J.S. Park

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Posts tagged with "Theology"

Christian Cliches Don’t Work For Tragedy.

jspark3000:

If you talk to anyone who’s involved in a huge tragedy, you can’t say those cute cliches like “Pain forces you to grow” or “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” It sounds hollow and stupid, and I would slap myself in the face if I said those things too.

I believe more and more that not every pain has a lesson. I think sometimes that pain is just pain, that life can be a mystery, and it’s all part of our weird wild crazy human experience. Pain is part of being human. We don’t need to spiritualize everything. We don’t need to wrap things up with a bowtie. Sometimes there is unresolved tension and we need to let it bleed.

However, here’s why I believe in the Christian faith.

I believe in Jesus because his life means God actually showed solidarity with us in our pain. I know that doesn’t solve pain right now. But when I’m hurting, I don’t need a lecture or a connect-the-dots-theology. What I need is a friend who will stay with me side by side and hear my venting, embrace my shaking, love me through my slobbery flailing mess. I need a presence who both understands my pain but is just enough above it to lead me through it.

And if I believe the narrative of Jesus, then we have both a person who has been through what I’ve been through and a divine presence who can help pull me through the worst of it. Jesus on a cross showed an unresolved tension that bled — but Jesus out of a tomb showed there really is a bowtie to this whole thing, a far-off nearly imperceptible light at the end of this tunnel.

Maybe we will find out the “reasons” one day for why everything happened. Maybe they will satisfy us, or not. But by then, the answers probably won’t matter anymore. Because we’ll be face to face with the God who was with us all along, the only one who never left us in our mess and who truly understood us as we are, venting and angry and hurting and all, and we’ll find out He really did love us despite us, and He suffered infinitely more than we could ever bear to face on our own.

I hold onto this hope. It feels foolish some days: but on those days, it’s all I have and all I need.

— J.S.

Wrestling Through Our Religious Differences and Our Wildly Varying Christian Convictions

wherethecherryblossomsdance asked:

Could I ask you a question? Is it a bad thing to want everyone, regardless of their religion and faith to just worship together and love one another? Is it really wrong to want to go to someone who is Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, and go “Let’s worship together?” I feel that as long as different religions and beliefs attack one another, insisting that one is right and all others are wrong, this cannot become a reality, and it saddens me. I want to see us all get along and join together. Is that so bad?

tworoadsdivergedblog asked:

Something I’ve always wondered is how we (Christians) all serve one God but differ so much when it comes to doctrine (sure, there are basic things we agree upon, but we also have so many little things we disagree with that we have to label ourselves) ? Are we just simply not meant to fully understand the truth? I get that we are all different, and we can’t put God in a box, but if we are all in a relationship with one God, how is it that we aren’t unanimous when it comes to interpreting scripture and whatnot? We can’t all be right, so how do we know what is right to believe? Our feelings? Convictions?

 

Hey there my dear friends, to be very truthful: this has always been a tough one for me. Because —

- I’ve had relatives pass away who did not know Christ, and I’ve sincerely hoped that some part of them had accepted Christ and that it was enough.

- If I’m to believe Christianity is real, then I’m to accept that everything Jesus taught on Hell is also real, and this is not a particular reality that I find easy to face.

- Our wildly varying Christian convictions sometimes leads me to think that none of us have it right, and maybe there are different ways to the Truth after all.

- I also consider myself a skeptical Christian, so I might not even be the best person to re-affirm your thoughts here either.

While I know we won’t all see eye-to-eye nor can I hope to answer all your concerns, here’s the bare minimum that I believe. 

 

- I do believe there is an essential absolute Truth with a capital T.  I believe Prime Truth exists regardless of my desire that it didn’t exist, and it’s objective and non-contingent to myself.  1+1 must equal 2. Matter either exists in a certain space or doesn’t.  Schrödinger’s cat is alive or dead or both.

 

- I believe some people are in the right and some people are in the wrong.  This means we can’t always have it both ways.  Once you decide upon a particular path, you’ve been launched into momentum.  What I mean is, when you start singing a song or giving a public speech, you’re now in the middle of it.  If you say, “No wait, I would like to sing another song at the same time as this one” or “I want to say two speeches now,” you can’t.  You may only start again.

When we try to presume upon all choices in a binary situation (and there are many close-ended situations), we want “the best of both worlds.”  We’re saying, “No matter what I choose, I want it all.”  It’s like trying to smuggle in the benefits of a relationship while staying single.  This is denying the common reality of our choices, and it lacks both integrity and substance.

Please hear me though: It’s always great to share life with people of other beliefs.  There is zero reason that I give you less dignity no matter how deeply our differences might go (and maybe for once, we can avoid Godwin’s Law).  In fact, me loving you is never based upon you being in the right or wrong, and if your thinking is wrong, it’s even more reason for me to love you, and not less.  Yet the least loving thing I can do is to say “believe whatever you want,” because that means I love you less, and not more.

However, I’m not going to coerce you into the right by telling you the consequences of the wrong.  In other words, the threat of Hell is never a successful motivation for Heaven.  The point of Christianity is not to pit some dichotomy between a true or false question: because only people do that to you.  Rather, I’ve always known faith to be slowly awakening to the reality of who God is and what He’s done for us.

 

- I believe there are is a core essential truth, but then our secondary subjective experience points towards this truth.  When a sunset evokes a feeling of nostalgia and a soaring in our hearts: this subjective feeling of emotion is pointing to the objective truth of beauty.  Yet we’ll all feel this differently, with a range of memories and stories and associated smells and sounds and sensations, each so infinitely apart from the next person. 

As Neil Gaiman said:

"Everybody has a secret world inside of them … Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds … Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe."

 

- Despite my daily doubting and my intermittent anger at history gone wrong, I believe there must be a True God.  I believe reality has been revealed through Jesus, the incarnation of the True God, and that he jumpstarted healing in this broken world in one place, at one time, at one point in human history, as an invitation effective for eternity. 

No other religion, in my earnest opinion, even comes close to this idea.  We didn’t have to find God, but God came to us.  We don’t add God to our story, but this story is already His.  And I don’t think Jesus died on a cross to say, “Okay so get on any path to find the Truth now, up to you guys.”  He said, "It is finished." 

But how we arrive to this truth and how this event speaks to us will be so highly dependent upon our uniquely wired individual personalities.  No two people will see Jesus exactly the same, though he remains the same; yet even more amazing, two people can pray to this same God at the same time and reach two conclusions about their lives, in the same moment. 

 

- We need room in the body of Christ for our different subjective experiences of the one objective reality.  God has a bigger imagination than you or me, and to limit Him into our own singular preconceived doctrine is to shrink God into a de-powered toy.  When you look at the vast myriad of people in the world: you’re seeing the imaginative creative power of God.  Some of us prefer structure and authority and tradition, and that’s not legalism.  Some of us need a sermon podcast or we just reflect by a river.  If you ask me what a Christian looks like, I would say a Christian looks like you and me.  Yet it’s not God who gets this confused, but us.

