In 1982/83 when AIDS was seen as a "gay" disease, it was manipulated by the haters into "punishment from God for homosexuality".
I asked Professor David Kelsey, of Yale Divinity School where I had been a student from 1976-80, to disabuse the bigots of their cherished notion of a sadistic Divinity. His response, "God and Pinocchio,"was picked up and published in the Divinity School publication, Reflection, seen below.
I have exhumed it from my files here.
PRESS Ctrl and + to enlarge text.
God and Pinocchio
Does God send mortal sickness like
AIDS, for example, as punishment?
For that matter, does God inflict any
evil on particular people for particular
things they have done or not done? In
the children's story, Pinocchio has this
problem. He's forever telling lies. His
friend the Talking-Cricket tells him that
every time he tells a lie his nose will
grow longer. It's a punishment. Of
course, because it's in a children's story
and takes place in a magical world
where wooden puppets come to life, it's
funny. But it's punishment all the same.
Everyone can see the nose getting
longer, and as it does Pinocchio's pri-
vate life is revealed to the public. That's
punishing And, for a real human being
anyway, it would be life-threatening. In
the real world it wouldn't be funny. Is
God like the Talking-Cricket? Would
God inflict life-threatening punishment
I can only talk about this kind of
thing as a Christian. As a Christian, I
have to say, No. God is not like that.
There are, I know, recognized Christian
spokespersons who say just the oppo-
site. I believe them to be wrong. The
anguish their view causes some victims
of disease or accident is as terrible as it
is unjustified. We all look to the Bible
for guidance in trying to think about
God. Now the Bible is a very rich book,
filled with a wealth of stories, some of
them about God. There's no denying
that there are passages that make God
sound like the Talking-Cricket. But to
seize on them and use them out of con-
text is to miss the main point of the Bi-
ble. The heart of the matter is the story
about Jesus. I mean both the stories
about what he said and did and the sto-
ries about what happened to him.
For a Christian, Jesus is the clue to
what God is like. The clue is that God
accepts us human beings just as we are.
God does not require that we change
first, before God will accept us. God
wills life and well-being for people, not
brokenness, suffering and death. So
God does not inflict punishment as a
way to even some kind of score. Nor is
punishment sent as a way to change us
into the kind of persons God could
then, and only then, start loving.
This biblical way of understanding
God is very different from what "every-
body believes" about God. It's hard to
grasp and hang on to. And it's hard to
build one's life on. For one thing, it
leaves wide open the question of where
evils like AIDS do come from. I don't
know. Nor does anybody else. Evil is an
awful mystery. What I do believe is that
it is wrong to drain the mystery out of
evil by claiming that God causes it.
For another thing, this God of love
goes against what we've all heard about
Divine Judgment, Heaven and Hell.
Isn't it like this, that we live our lives as
though we were on some kind of proba-
tion? And God is like a cosmic score
keeper recording everything we do right
and everything we do wrong? And at
the end the score will be tallied. If it's a
minus score. we will be rejected. If it's
positive, we are accepted and loved.
And along the way if our score is get-
ting too many minuses, we get zapped
now and again as a reminder that this
game is serious?
No, it's not like that. The clue that
Jesus gives is that God loves us and ac-
cepts us and wills our well-being from
the very beginning of our lives and all
through them no matter how we live
our lives. God does not wait till the end
of our lives to see whether they have
been guiltless before God will decide to
love us. God wills our well-being and
opposes anything that threatens it. That
does not mean that God does not judge
us. God does. God will oppose all the
ways we ourselves do damage to our-
selves. That is something we are all
guilty of doing, destroying our own
well-being. Before God we all stand
guilty. And God will constantly put
pressure on us to stop doing what un-
dercuts our own wholeness as persons.
But that does not mean that we are on
probation. And it certainly does not
mean that God puts pressure on us by
inflicting us with evils that just undercut
our well-being even more. Instead, it
means that God is waiting for us to
start living like people who know that
we have already been accepted by God
and don't have to prove anything, either
to God or to anybody else. And that is
true regardless of the fact that we are
guilty of ignoring God and damaging
our own wholeness.
It may be a truth that's hard to grasp
and hold on to. But it's a truth one can
build a life on, no matter what situation
comes along, gracefully and in full hu-
David Kelsey is Professor of Theology
at YDS. [
] Yale Divinity School