Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The story's not over

It's funny those days that seem to start out normal and end up with a theme.
On Monday I got overwhelmed with a couple situations that are like juggernauts for me—I can't figure them out, and so I can't fix them. Also, they're painful, and they make me really wrestle with God's sovereignty, which in turn makes me want to get a better grip on the problem of evil. And if I want to fix them because of my love for the people involved, it's hard for me to understand God's delay.
So I was just praying a little about it and I felt like a provisional answer came: The story isn't over yet. That was a bit of a comfort.
Then I was watching the last part of "The Closer" (my parents' Monday night show), and, well, it's hard to make a short story of it. Suffice it to say Brenda Lee bonds with a young shooting victim as he dies thinking she's his mom. Then she finds his killer. It turns out his old girlfriend said he raped her, so she could explain her pregnancy to a very angry dad. Her brother heard and got angry, and shot the ex-boyfriend. Brenda Lee gets really angry at the daughter and dad while the other cops chase down the fleeing brother. It made me realize that it would be easy to be sympathetically make excuses for each character—but less so when you learn the bigger picture. Each person could've made the right choice. Sometimes the complexity helps. Knowing that God is at the same time the offended party, the judge, the prosecuting attorney, the close kin of the victims and something altogether different—their creator—the only one with the big picture and the full story.*
Then, my Dad randomly read me this quote from Sam Gamgee (quoted in a book he's reading). It's the part where Sam realizes that he and Frodo are actually in the stories they grew up on. "Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end because how could the end be happy?...But in the end it's only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it'll shine out the clearer....folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't." Hmmm...just what I needed to hear.
Then I clicked on my friend Lorrie's post in honor of the anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin wall. Besides providing some absolutely hilarious moments of spoken German, it's an inspiring video. Who expected it to ever come down? At the end two long-lost relatives hug and the woman says, "Imagine if it's always like this." And the words scroll down "Thank you, Mr. Gorbachev, for making the impossible possible." How many people dared to hope it would end that way?
I also tracked down the lyrics to a couple Andrew Peterson lyrics—The Silence of God and After The Last Tear Falls. I recommend them.
So, I still need to re-tackle the problem of evil. But I'll do it a little at a time, and know the story's not over yet.

*There may well be something theologically wrong with this sentence. If so, feel free to point it out, but try to make it actually helpful for me in thinking through these things, not just debating for its own sake. Thanks. ( :

Friday, June 19, 2009

T-shirt philosophy

So I got stuck in the internet vortex for about an hour yesterday browsing some really great artistic, witty t-shirts. I would be up for wearing many of them if I possessed a budget labeled "tongue-in-cheek t-shirts." Alas.
But I ran across this one. At first I thought, "that's hilarious..." then, "wait just a minute!" I think the message here may be reflecting a belief out there about God. Like, God is the couch. He's a source of "comfort," yet he demands that we partake of it, or he'll send "unrelenting wrath" our way. I think the fact that it's a cute-looking couch renders the concept even more absurd. Either making the point that the God that exists and makes such ridiculous demands is more absurd than the couch, or that the very absurdity of a God who would make such demands renders his existence unlikely or impossible. it a valid critique? Is it absurd and cruel for God to demand that we partake of his comfort at the penalty of wrath? Well, I think for the answer to be yes, it would require a massive oversimplification (isn't that clever to use such rhetoric in the succinct art form of a t-shirt?). Before I get into my philosophical argument in response, you may be thinking, "you're calling a T-shirt a critique?" Well, even if I'm wrong about the tee's intent, there is definitely this idea out there that hell renders God a capricious and ridiculous figure. I've met people who are bitter at the idea of God in part because of this concept. I just want to offer a broader perspective, because it's so easy to let an idea--even from a t-shirt, a song lyric or a sound byte--work its way under our skin before we've really thought it through. And by then it's done a lot of damage.
Anyway, the t-shirt is a valid critique, and God and his actions would be absurd if:
  • God and people appeared independently of each other, with no relational history, such as creator/creation, or king/coup participants. In other words, if we had no rightful obligation to God, and he had no legitimate charge to lay at our door.
  • Or worse, if, like the couch, people made God for their own comfort. If that were his only function in the universe.
  • If comfort were all God offered, instead of offering as well freedom from lies, fellowship with deity, moral excellence, enabling of true love for humanity, etc.
  • If God were as worthy of respect as a couch, rather than deserving the respect due the only infinite being in the universe, the mastermind behind all its laws, the author of all beauty, the avenger of all evil, etc.
  • If it were negligible whether enjoying God's comfort were in our best interest. If, like a couch, taking advantage of his presence may not advance one's most important purpose for that moment, may not be necessary or may not serve the best interest of humanity in general at the time.
  • If God wanted us to take advantage of his comfort for any other reason than for our ultimate good. If he were somewhat emotionally deficient and miffed (like the couch, apparently) that we would so hurt his pride, so that he retaliated with wrath.
So, in summary: If God were indeed a person unworthy of much respect and having no claim on our affections, who took little true thought for our best interests, and, while having no real reason to be angry at us, decided to capriciously lash out at us--well, this would be an absurd figure.
But, if God is our creator--worthy of infinite respect and our true source of all love and beauty--and invites humanity into all his joy, yet is infinitely and legitimately wronged by humanity's rebellion, then who are we to say whether he is wrong to choose a punishment that fits this crime?
How do you measure an offense against an infinitely worthy being? Not to mention any offense against the creatures he made? Who can define how much restitution is due when you didn't make the law and can't estimate the value of the victim? Who is qualified to preside as judge over such a matter?
But there's one more reason that for me blows any absurdity or hint of capricious cruelty out of the water: This same God, worthy of all respect and infinitely offended, offered himself as the restitution for the crime. This is what Jesus was doing on the cross as a member of the Godhead--lawfully removing God's claim against us. He didn't just "go through hell" through the physical and emotional pain of crucifixion, he also absorbed God's "unrelenting wrath"* on our behalf.
Why? Because he loves us. Because he knows enjoying his infinite comfort (and MUCH more) is the only we can be genuinely happy or have any hope of really loving each other.
I don't think the couch would be so kind.

*Wait, you say, Jesus rose from the dead. How is that "unrelenting wrath"? Well, if Jesus is part of the Godhead and thus infinite in being, he was able to absorb God's infinite wrath. Or so I've heard. ( :

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Deepak thoughts with Mark Driscoll

I found a great discussion that Nightline hosted between Mark Driscoll and Deepak Chopra and two other people. It was pretty fascinating, and there were even some laugh out loud moments.
I did find myself thinking fairly often, however, "So I clearly cannot drink the wine in front of me!" "Truly you have a dizzying intellect." "Just wait till I get going!"
But I thought it was really helpful and well-moderated.
Enjoy, and I'd love to hear thoughts and comments.

It's broken into 10 parts, but well worth it. ( :
By the way, does anyone know how to embed a video into a blog?