Of course, I know that cults exist.  I know that some people can hijack the beauty of Jesus into their own agendas by slightly twisting the truth with slick language.  I’m all for orthodoxy and clear theology and fighting heresy.  I just think we’re too quick to get on a high horse about this, and we would rather demonize than gently instruct others.  The moment we lose humility, we always lose Christ, and will therefore lose love.

An easy way to tell if you have the right convictions is to ask: Is my theology making me more gracious and humble with such truth? If your theology is making you less gracious and more of a jerk, then you haven’t really met Jesus and you’re still just playing with religion.

 

- In the end, I can only be loving if I tell you the truth, and I will tell you that truth in love. 

I don’t mean to say that “speaking the truth in love” is some kind of sneaky way to disguise my truth with nicer words.  I’m not trying to Trojan-horse you my ideology.  I mean to say that I believe the True Story of the World rests upon a redeemer who came to save a people who could not save themselves: to save weary prideful sinners like me, and that this grace is available this very second. No theology must make this difficult to understand. It will cost you your life; but so does everything else, except that Jesus in return gives you the only True Life. I don’t want you to waste one more moment without knowing this love.  I have to tell you about the one who changed my life. There is a fountain, and you can drink freely, and it’s what you’ve been looking for your whole life.

You may arrive there one day when your car flips over into the next lane and you emerge without a scratch.  You could be at a park, watching the stillness of a lake, a single leaf swirling on the surface in a slow dance with the wind: and you’ll know.  You could see a father with his son in a yard, chasing each other with roars and countdowns, laughter beating from their chests: and you’ll see.  You may read of heroic sacrifice in a disaster and weep, or see a movie where the villain wins and it doesn’t sit right, or you’ll cry for justice over the downtrodden: and you’ll lift your eyes. 

We all find that one day, whether at five or twenty-five or eighty-five, whether in fortune or fame or failure, that we want to be vulnerable and known and somehow still loved: and that somewhere, an unfailing inexhaustible love must exist, regardless of who we are or what we’ve done.  I believe such truth came to us in a person, and I find myself loving such a person to be the greatest adventure, the greatest gift, the truest journey.  And in finding Him: I found that He had found me.

— J.S.

What About All Those People Who Never Got A Chance With God?

Anonymous asked:

I have been raised in a Christian household & attended a Christian school my entire life. However, I only started taking my relationship “seriously” with God after graduating. Why did God choose ME to know of Him and place me in my aforementioned environments? What about those who live life never knowing about God? Why doesn’t God reach out to them? Since I know God, is it my duty to spread His Word? What about Catholics/Muslims etc.? Am i just blessed? But Isn’t that unfair to the nonbelievers?! :/

 

Hey my dear friend, thank you for your very sensitive gentle heart about this.  As an Asian born in America, I know that I could’ve easily been a Buddhist in Korea or a Shintoist in Japan or a Confucianist in China.  Or even a Communist or Marxist or Socialist.  Or a tribal villager living on a Filipino island.  Or one of those Tibetan monks in the mountains who only eats apricots and lives to 120.

This issue has always bothered me, as I found it rather disturbing that God would geopolitically confine Himself to one people-group for millions of years, and only recently branch out in the church era.  Even then, I would think a “loving God” could offer every person an opportunity to hear about Him, at least once, if He truly loved us.

So let’s consider a few things, some which we might disagree on, which is okay.  This is only from my own limited understanding of doctrine, the church, and our culture.

 

1) We actually have no idea how God is reaching people in the world right now.

I think a Westernized Christianese churchgoer tends to assume that evangelism is a package deal in which we make a specific offer, and if someone “accepts Jesus in my heart,” then it’s a closed deal.  Like this is the only way to go.  This is very much a post-Enlightenment idea in which all information must be transmitted by systematic form, line by line, until we can regurgitate it verbatim.

Yet if we think Jesus can only be shared by the confines of human language, then our view of God is much, much too small.

While I’m 100% supportive of mission teams, evangelism, and preaching the Gospel as much as possible, I think we’re limiting God when we box Him inside an academic Western checklist.  The Bible makes clear that God can speak through dreams, circumstances, images, visions, and in one case, even an ass.  We simply have no idea what our creative God can do with the limitless spectrum of people in this vast world.

Of course I don’t rely on this to dismiss evangelism, and at the very least, our faith must contain words.  But you’ve heard those stories of isolated tribal villages that have received dreams about Jesus and are now faithful Christians, without any contact from the outside world.  It could be crazy, sure, but I don’t ever want to downplay it either.  And the only way to find out this happened is to visit them, and if you find out they don’t know Jesus, then dear Christian: it’s suddenly on you.

In the end, I would never put it past God to reveal Himself in an imaginative number of ways that do not fit our tiny paradigm. 

 

2) It’s difficult to determine whether a person has “enough knowledge” to “be saved.”

I’ve always said that the Gospel is simple enough for the five year old and deep enough for the eighty-five year old.  The criminal who hung next to Jesus was saved in the last minutes of his life; a man like Nicodemus who knew about God his whole life was more lost than the prostitutes and prodigal sons.

This must mean that someone who dies in a school shooting and calls out to his bare little knowledge of Jesus could be saved.  A child in a tsunami or a person with Down syndrome or a man who’s lost his memories could still, at some point, understand the Gospel and not merely be saved, but safe. 

I don’t mean to sugarcoat this whole thing and say that a tiny head-knowledge will work for everyone.  I wouldn’t bet my life on it.  I just want us to ask: How much faith is really enough to get saved?  At what point must our lives prove what we really believe?  Where is the cut-off for saving knowledge and how do we even determine that?  Is there some point where our faith activates salvation?  Or is our faith truly given by grace and more about the object of our faith than the amount?

Romans 1 tells us that God shows Himself through everything, so that none are without Him.  This could be a stretch, but I might even say that God sees our faith by the grace He apportioned to each of us, so that we’re each accountable for what we individually know.  A teacher who tests his students on untaught material is a bad teacher, and maybe I’m being too soft here: but I don’t believe God is a bad teacher.

 

3) Not just anyone goes to Hell. 

Prisons aren’t built for people who don’t believe in the police.  They’re built for criminals.  I know this analogy is not perfect, but the concept of Hell is simply justice for those unrepentant people who’ve been a part of rape, genocide, oppression, slavery, and abuse.  I’m sure it makes God sick to His stomach: but if He was not a God against injustice, then He wouldn’t be loving at all. 

I’ve written several posts on this here, here, and here.

 

4) Seriously, God chose you.  Which is both good news and a wake-up call.

I believe that we must absolutely rejoice that God has called us.  If you’re a Christian, I hope you never get over it.  The God of the universe knocked on the door of your heart and said hello, to you.  This is nothing to be ashamed of or to be guilty over, because contrary to church culture, God does want us to feel good about some things. As if Christians need one more guilt-trip to be all somber and morbid on Sunday mornings.  So be joyful that He chose you, my friend.

