You gotta feel a little sorry for God these days. The hotline from the White House has been hopping off the heavenly hook; the pope has been urging his flock to "persevere in unceasing prayer"; cries of "Allahu Akbar" echo from the streets of Gaza to those of Baghdad. And, this just in, In Touch Ministries distributed a booklet to U.S. soldiers in Iraq urging them to pray for--George W. Bush. One suggested prayer: "Pray that the president and his advisers will seek God and his wisdom daily and not rely on their own understanding."
Being omnipotent, God has no problem fielding all these calls. He can probably even take time out to mediate a dispute in the Louisiana legislature over whether painting a giant U.S. flag with "God Bless America" in 37-foot-tall letters on the roof of the New Orleans Superdome would cut the value of the naming rights to the stadium. Still, even He must be experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance.
President Bush, of course, frequently invoked God's blessing on our incursion into Iraq. (The president's close friend, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, says "Bush believes he was called by God to lead the nation at this time.") But even as the president broadcast his invasion message, there came a televised Saddam Hussein assuring his nation that "God's victory will be ours soon." Saddam added a message from the Almighty that had apparently sneaked by U.S. signal blockers: "God has ordered you...to cut their throats."
Meanwhile, a taped message from Osama bin Laden noted that he was "following anxiously the preparations of the crusaders to conquer the former capital of Islam and steal their wealth," and called upon the Muslim world "to fight for the sake of God, not for nationalism or any infidel regime, including Iraq."
Of course, the ways of God are not the ways of man. And while the divine injunction "Thou shalt not kill" seems straightforward, religious scholars point to numerous Old Testament texts to demonstrate that, as one Christian pastor wrote recently in The Columbus Dispatch, "God loves and protects the innocent and the weak. He often does so by declaring war on tyrants and oppressors."
That being so, surely the mandate of heaven was conferred on the White House in its chosen war. That does not mean, however, that the president and his most ardent supporters call upon heaven with one voice. For instance, the animosity to Saddam shared by evangelical Christians and Jews might seem odd, given that Jews, along with Catholics and blacks, were once frequent targets of the more irredentist denizens of the Bible Belt. But the route to their reconciliation runs through Israel. As the portentous millennium approached, evangelical thoughts turned to the long-awaited Second Coming of Christ and thence to Armageddon.
There, says the Book of Revelations, armies of East and West, enticed by Satan, will march together to Jerusalem, where they will do joint battle with the returning Christ. What happens next is open to many interpretations, especially about who gets "raptured" (i.e., raised bodily into heaven) and when (before or after the time of "tribulations"). But a generally agreed upon precursor is that the Jewish people be back in control of Israel before the action begins.
Despite this shared interest in Israel's protection, a point of contention remains: Will anyone but Christians have a shot at being raptured? Evangelicals have in recent years assured Jews that they will not be automatically excluded. According to the World of the Bible group, Christians "will join with redeemed Israelites in the true worship of God." Says one Pretribulationist writer, "What lies ahead of [Jews] is seven years of tribulation, out of which he will bring a Jewish remnant." Whatddya mean redeemed? And what's a remnant? God only knows.
Nor are all members of the coalition in tune with the we-don't-blame-Islam White House line. "Islam as a whole is evil," said the Rev. Franklin Graham--a speaker at Bush's inauguration--at a National Prayer Service in November. Most evangelical Web opinion agrees with one writer's view that "despite the U.S. administration's desire to separate [it] from the tactic of terrorism, the religion of Islam is the common denominator for all the groups with which we are at war." Meanwhile, various Bible Web sites retain lengthy sections on the apostasies of Rome. "The Catholic Church has all too often been at the center of the 1,400-year-old struggle between Islam and Christianity," avers one critic.
If these doctrinal disputes weren't enough to clog the celestial pipelines, across the country Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu religious leaders gathered to pray for, of all things, peace. Back to you, God.