I have been thinking lately about those “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey” bits on Saturday Night Live in the 1990s.
One of my favorites among those satirical gems — typically one-liner voice overs — goes something like this:
“Why is it raining, daddy?”
“Those are God’s tears, Billy.”
“Why is God crying, daddy?”
“Dunno, Billy. Probably something you did.”
Two days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans in 2005, I punched on my radio and heard a popular evangelical figure – hereafter, “The Old Boy,” or “OB” — of that era pontificate on the why. And I’ll be danged, it was something we did.
God, said OB, wanted to punish the people of this nation for its transgressions, so he angered up a hurricane. And not only did he pour out a cup of his wrath, OB knew precisely what had set the maker of all things off: homosexuals running freely over the American landscape.
Given the number of offenses that could have been responsible for offending the Almighty in this infuriated-God scenario, I marveled at the OB’s acuity, at his ability to read the creator’s mind, and from there to determine the one thing that had pushed the Eternal One over the edge.
I was in awe.
“Well, now this guy here appears to be made of clay like myself, yet he can read God’s thoughts,” said I to myself.
Of course, OB couldn’t read God’s thoughts, any more than you or I could. But I will say this: even gross spasms of overweening pride and self-righteousness from the pulpit like this may provide teaching moments.
In this case, OB’s theological thunderbolt told us less about God than it revealed about OB’s psychology and his deep hatred for homosexuals. Plainly, the guy was projecting, and poor God was the screen.
That was my takeaway.
As the wise Christian writer Anne Lamotte once said: “You can be reasonably certain you’ve made God in your own image when he starts hating the same people you do.”
Now, the OB was a Christian. He believed Jesus of Nazareth was God. I do, too.
But based on what got Jesus’ goad when he was among us, I must here part ways with OB’s thinking. Considering the number of jeremiads Jesus hurled at those religious leaders, whom he called, “whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones” seems to me that if something had ticked God off, the more likely culprit — based solely on the numbers — would have been religious hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Now, as then, there is a lot of that out there.
But, if we assume for the moment the correctness of the divine-wrath model, then anything could have enraged the Almighty. Could have been men cheating on their wives and vice-versa, or shortcuts taken by builders that caused houses to collapse on their helpless occupants, or corruption in government contracts, or rampant greed, or human cruelty, or sexual abuse of children.
And let us not forget how the people of antiquity fingered the Christian Church and its God for the collapse of the Roman Empire, and how medieval Christians blamed Jews for bubonic plague, or others have likely blamed God for bunions, dermatitis, the pangs of disprized love, even Paul Anka’s monumentally awful, “She’s having my baby.”
According to the Bible, there really is no end to the human capacity for wickedness.
My wife and I have a running joke about all this. When lightning flashes and thunder booms, she’ll turn to me and say, “Sky God Ooga Booga’s belly rumbles, rain falls, Ooga Booga angry.” Really, OB’s argument is about that sophisticated.
As the British philosopher Bertrand Russell once said: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.