But also know: Growing up in a “Christian environment” is not the blessing we think it is.  In the West, being a “Christian” is as easy as praying a scripted prayer or sitting in a pew one hour per week.  In the East, being a Christian can usually get you killed in a variety of slow unpleasant ways.  I’ve hardly ever met a lukewarm Eastern Christian: because their environment has already weeded out the uncommitted.

If we ever think, “Oh I’m so lucky to be a Christian in America” — we’re not only disrespecting every other country and Christian in the world by assuming a better culture, but we’re thinking WAY too much of ourselves.  Certainly there are advantages to our country, but there are so many slick subtle disadvantages: which are the most dangerous kind.

Trust me on this: Most Eastern Christians are appalled at our abuse of religious freedom in America, and would laugh to tears at the entertainment culture within Western church.  I don’t mean to sound like a superior snob here, but I’m saying: being an American Christian is more reason to give, share, love, and talk about Jesus, because we have the freedom to do so.  I say this with all grace for you, but if you feel sorry for third-world people who might never attend church like you do, then that exposes a blinded arrogance and a wrong presumption about our “Christian nation.”  We must both rejoice in our faith and be humble in our fortune.

I’m saying this because I love you more, and not less.  Before we weep for some concept of the faithless person in another country, we so-called lucky Christians must first weep for ourselves.  Tears of joy, yes, and tears of grieving love for our neighbors who don’t know Jesus. 

— J.S.

Aug 8

When people hide behind “I’m speaking the truth in love,” this sounds a bit like saying, “I’ll speak in a nicer tone of voice to prove that I’m right.”  Everyone can see through that.

Truth without love remains truth, but it will remain isolated in its ivory tower, never crossing any bridges.  YET: Love is not meant to Trojan-horse the truth at you either.  Love must be the fundamental motive of all we say and do.  That means having a conversation without the agenda of coercion.

— J.S.

Aug 8

Not Every Pain Has A Lesson

jspark3000:

image

 

There is NO connecting-the-dots on every instance of pain.  You can’t tell everyone, “God has a plan for your life.”  You can’t always say, “Everything happens for a reason.”

A blind theology on suffering only works for the unquestioning.  It can work until you have to comfort a young boy with cancer, a mother who has lost her son, a suicidal high schooler, an entire nation oppressed by genocide, a family torn by a school shooting or drunk driver, a pregnant victim of rape.  At this point: it is atrocious to say, “Pain forces you to grow” or “It takes a painful situation to change your ways” or “God is teaching you to trust.”

I think we probably say those things because most of us have had it way too easy.  And actually: they’re not biblical or from the heart of God.

What if there really is no spiritual lesson from your pain?

What if “God’s amazing plan” only makes sense to the privileged upper-class?

What if you never see the reason for why you’re going through this horrible ache? 

What if you’re that starving, kidnapped, beat-up kid in a scorched third world country?

 


Certainly there is some accommodating theology, but we jump to that too quickly.  The hard truth is that we live on a fractured planet with a broken people who are dislocated from their source, and nothing is as it ought to be.  Ugliness is bound to happen, and when we try to moralize or spiritualize, we find ourselves on unsteady ground with unanswered questions.

We’re not to gloss over this with pat doctrine and retroactive theology — but to enter into the fray with sleeves rolled up and armed with the strength and mercy of God. To say “God has a plan” while people are suffering is not incorrect, but it is incomplete. 

God does have a plan, and that was the sending of His Son to redeem this fallen world.  It was the inauguration of a Kingdom in which we are the participants, and until Jesus comes again, we’re called to fight evil in its every form.

All this “Let go and let God” complacency has us sitting on the sidelines.  If you are united with Christ: you are an agent assigned to aid in the healing of your corner of the universe. God is still the God of every situation — but more than that, God is the God IN the situation, suffering with us, embracing the broken, restoring wounded hearts, and waiting for us to get involved too.

I hope we are not too quick to declare a life-lesson for every pain, but instead show solidarity as Jesus did.  His very presence as God in the flesh means we do not need more talk, but rescue.

— J.S.

Aug 6

If God is all knowing, then He knows that there are some people who are never going to accept Him into their lives. Does that mean that God stops pursuing them? I don't think that He does. It would still show His unconditional love for His children, even if He knows they'll never love Him back. I have a friend who is struggling to accept the fact that her husband may never come to know christ and I wanted your opinion. thanks in advance. I've always admired your extreme honesty <3

Hey my friend, I know this is a hugely sensitive question that I couldn’t hope to answer adequately.  Here are a few posts that might help, and as always, please feel free to skip around or skip them all.

- Does God Love Those Who Choose Against Him?

- Does God Save Or We Choose?

- The Troublesome Dilemma of Reformed Calvinism and Romans 9

- God Loves Everyone, Except Esau

The one thing I don’t want to do here is to “doctrine you to death.”  As much as we can fill our head with all this knowledge that God loves us, I know it’s still nerve-wracking to see your friend so far from faith. 

To answer your question a bit: I believe God does continually pursue us, regardless of our response, because God cannot help who He is.  Even scary passages like Romans 1:24 is still about God hoping that people will see the error of the wrong path. 

And while I don’t mean to give false hope, it’s hard to tell exactly what is the “right response” to God’s love.  Was it the criminal who hung next to Jesus who was saved in the last minutes of his life?  Is it someone who’s memorized a thousand Bible verses?  Is the Gospel simple enough for a five year old and an eighty-five year old?  What about those who cry out “Jesus” in a school shooting?  What about those third-world tribal villages that have a vague understanding of a personal God who loves them at all costs?  What about those with Down syndrome, or some other debilitating disease? 

The church tends to argue about “saving faith” and a “real response,” but I wonder if a Sinner’s Prayer is all it really takes.  I wonder on the other hand if you need a fifty year record of church attendance.  What does it take?  Because I think the Gospel offers so much more hope than simply expecting so many will perish without Him.

Sure, we can know when someone has completely vilified God and has given Him the finger.  But I would continue to share with your friend, because there’s a chance that even the smallest response from him is an acknowledgement in God’s direction.  Keep loving on him and telling him about Christ.  You never know.  Maybe our idea of faith is much smaller than God’s reality of grace. 

— J.S.

Aug 5

This probably sounds mean. But I’ve learned that if you keep saying “Jesus loves you” over and over and over again, it gets old. It gets abused. Not because the love of God is inadequate or incomplete, but because our definition of it is so lazy and lacking.

If you keep saying “God has grace for me” while you stay the same, you have not even begun to understand the implications of the cross. It’s still just abstract doctrine. You couldn’t possibly have met the man who carried the cross up a hill to die for you. You need more grace then, and not less.

I’m saying all this not because I love you less: but because I love you more.

