Acts of God or human failure?

A few weeks ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the Christian Broadcasting Network: “I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times. … And I think he wanted Donald Trump to become president, and that’s why he’s here.” Sanders is hardly alone in this belief as a 2017 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that 18 percent of Democrats, 26 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans “believe God intervened to help Donald Trump win the presidency.”

CNN religion editor Daniel Burke states the belief that an all-knowing and all-powerful God who is “extremely active” in all areas of human existence is especially pronounced among charismatic and Pentecostal Christians. The PRRI survey reported that 57 percent of white evangelical Christians agreed that God played a “major role” in the last presidential election.

This religious perspective raises interesting questions. For example, if an all-powerful, compassionate and just God is active in every aspect of human existence, is He (or She or It) also responsible for the election (twice) of Barack Obama as president? If Trump is good, as most conservative Christians agree, and Obama is evil (as these same individuals have repeatedly informed us), then why was God actively involved in the election of Obama? Was making Obama president God’s way punishing the United States? If so, for what?

If God is active in human affairs, then He must have permitted the political, social and religious institutions (think Southern Baptists and Southern Methodists in the antebellum South) that legitimated slavery in this country to come into being.

And God must also have influenced Adolph Hitler’s rise to power. An omniscient God certainly knew that Hitler would be responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of soldiers and civilians who perished in the European theater of World War II, which the Nazi leader started.

The problem with an all-powerful, all-knowing and compassionate view of God active in every aspect of human affairs is that either God is responsible for everything that humans perpetrate, including the evil that has beset the human race from its inception, or this perspective is untrue and God is not all powerful and cannot control or eradicate the evil perpetrated by humanity. Is Satan as powerful, or in some instances, more powerful than God and responsible for the evil that besets our species?

If “God calls each of us to different roles at different times,” as Sanders notes, does this mean God “called” as many as 90 percent of the indigenous people in the Americas to suffer then die of diseases they had no resistance to — typhus, measles, influenza, bubonic plague, cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and mumps, among others — brought to the “new world” by Europeans? If so, did God decide that creating Native Americans was a mistake, all but wipe them out then give their land to Europeans who would enslave, work to death and kill a significant number of the indigenous people that remained?

Did God call for over 6 million Jews, Slavs and Roma people (Gypsies) to be murdered in Nazi extermination camps? Did God call for pedophile priests to molest children who were called to be victims? Were Catholic church leaders called to ignore, then cover up these reprehensible crimes throughout the world for decades, if not centuries?

In a particularly heinous crime, a 5-year-old girl was severely beaten, raped and strangled to death in Flint, Michigan, on New Year’s Day, 1986. Was her brutalization and murder the role this child was called to fulfill by the Almighty? And what of her killer? In a world wherein God is the prime mover of everyone and everything, what’s the moral difference between a saint and a child killer, as both are realizing their predestined roles? If God “calls” people to commit crimes, isn’t punishing them immoral as they did not choose to violate the law of their own free will?

If God has called people from Mexico, Central and South America to enter this country illegally, isn’t separating parents from their children in an effort to deter them and building a wall to keep these “vermin” and “animals” (Trump’s terms for these individuals) out contrary to God’s will and, therefore, sinful?

Some theologians and philosophers are of the opinion that any attempt to reconcile the existence of evil with an all-powerful, all-knowing and compassionate God denigrates the victims of evil. In their view, human suffering is only temporary, even if it lasts a lifetime. Suffering teaches us to seek God’s mercy, and people who suffer in this world will be rewarded in the next.

Returning to Trump, the president received approximately 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Was Trump’s “election” to the White House, with significantly less support than Clinton received, proof that human volition is subservient to the will of God, a God who “wanted” Trump to be president? Was the Electoral College created by God to propel Trump to the presidency despite being outvoted? (God moves in mysterious ways?)

If a “President Trump” is part of God’s plan, then Democrats gaining a solid majority in the House of Representatives in last November’s election must also be a component of the Almighty’s grand scheme of human activity. Ditto for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the president. If Trump is impeached and convicted, will Sarah Sanders — and all those who agree with her — say that Trump’s fall (from grace?) was a result of God’s intervention into human affairs?

Maybe Sarah Sanders is correct, but for a reason she has not, and never would, consider. Perhaps Trump’s ascendence to the White House and his unwavering support from approximately 35 percent of the electorate is a stark reminder that racism, sexism and the hatred of Latin American and Middle Eastern immigrants remains deeply embedded in this self-proclaimed Christian nation, and the Almighty is displeased with our hypocrisy.

George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale, retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego.

Sources:

Burke, D. (Feb. 1, 2019) “Sarah Sanders: God wanted Trump to be president” CNN, www.cnn.com

“God and the 2016 Election” (2017) Public Religion Research Institute, www.prri.org

Oden, R. (1998) “Pondering Divine Justice — Do We Suffer for Naught,” in R. Oden, “God and Mankind: Comparative Religions,” The Teaching Company, www.thegreatcourses.com

“The impact of European diseases on Native Americans” (accessed 2019) Encyclopedia.com, www.encyclopedia.com

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