtedly there are fringe groups that think they have a pact with the devil, but if you believe in the message of Easter, you have discovered that life and goodness has triumphed over death and evil. Jesus saw to it that the devil has no power to make a pact for any nation.
Prominent Calvinist theologian John Piper ‘spoke for God”, when he weighed in on last month’s tornadoes. He wrote, “Why would God reach down His hand and drag His fierce fingers across rural America, killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states?”
He continued, “If God has a quarrel with America, wouldn’t Washington, DC or Las Vegas or Minneapolis or Hollywood be a more likely place to show His displeasure? If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour… God gave the command.”
If God sent tornadoes, what about the account in the Bible when Jesus rebuked the storm. Did God send that one too? If so, Jesus overruled His Father. Surely, God is not schizophrenic, full of love one day and sending tornadoes the next.
Does God have “fierce fingers”? Does God “command” tornadoes to kill people? Does God think that Hollywood and Las Vegas are more ‘sinful’ than the ‘Bible-belt’? John Piper thinks so. I disagree. So who speaks for God? Pat Robertson? The pope? John Piper? You? Me?
The answer is none of the above. Jesus disqualified all of us when He said that no one could show us who God is except Jesus himself [John 1:18]. Whenever his disciples or onlookers invited Jesus to kill, destroy or judge people because of some sin, he refused, saying that he had not come to condemn people.
Jesus’ claim that he speaks for God is extra-ordinary. Did he suffer from illusion of grandeur, or is he really who he says he is. The cross? The resurrection? What’s it all about? Easter is a good time to check out Jesus for your self and when you do you may hear a word from God to you.