Mayfield: Does God really take sides?
“You never ask questions when God’s on your side.”
Since Bob Dylan wrote those lyrics back in the early ’60s he’s gone through a few transformations, religious and otherwise, but his words still resonate and seem even more appropriate today.
There was a gathering this past Wednesday in Pretoria, South Africa to celebrate the Day of the Vow by thousands of descendants of the racist Afrikaners. It was on December 16, 1838 that a group of white settlers from Europe promised God to remember the day forever if God would only allow a little slaughter of the natives to take place. And so it happened: Over 3,000 black warriors were killed as they attacked the settlers. Only three Afrikaners were injured in the battle. And, as promised, the annual commemoration takes place complete with the recitation of the ancient vow. The news report I read in the New York Times included this comment: “We believe it was God’s will to have Christians lead the way in this land,” said Lukas de Kock, one of the leaders of Wednesday’s worship. “On that day, the Day of the Vow, God made a clear statement that this was his will for South Africa.”
It must be very comforting to the folk who still think apartheid was a good policy to know that God is as angry at Nelson Mandela as they are.
In like manner, our allies in Israel who continue to maintain the belief that God ordained their occupation of that sliver of land in the Middle East adamantly, even violently at times, defend their belief in God’s unquestionable mandate for their people.
And when one more Muslim suicide bomber detonates his body while crying out: “Allahu akhbar” (God is great), those who survive are reminded, once again, that some of the most dangerous people in the world are the ones who believe God is on their side.
Oral Roberts died this past week at the grand age of 91. Oral was a most successful purveyor of this same theological principle. Indeed, Roberts was so convinced he and God were in such close communication that he once told his millions of followers that God would smite him dead if they didn’t come up with a substantial amount of cash by next Tuesday. The fact that they did what they were told and God subsequently didn’t do what he threatened only underscored everyone’s conviction that Oral and the Alpha-Omega were the best of buddies.
This week, journalist Christopher Hitchens reminded his readers that there have been many news reports out of the U.S. Air Force academy in recent years suggesting a similar alliance between the Almighty and America, with some cadets complaining they’d been subjected to systematic campaigns to convince them Christianity is a prerequisite for patriotism. A U.S. Air Force investigation in 2005 revealed that many of allegations were justified including a disturbing verification that the commandant made no apologies for his Christ-and-Country alignment, even introducing a “Jesus … Rocks” call and response chant to all the cadets. Those of you who follow football may remember the AFA’s coach calling his players the “Jesus Team.”
It makes sense, I suppose, to make sure the most powerful part of your arsenal is God, but it does seem more than a little self-serving to assume the Great God Almighty, Creator Of All That Was, Is and Ever Will Be, always liked you best. Such thinking wouldn’t be of much comfort to the millions of innocent men and women, boys and girls, who have been obliterated by armies marching in the name of God.
With Christmas right around the corner, it may behoove those of us who claim to be Christians to stop and ponder another verse from Dylan’s perceptive musical poem:
“In a many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss.
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.”
Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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