In 1504, an aging and ill Christopher Columbus was stranded in Jamaica with a ship that wasn’t sea worthy and only a handful of men. He needed the local Indians to provide his crew with food and supplies, but they weren’t inclined to cooperate. So Columbus came up with an ingenious–albeit dishonest–plan.
He’d been studying a book by German mathematician, Johann Muller, and therefore, knew that 1504 was a leap year and that February 29 would produce a lunar eclipse. So he sent a message to the Indian chiefs on the island, telling them that God was angry with them for not bringing food and supplies to his ship. He promised that God would give a demonstration of his anger by temporarily blotting out the moon. He said the sign would signal the Indians’ last chance to make things right. If they still didn’t bring food to Columbus and his men, they would have to face the wrath of God.
When the moon disappeared right on schedule, the Indians were terrified and started bringing enormous amounts of food. Further, they begged Columbus to intercede before God on their behalf. With a dramatic flair, he retired to his quarters and promised only that he would have a little talk with the Almighty.*
It seems that Christopher Columbus mastered the art of televangelism long before the TV was even invented. Using God and the threat of his wrath (or the promise of his blessing) to get people to give you stuff is now old hat. But in all honesty, it’s not just televangelists that do it. We rank and file believers can be pretty slick when it comes to using God to get what we want. A good example would be the way a Christian politician invokes God’s name to try to get votes. Or the way we talk up our faith when we think it’ll help us get a job, a client, or a date.
Years ago, I was in the office of a man who made his living selling properties. He had a Bible on his desk. A big one. Sitting right in front of where his potential customers would sit. He flat out told me he kept it there because it made a difference when dealing with believers. They liked to believe they were dealing with a Christian.
Surely, this must disgust God.
He wants to be worshiped, not used.
For further reflection read 2 Corinthians 4:2, 12:16-18, 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4
*Martin Dugard, The Last Voyage of Columbus (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005) 240-242