I know it’s mostly subconscious: almost no one wants to abuse God’s love. But if you do not define God’s love as a relentless, furious, soul-shattering power that rescues you from death, then you’re left with a tiny two-inch keychain-god who fits in your pocket and can be tossed at your convenience.

Jesus does love you. He also said it’s better to get into Heaven with no eyes and no hands then you get into Hell with both. We can abuse God’s love without ever changing, because His love is inexhaustible: but why would we even want to? Why settle for a halfway grace? God is offering a glorious life of freedom ahead. I’ve tasted that freedom and I can’t go back anymore. I wouldn’t trade that joy now for anything. I hope you’re desperate enough to find that joy, and that you really mean it.

- J.S. from this post

Aug 4

What Does It Mean To Glorify God? A Mega-Post On The Glory of God

Anonymous asked:

Hello Pastor! I love your blog! I was wondering what It meant to do everything for the glory of God? Also, if it’s possible, can this be anonymous? Thank you for all your encouraging post! They’ve helped me so much!

 

Hey my friend, I totally love this question.  Please allow me to point you to a few posts here.  Please feel free to skip through them:

- Does Everything Have To Glorify God? — A Mega-Post On When Idolatry Is Not Idolatry

- How Do I Humble Myself When I Get Attention?

And I preached an entire message on what it means to glorify God, which is still my second most downloaded sermon (though perhaps more out of curiosity than anything else) —

- Sermon Podcast: The Relentless, Reckless, Furious Glory of God

 

I know we tend to over-use these phrases in our Christianese vocab:

- "We want to glorify You."

- “We want to bring You the glory.”

- “We do everything for the glory of God.”

- “Dropping off food for the homeless from my jetpack is not for my glory.”

But really, when we’re asked what it means to “glorify God,” we get all kinds of unclear ideas.  So here a few things to consider, and as always, please feel free to skip around.

 

1) The word glory in Hebrew is chabod, which means “weight” and implies a kind of qualitative value.

When we glorify anything, we are giving it a deeper value, as if to say it is critical to our existence.  So when a movie “glorifies war,” it’s attributing some kind of substantial worth (whether good or bad) to the idea of war.

The same applies to our concept of God, or money, or sex, or doctrine, or morality, or reputation.  Anything can be glorified.  And whether we choose to or not, we are always glorifying something.

 

2) The story of Adam and Eve tells us we once had all the glory we could ever want, but because of sin, we are now disconnected from the source of all glory.

God is the truest, purest glory in the universe.  We were made to be filled by His glory and His alone.  In sermons when I talk about glory, I sometimes say as a joke, “God is not just the only weight, but He’s overweight.  He’s more than all we need.”  When humanity turned away from God, as the Genesis story goes, we were not merely disobedient: we also disconnected from our true glory, the weight of our very existence. 

We once had the voice of God constantly telling us we were loved, approved, affirmed, and validated.  But we chose apart from God, and ever since we’ve been looking for glory in everything else that isn’t God.

 

3) Nearly every human problem can be tracked back to the desperate search for our own glory: but all human glory is temporary, hence the problem.

The next time you walk into a room full of people, I want you to see how they talk and interact and exchange and tell stories and make jokes.  Simply watch, listen, soak it in.

Soon you’ll see there’s a hidden anxiety underneath all their language, a deeper sort of quest for each person to validate their individual existence.  You’ll see this web of tug-of-war where everyone is pulling, clawing, scratching, grasping for this weight.

It’s like there’s a secret limited stash of golden currency in the air, and everyone’s fighting for it by telling the better story, bragging about their bank account, trying to be the funny guy, showing off their intelligence, dropping famous names, wearing a name, holding up false bravado, pretending to be a mystery, masking their voice in tight controlled expressions of eloquence. 

You know what this is: insecurity.  Everyone’s fighting for glory to cover the emptiness, that vacuum fracture.  And even when they get the glory from that room, it will never be enough: because we weren’t made for the temporary glory of this earth.  Our true glory is beyond the room, outside one another, from on high.

Part of the story of Christianity is that humanity has been locating their glory into the wrong things — a problem called idolatry — and Jesus came to relocate our glory in the true God once more.

 

4) Taking glory for yourself only makes you smaller, more unstable, and less than God means for you to be.

Think of every selfish person who needs to have the best story in the room.  Think of every glory-hog who needs to be the center of attention.

Even if they’re physically attractive: there’s something about stealing glory that feels inherently wrong.  When a person praises their own efforts, it no longer feels praiseworthy.

All of us naturally know that self-glory is ugly.  And when you throw your entire weight into money or sex or substance: it’s always collapsible, because these things are temporary. 

There is only one who could ever hold up our endless search for glory, and nothing else is really ever enough.  The problem is that in our current state, we’re absolutely unworthy of such glory.  So then, this is why Jesus had to come for us.  And the fact that he came for us is why he deserves the weight of all glory.  Which brings us to —

 

5) The reason God deserves all the glory is because He gave it up for us.  And when you give it up to Him: you find yourself.

Imagine with me, that you are God.  You made people to love you, know your love, and to love each other.

But they turn against you and turn against each other.  And all that they once had in you: they look for it from other people, either using them or killing them or both. 

So what do you do?

Certainly you wouldn’t enter the world as one of your own creations, stripped of your own divine power, and walk among these thieves and murderers.  Definitely you wouldn’t take on their weaknesses and infirmities and temptations.  Of course you wouldn’t dare to teach them the true nature of their original design: that they’re to love you, to love each other, that there is another world beyond this one.  And you wouldn’t give up your own glory on a cross so that everyone could regain the glory that they already gave up themselves.

But this is what Jesus did.

In Philippians 2, we’re told that the Son of God did not consider equality with God, but became a servant for us and took on human form, and in the end even humbled himself to die on a cross.  For us.  And he was raised again in power, for us.  So then every knee will bow, every tongue will confess: that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I know that some of this is strange and esoteric.  But consider: What is real glory?  It’s not to gain for yourself.  It’s to sacrifice out of humility and love.  All the true glorious stories of heroes are those who died in battle for their people, those who gave up their lives so that many would be saved.  In death, they gained glory.  And Jesus is the ultimate glorious one. 

 

The Christian life then is partially like hot-potato.  I’m always giving up the glory and deflecting it to Jesus.  This is what it means to “bring God the glory.”  As I’ve said before, Anything good in me is God in me, and anything bad in me, God is working on that.  My life is to point to the giver.  All the credit goes immediately to Him.  Like John the Baptist said in John 3:30, "He must increase, I must decrease."  

When I locate the glory back to God, then I’m no longer locating my hope in money, marriage, or myself.  I understand that everything good comes from God, and that he paid a price to give me back the true glory that we once dismissed.  So when God is my glory, I can become more unshakeable, more pure, more true, more myself.  I can actually enjoy things like money and marriage instead of using them to fill my own emptiness.  I no longer live under the tyranny of self-dictatorship, in which I falsely believe I’m the “main character” of my own story.  Because God is the main character, and I’m just a cameo, and I’m good with that. 

