It’s happening again! God has spoken directly to Pat Robertson, revealing the identity of the next president of the United States. But, of course, he’s not telling us. According to Robertson, “I think He [God] showed me about the next president, but I’m not supposed to talk about that so I’ll leave you in the dark — probably just as well — but I think I know who it’s gonna be.” Given Robertson’s apparently glee, it’s obviously not President Barack Obama. In fact, God takes great interest in red and blue states, shows up at Republican caucuses, does internal polling, and, according to God’s revelation to Robertson, doesn’t support President Obama’s agenda.
Robertson goes on to say, as if from the mouth of God, “Your country will be torn apart by internal stress. A house divided cannot stand. Your president holds a radical view of the direction of your country which is at odds with the majority. Expect chaos and paralysis. Your president holds a view which is at the odds with the majority — it’s a radical view of the future of this country, and so that’s why we’re having this division. This is a spiritual battle which can only be won by overwhelming prayer. The future of the world is at stake because if America falls, there’s no longer a strong champion of freedom and a champion of the oppressed of the world. There must be an urgent call to prayer.”
Now, I don’t dispute Pat Robertson’s right to hold a particular political or theological viewpoint. Still his comments raise a number of questions: Is anyone entitled to speak for God, invoking divine revelation clearly and without ambiguity? Further, is it possible to experience divine revelation without imposing something of your viewpoint – including your political position and social location – on your interpretation?
That is the issue in Robertson’s belief that God spoke to him directly and without any input on the evangelist’s part. I believe that revelation requires a receiver and the receiver always experiences divine wisdom from a particular historical, social, and theological point of view. All revelation is partial and reflects us as well as God. Moreover, although I believe that God inspires us, and I mean all of us, Christian and non-Christian – at least at an unconscious level – throughout the day, not just at dramatic moments, all inspiration is contextual, and filtered through our finite, imperfect, and personal perspective.
Apparently, the God who speaks to Pat Robertson wants the evangelist to play it safe. There is no “thus saith the Lord” here or pointing to Assyria or Babylon in the directness of the biblical prophets. Rather, Robertson says, for all intents and purposes, “I’ve got a secret, but I can’t tell you.” That was maddening when your ten year old playmate made such a declaration and it is just as maddening when a public figure declares something of importance and then withholds it from us, because God told him to. (I’m sure Bill Maher will have a field day with this!)
While many of us are far too humble to invoke God directly in politics, there are more than a few progressives who would align – albeit with reservations – Obama’s policies with the moral arc of history and the hope for God’s realm. The preponderance of the biblical witness testifies on behalf of economic justice, care for the vulnerable, redistribution of wealth, and denunciation of business practices that bring great windfalls to property owners and lenders while putting folks out of work and taking their land away from them. Mortgage foreclosures, leaving people homeless, along with unfair business practices, were considered to be the greatest source of divine anger, according to the biblical prophets. Nothing in scripture exalts the profit-motive or private property as essential to discipleship and faithfulness. Yet, Robertson has little or nothing to say about economic justice. Shalom practices, favored by the biblical God, would obviously place us on the slippery slope to socialism, from Robertson’s viewpoint.
I believe that those who claim to speak for God directly and without possibility of error are on spiritual and theological thin ice. They forget that they may be speaking primarily for themselves, and in their self-interest, and for their people – that is, ethnic, economic, or religious group – and not for the One whose love encompasses all creation, friend and enemy alike. While I am sure that God doesn’t baptize President Obama’s policies in any direct and unambiguous way, to the President’s credit, he doesn’t have the hubris to claim that he is reflecting God’s will in some intimate and unmediated way. Nor does the President assume that God told him to run for the presidency as did Michelle Bachman (now a dropout) and Rick Perry (an apparent also ran). I don’t know what the antics of Robertson, Bachman, and Perry say about God – probably not much, to be honest – but they certainly say a lot about religious beliefs that claim a direct line between God and us, especially in ways that lead to our self-aggrandizement and the marginalization, persecution, and diminishment of others.
As for me, I believe that God speaks to me – but I understand God’s words in the way my grandson understands Plato or Whitehead, dimly and incompletely. A small glimpse, a nudge, and that’s good enough, especially when I know that God is moving in all of our lives, sharing wisdom (mostly neglected) to all of us, and seeking healing and wholeness for everyone on this good earth.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church to be released in January. But, above all, he seeks to share good news in ways that transform lives and heal the planet. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.