The amazing thing to me is that even though we turned away from God’s glory, He still wants us to be part of His story.  The reason why I throw my entire weight upon Jesus is because he is not only unshakeable, but he died for me that I might have a home in him. 

When you can today, please take some time to read Philippians 2, Isaiah 6, and Isaiah 40.  Read them slowly.  Breathe in the words of God.  And consider the immensity of the one who made you.  You’ll know that two things are true, two very humbling things: that 1) God is so huge, so vast, so overwhelmingly incredible, but 2) He is also so close, so intimate, and so very near you.

— J.S.

Aug 2

Tips on Preaching & Teaching For the First Time

So I’m speaking to my youth group this Wednesday (I’m 16 and this is the first time speaking at church) and I was just wondering if maybe you had any tips?

 

My friend, that is awesome. Woo!! Let’s first be grateful to God for this amazing opportunity that you’ve been given.  You and I never earned the right to preach or teach, but were given this honor by the Creator of everything so that others might know Him, be loved by Him, and love Him in return.  Please start there, in a place of humility, recognizing we are absolutely unworthy to teach others with our squishy tiny 3 lb. brains and our half-inch vocal cords, to other squishy fallen human beings from a wild variety of diverse back-stories — except by the grace of God. 

I mean that’s really crazy, when you think about it.  I’ve never gotten over that.

I don’t want to give you a formula or checklist because then you might be tempted to follow that instead of Jesus.  So here just a few things to pray about and consider.  You’re not obligated to any of these, so simply reflect and go forth, my friend.

 

- Love your people.  This is obvious, but so very often I forget to love the people who are right in front of me.  Sometimes I’m so quick to check off my awesome agenda of great sermon points, that I forget these are real hurting broken struggling people who care less about my intelligence and more about their maker.  Every word and sentence and theme must be fashioned out of love for your people.  Let your group know that this is a big deal for you and that you’re available outside of preaching time.  If they know you care about them, they’ll remember that more than the message.

 

- You be you.  My initial problem in preaching was imitation.  When I first started, I listened to a lot of James MacDonald, who is a fiery aggressive preacher with a booming voice and roughly twenty points in every sermon.  I even took on some of his tone and inflections.  Soon I learned, I wasn’t good at preaching like this.  My strengths were not a booming voice and twenty-point messages.  If you’re not naturally funny, you don’t have to try.  If you’re loud, use that to your advantage. Be comfortable with how God has made you.  Part of trusting God is trusting how He made you to be you in the world.  Let yourself out to play.

 

- Be prepared.  Please don’t presume that “good speaking ability” or “relying on the Spirit” will get you through a message.  They can, but people will know you’re not prepared and they won’t take you seriously, and the Spirit won’t swoop in for a lack of your own prep.  Study up, know your stuff, pray and reflect, preach it to yourself, apply it in your own life.  And when in doubt, quote C.S. Lewis.

 

- It’s okay to fail.  There’s an old joke in seminary that your first one-hundred sermons will be terrible.  When someone raises their first child, they’re nervous and neurotic and freak out easily and take too many pictures and are generally very overbearing.  But by the third child, the parent is super-cool and laidback and much more confident.  Yet no parent can raise their tenth child like the first one.  It takes growing pains.  In martial arts, we call that ring experience.  It doesn’t matter how much you train at the gym: when you’re in the ring, that’s the true training.  If you have a sermon fail, don’t beat yourself up.  Also, if you’re a first child: sorry bro.  At least you get the double portion. #JesusJuke

 

- If they fall asleep or don’t pay attention, that’s okay.  You’re not doing it for validation anyway.  I say this with all love and grace for you: but no one owes you anything.  No one owes your their attention or their undying eye contact for you.  Their time is precious and so is yours.  This goes for bloggers too: no one owes you “likes” or reblogs or replies or validation.  When someone does something for the approval of their peers, they’re no longer doing the main thing, but it’s now grossly external and foreign to the original purpose of that thing.  So no matter how many people are there, preach like you’re in a stadium.  Like Jesus is sitting there.  I preached to three students every Friday for two years, and I loved it.  They’ll stay awake if you’re awake and alive and all there, and they’ll know you’re not desperate for their thumbs-up.

 

- It’s also okay to evaluate.  If you mess up, simply examine what went wrong, recuperate in God’s embrace, and add that sermon to your ring experience. My method: I write down in a notebook what worked, what didn’t, and what I can do different next time.  Nothing too big, maybe half a page.  It’s a little painful and humbling, but I wrestle with it to the end. Once I close the notebook, I stop thinking about how it failed.  That’s done.  I give God the credit for any success.

 

- Stay humble.  Chances are that God will work through you and the Spirit will really sweep through the place.  If so, awesome!  Thank God when it happens.  Thank God if only seeds are planted that day.  Thank God you even get to do this. 

— J.S.

 

Also check out:

- Preachers: A Sermon Gut-Check

- Life Is Interruption (On Totally Bombing In The Pulpit)

- When You Fail A Sermon

- Remember The Uninitiated

- Sovereign Seeds, Unknown Deeds

- My Pastor Doesn’t Preach Deep Enough

Do Christians Have “Stockholm Syndrome” And Make Excuses For Their Abusive God?

eternallyforevereverythinglove said:

Hello! What do you think about the statement that Christians (and generally believers) have Stockholm Syndrome? I’ve picked this up somewhere and did some research. It’d make sense and it makes me feel weird about my faith now. Thanks and God bless!

 

Hey there my friend: I took some time to read about this, and it seems to be a new form of the argument that “Christians are brainwashed into unquestioning belief and indoctrinated to their oppressive church institutions and cultures.” 

Like all accusations against the Christian faith, there is always an element of truth to them because people are people, and we cannot perfectly reflect a perfect God.  We’re messy creatures with mixed motives in a gray-space struggle. 

What I mean is: Any argument against the Christian faith will make some kind of logical sense, because it will make sense against everyone regardless of their affiliation. We can blame religion just as much as we can blame human stupidity.

When someone says, “The church is full of hypocrites” — I always say, “Well that’s why you should go.”  Not in a mean way, but I’m saying: There are hypocrites at businesses, schools, hospitals, fraternities, non-profits, and the White House (gasp!), but the difference is, the church is the one place you can admit it and find healing.  Yes, hypocritical Christians have harmed many of us, and we need to confess that.  But as a tactic to dismiss faith, this is a cheap unthoughtful argument that’s a fluffy insubstantial defense mechanism.  Most of these arguments have NOT gone to the bottom of themselves, at all.

So when someone talks about “Christian brainwashing,” here are a few thoughts to consider.  As always, please feel free to skip around.

 

1) It’s true that the mainstream church has damaged people with cult-like behavior, and we must absolutely be aware of this and apologize.

If Christians can’t admit this, there’s no point to having this discussion.  When someone slams the church, I always end up agreeing with their criticisms.  I don’t mean that it makes me doubt God: but their feelings are valid and they’ve been genuinely hurt by the church.  We have to start there.  We need to talk about it.  We can’t defend all our behavior, because some of it has been atrocious, and we must apologize. 

Also, here are Five Signs You’re Probably In One Of Those Cults.

 

2) We are all indoctrinated, into a particular system of belief, no matter where we roll.

Most Western individuals don’t realize that they live inside a Post-Enlightenment individualistic “rational” mindset that’s Pavlovian-conditioned to reject anything outside of naturalistic explanation.  Our dear brother C.S. Lewis called this chronological snobbery, in which we believe our current slice of time is far more advanced than other any other time in history. 

We’re largely a product of our times.  We have ALL bought into paradigms that enforce certain restrictions on our values.  Even the value that “I’m above these values” is still a specific constrained worldview.  So when you accuse someone of being brainwashed, you’re just as brainwashed into the opposition of whatever view you’re accusing.

Of course, most Westerners who disagree with Christianity will say “You’re a narrow-minded intolerant bigot.”  A Westernized brain will instantly dismiss the spiritual realm and conservative values.  But dismissing an entire group of people because of their ideology is still an ideology.  To say, “I tolerate everything except intolerance” must deny its very own rule.  

If you’re beholden to your own particular views in fear of betraying your camp or being ridiculed, you’re being held hostage, and this takes a blinding self-rationalization that’s — oh right, just like Stockholm Syndrome.  This happens with both the very religious and the very secular: and if you deny that it happens with you, you’re proving this exact point.  Everyone is a captive to their own particular set of beliefs, no matter where you turn. 

I know what I’m saying will bother the typical Western person (and if you’ve been indoctrinated by secularism long enough, you’ll feel you’re superior to all this too.  You’re not, and neither am I).  But when I was an atheist, I became weary of atheists because they thought they were so enlightened.  When I was a Reformed Calvinist, I became weary of Calvinists because they thought they were so enlightened. 

Really, they were both nearsighted and full of retconning, fanwanking, and preprogrammed defenses for their own little gods.  And as an Eastern-Western hybrid, I recognize the arrogant self-important myopia of both sides.

If you’re still not okay with this, let’s try an experiment.  Stockholm Syndrome says, “I understand why he abused me, it’s probably for the right motives.  I get why he’s correcting me, because there must be a good reason.”  Those are bad rationalizations that could get you killed.  But let’s take that to the opposite extreme.  What if every time my future spouse did the slightest thing I disliked, I suspected a false motive?  And what if every time my future spouse contradicted me, I shut her down?  That wouldn’t be a real marriage.  I’m demanding a robot.

Someone who says, “I don’t want a God who could ever do something I dislike” or “God can’t correct me” really just wants a robot-god.  And someone who is enslaved to Post-Enlightenment Western thinking has already determined their own robot-god too.

 

3) The old argument that “God will send you to Hell if you don’t worship Him, so He must be a terrorist” is a tired argument used by only the most earnest first-time philosophers.

For that, I will point you here:

- Hell and Heaven As Motivation For Faith: A Mega-Post

 

4) God’s heart for us is that we freely choose Him.

Christianity in its purest form will invite questioning.  It’s open to deconstruction.  If you’re frustrated with God, you can yell about it, ask about it, shake a fist and vent.  You can disagree and stomp the ground and throw things and yell “Why.”  Just read the Book of Psalms or Jeremiah or Lamentations.  None of the writers were rationalizing what God did, at all.  There was a ton of unresolved tension, and some of my first questions in Heaven will be about that crazy Old Testament.

But really, I believe the God of the Bible is open to our challenges.  He’s okay with all our fist-shaking.  As I’ve said before, I would much rather be mad with God than mad without Him.

Also: Our entire world of false dichotomies forces you into one fixed viewpoint or another.  Most people get upset if you try to re-arrange their bottle of dogma.  Most systems of belief are self-contained dominions where nothing goes in or out.  A Democrat is expected to act one way, a Republican another. 

Which is why Jesus was so wholly unpredictable and angered both sides.  Jesus himself was a safe haven who is not defined by dogmatic party lines, but by his gracious solidarity with real human beings caught in the messy crossfire of a broken world.  There are no clean-cut solutions here.

I’ve managed to piss off both conservatives and liberals with my stance on homosexuality.  Take that how you will.  The Christian is able to keep multiple viewpoints within tension because true Christianity does not usurp our identity, but at once draws out the true self while creating a unified ground. 

In the end, God is not holding us at gunpoint here. He wants us to think for ourselves.  He also has our very best interests at heart, so of course, He would want us to choose Him.  If God was the most glorious being in the entire universe, He would be wrong not to point to Himself as the most worthy of all glory.  But neither He will ever force that upon us, because He gave us the free will to choose.  That’s what makes us human, and not hostages.  God wants the purest relationship with us, without coercion or agenda or even a mutual exchange.  How could we ever give to God more than He ever gives to us?  When we are with Him, it is always an abundance of grace.

I’ll leave you with two wonderful quotes by C.S Lewis once again:

"The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free."

"The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become - because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own."

— J.S.

Hi! I've red you're no longer self-identifying as a reformed Calvinist. However, I'd like to ask you with love about your personal thoughts (preferably based on scriptures).1 Do you believe salvation is for everybody or some people who are picked by God to be saved and other ones condemned? I myself think Jesus dying on the cross was a price enough for everybody. 2 If salvation only is for "the chosen ones", would preaching the gospel to everyone an telling them that they can be saved equal lie?

Hey my friend, thank you for gently asking these questions.  It’s true that I’m (mostly) a Reformed Calvinist, though I never say that anymore.

Though I can’t entirely answer your questions with my small 3 lb. brain, here’s to trying:

1) I don’t believe in “double election,” in which God elects some to Heaven and some to Hell.  For my interpretation of Romans 9, which is what Calvinists use for this doctrine, check here.  I believe John 3:16-21 sums it up rather succinctly.

2) I believe in both the equal working of Predestination and Free Will, meaning that neither is above the other, but reconciled in an antinomy that can’t be solved by our tiny squishy brains.  This means that we’re to preach the Gospel as much as we can, and it also means God beckons and woos and pursues.  How do these two work together?  I don’t know.  I’m allergic to paradoxes, but God is not.  If you read 2 Thessalonians 2:13 or the entire book of Ephesians, Paul goes back and forth between these two realities even within the same verse. 

That’s not a cop-out, either.  That’s why I stopped saying I was “Reformed,” because we were so quick to jump on someone for not holding an either/or position on this issue.  It’s like we waited to yell “heresy” all the time, and I got sick of doctrine-quabbles while real people were dying out there.

The major thing here is that however you believe this stuff: Our theology ought to make us more loving and more grievous to share Christ.  Anything less than that is not a theology worth having, and we can toss that and start over.

— J.S.

Why I Stopped Helping Porn Addicts

The realest thing I ever wrote.

jspark3000:

image

 

It’s been a few years since I quit porn, and I’ve written and podcasted tons about porn addiction.  I still get random emails and an assortment of friends who ask me for help to quit.  I used to reply eagerly, get in their mess, ask them tough questions, keep them accountable, and keep track of sobriety.

But I had the feeling that most of these dudes were just using me to feel better about their failures and I gave them permission to stay addicted.  I handed them a clean conscience and a delayed adolescence.  I pampered men into whining first-world blame-shifting boys: and it was really my fault.

Inadvertently, I became an enabling cheerleader, a co-conspiring accomplice to their crimes.

I got jaded.  I started thinking it was helpless.  And while I still press in to help, I wave a flag upfront: If you’re not serious about quitting, you’re wasting our time.

 

This probably sounds mean.  But I’ve learned that if you keep saying “Jesus loves you” over and over and over again, it gets old.  It gets abused.  Not because the love of God is inadequate or incomplete, but because our definition of it is so lazy and lacking. 

We easily distort God’s love as some kind of loophole for any kind of behavior, and I’ve seen it used as a get-out-of-jail-free card too many times. Some of your favorite Christian bloggers and pastors are actually a-holes because they treat grace like a cheap dress.  It makes me sick, but really just sad.  They’re the people that Apostle Paul talks about while sobbing, those who live as “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

If you keep saying “God has grace for me” while you stay the same, you have not even begun to understand the implications of the cross.  It’s still just abstract doctrine.  You couldn’t possibly have met the man who carried the cross up a hill to die for you.  You need more grace then, and not less. 

I’m saying all this not because I love you less: but because I love you more.

I know it’s mostly subconscious: almost no one wants to abuse God’s love.  But if you do not define God’s love as a relentless, furious, soul-shattering power that rescues you from death, then you’re left with a tiny two-inch keychain-god who fits in your pocket and can be tossed at your convenience. 

 

So if you ask me or anyone else for help to break your addiction, I exhort you: Please do not ask for help unless you are serious to quit and move forward.  Everyone is willing to help you: but you have to want it for yourself more than we do.  This isn’t some kind of prerequisite.  I will love you anyway, and so does He.  But no one can make you want to quit.  God gave you the gift of free will to choose.

If you’re not serious about it, then go find out why it’s so bad.  Go meet some porn addicts who have destroyed their marriages, families, careers, and their own bodies.  Find them.  Meet the porn addicts who now suffer from ED, have gone bankrupt, and destroyed the lives of young women.  And when you hear enough horror stories, maybe then you’ll really want to quit.  Maybe then you’ll see the depth of God’s love, who loves us even in our worst depravity.

This probably sounds harsh right now.  But that’s the problem, isn’t it?  That we’re not willing to hear the truth about ourselves.  That we’re so entitled to positive thinking and self-esteem that we can’t confront the ugliness inside.  That often times we only ask for help with all the benefits of help, but none of the change.  That we’re willing to be honest, but not do the hard work of leaving sin behind.  That we like all the nice parts of Jesus, but we skip all the difficult things he said. 

 

It’s also easy to forget that the Christian life is not just about running from sin, but running to Him.  That means if you quit porn today, you suddenly have 15-30 hours that just opened up every week.  What will you do?  Because God didn’t merely forgive you, but He gave you a mission.  He made you for something.  The spiritual walk isn’t just sin-avoidance, but walking intentionally into God’s purposes.  Lust is not the problem: but a lack of direction.

Jesus does love you.  He also said it’s better to get into Heaven with no eyes and no hands then you get into Hell with both.  We can abuse God’s love without ever changing, because His love is inexhaustible: but why would we even want to?  Why settle for a halfway grace?  God is offering a glorious life of freedom ahead.  I’ve tasted that freedom and I can’t go back anymore.  I wouldn’t trade that joy now for anything.  I hope you’re desperate enough to find that joy, and that you really mean it.

— J

Hi! I would like to ask you a question about the old covenant and the new covenant. Although I already know the answer to this, I would still like it if you explained this to me: Why is it that we no longer follow and do old traditions, rituals, sacrifices, and rules that the people did in the old testament?

Hey there my friend, please allow me to point you to some posts here:

- The Down-Low on The Old Testament Commands

- God Seems A Little Crazy In The Old Testament — A Mega-Post on the OT

The easiest way I can say this is: The Bible is an unfolding narrative of God’s activity with certain people, at specific times, with unique interactions throughout history.  God is the same, but people are not. God is outside of time, but we are not.  So God has given us a beginning, middle, and end of His revealing, and we’re somewhere near the end.  In this specific phase of God’s activity with us, the OT Law is like a foundational event for His people, just as Jews and Gentiles were a foundational people to flex His glory.

The OT Law was not a way to get “saved.”  It was a standard for the community of God’s people.  And it was put in place for the Israelites after they were rescued through the Red Sea; not the other way around.  God was trying to 1) guide His people, and 2) show other nations what that looked like.  It was a temporary system for the Israelites until the Messiah.

Many of the principles behind OT Law still stand today.  In other words, the spirit in which the law was written can still be applicable.  So when God says “Don’t put two strands of different fibers together” or “Don’t eat seafood from the ocean floor,” I’m guessing that He means we’re to steer clear of contaminating our spiritual lives.  I don’t mean to say that the Bible itself is only metaphors and allegories, but that God’s unfolding story needs to be read in its proper context.

My guess is that some of the OT Law looks silly because God was essentially saying, “Righteousness is pretty tough, even in the weird stuff.”  God is showing that we will constantly fail to achieve moral accomplishments on our own, and that when we stand before Him one day, our only response would be to burst into flames at the sight of His perfection.

When Jesus came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17, Romans 10:4), this doesn’t just mean “Okay you can eat lobsters and bacon now.”  It means Jesus did what we could never do: he satisfied the righteous standard of God on our behalf, so that our sin could be removed without destroying the sinner.  The Old Covenant was only a precursor or foreshadow for the New Covenant.  Jesus would uphold the Law in himself by both perfectly obeying the rules and completely paying off our sin.  The OT points to this all the time, with images of a Suffering Servant and Saving Messiah and someone who would be “crushed” as a “sin offering.” 

Our New Covenant today is that we’re a universal body of believers who have received grace and love Jesus and love people.  This is until Jesus comes back, and behold, that’ll be a whole new story.

— J.S.

What's your take on the difference between "liking" and "loving"(everybody; not a "special" somebody)? By the way- you're an absolute inspiration, and I love that you use your wisdom and words to bring glory to God! Thank you! (:

Thank you dear friend!  And oh man: you got me.  I said that in a sermon recently: “I know as Christians we’re supposed to love everybody, but sometimes there are people you just can’t like.”  I think it got a laugh.

I’m really, really huge on grace, and I think if we spent more time with people to learn their stories and understand their motives, then we would be able to endure towards better together.  But a grace that does not recognize the harm of sin is a cheap grace, and so we’re also to have wisdom and discernment in how we approach others.

Often when I preach grace, someone will come up to me after the message and say, “Well what about ___?”  And it’s always a horrific situation of betrayal or abuse or slander.  I’m sure every single person in the room has a story like that, and I would agree with all their feelings.  I’d even be tempted to help them beat up the dude who harmed them.  Really, they’re just looking for permission to have some distance, and they feel like God is telling them to stay inside a bad situation.

So I always explain, the best I can, that grace is also for yourself, and you can have boundaries and distance and your own space.  We’re called to forgive, but forgiveness doesn’t automatically mean friendship.  It doesn’t mean we need to be buddies with everyone.  We do love people, meaning we’re always seeking the best for everybody and never holding malicious intent, but God also wants us to choose our friends wisely.

The other caveat is that we often confuse real sin with preferences.  So if your friend likes cheese on his ramen noodles: this is not a sin, but a preference (even though I think that’s nasty).  When most of us say, “I just don’t like him,” they’re actually turning a preference into a question of morality.  And that’s wrong.  That’s self-righteous.  It’s not loving, at all.  Each of us are wired with unique personalities, so to fight over that is really to diss God’s imagination: and I don’t like the taste of lightning-wrath either.

I’ve been able to love the worst of people who had every intention to harm me.  Seriously, I still love them.  But I mean, they probably won’t babysit my future kids and I probably won’t invite them to my wedding.  Grace is not a permission slip or a prison.  It will never force you to be in an abusive situation.  It instead gives you a way to handle such things without violence or retaliation, but patience and strength.

— J.S.

How Do I Know If It’s God Or The Devil? A Mega-Post On Pain, Evil, and Suffering

jspark3000:

image

Anonymous asked:

Would God purposely put His children in a situation where they would be hurt in any way (rape, kidnapped, something like that)?  Or is this the work of the devil? I don’t think He would, but I don’t know.

 

My dear friend: There’s probably a huge list of questions I’d like to ask God the second I see Him (right after I collect my eyeballs back into my head).  So right upfront: I’m not sure why the devil is given a long leash.  I’m going to ask about that one, probably with my arms crossed.

The Question of Evil has not been adequately answered by the greatest philosophers of history, and I probably won’t be the one to crack the code on that today either.  It’s the kind of stuff that makes me doubt God everyday.  Even if I did have some solid theology on why certain atrocities happen, I still doubt it would satisfy the victim of rape and abuse and slavery and oppression, no matter how much “logical sense” it makes to the brain.  Even if I concluded, “All the bad stuff is really Satan,” then a suffering person could only reply, “So now what?”

I can only offer a few thoughts that might help you on your journey here: because this tension of why bad things happen will never be resolved by any single answer.  Anything we say on pain will always be inadequate for the actual suffering person.  No such all-encompassing answer from any belief system really exists.  I can only say that I believe the Christian perspective best accommodates the problems we see today.  I’m also aware that some of us will never meet eye-to-eye on this and it’s easy to “deconstructively reduce” anything I’m saying with our current artistic cynicism.  And that’s okay.  We are free to disagree and wrestle and think for ourselves.

And please know: I would never, ever enumerate these reasons out loud the moment after a person has been seriously harmed.  Really none of this theology matters as much as you being there in the trenches with a heart of listening and love. 

As always, please feel free to skip around.

 

1) Our current world is not the way it ought to be.

The Bible tells us our world is fractured by sin.  Sin is not just disobedience against God and how we’re made, but also a disconnection from the all-fulfilling love of God.  So we try to find God in things that are not God, and that’s how our internal disconnection manifests into external disobedience.  In other words: a legitimate need to seek comfort can lead to alcohol addiction or codependency or a string of shallow one-night stands.  

We end up abusing people as “obstacles” and using people as “vehicles.”  We build a kingdom of self because we’re apart from our true king.  We try to find fulfillment through stuff and people and experiences — and none of this is very wrong, but we go about this in illegitimate harmful ways.  We try to squeeze from people and things what only God can give us.  These expectations crush others and crush ourselves, and in a way, it crushes the heart of God.  The elevation of self-fulfillment leads to an authoritarian tyranny of self that no one could possibly bear, including ourselves.

Sin not only causes problems with other people, but also personal issues (like vanity and insecurity and greed) and planet issues (which is why our earth doesn’t function liked it was supposed to).  At every level, our whole world is shriveled by the disease we call sin.  It’s not as bad as it could be, but it’s nowhere near where it should be.

From God’s point of view, He’s working with a world that is in every way completely disarrayed.  It’s like walking into a room where someone flung paint and glass all over the place.  Where do you start cleaning up a mess like that?  And beyond that, the Bible tells us there is a devil who exacerbates our struggle, so that we’re getting mixed signals thrown into our already turbulent mess.

Before we even talk about why God lets this or that happen, I hope we first confess that a major part of the problem is me.  It’s you.  It’s us.  The devil only comes in to poke at our pre-existing selfishness.  We are the ones who marred the world with dirty paint; we chucked the shards of glass at God’s creation.  If you think, “That’s not fair, Adam and Eve did that!” — well, let’s imagine you and me in that perfect Garden.  How long before each of us would’ve done exactly what they did?  Even if it took a million more years, we would’ve done the same thing.  

 

2) If this world is not how it was meant to be, then not every pain is meant to be God teaching us a “lesson.”

Since our world is broken apart from its original design, this also means that God suffers with us when we suffer.  He doesn’t stand by waiting for us to “get” some kind of epiphany. Which leads me to believe that pain is pain, that pain sucks, that it doesn’t need to be spiritualized, and that God doesn’t so much lead us towards it but leads us through it.

To more fully answer your question, I’m not sure if God purposefully leads us into harmful situations.  I don’t know if “yes” or “no” would suffice for that.  But I do know we’re all walking through a world of jagged glass, and at every turn we are wading through an innumerable number of consequences that began in the Garden.  And God is working through this infinite number of misaligned imperfections in our universe to write (and re-write) His story the best He knows how — and from His throne, I can’t imagine how difficult His job must be to guide the best possible options for the human story while never infringing upon our free will. 

When Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” — this implies that God doesn’t always get what He wants.  However blasphemous that might sound to you, this world can’t possibly be how God wants it to be.  Which means God is just as angry as you are when injustice happens.  He’s looking at the human story with all the anguish of a single mother who lost her only child, with all the betrayal of a church with a lying pastor, with all the hurt of a father who prays for his prodigal son. 

When Job’s friends try to tell him, “You got wrecked because you sinned bro,” at the end God drops by in a storm and says all of Job’s friends are wrong.  God is pretty angry that they would connect “hurt” with some kind of unconfessed sin.  At the same time, God doesn’t give some simple answer about life and pain and lessons.  Probably because no human words could accurately resolve this tension between what is and what ought to be. 

 

3) If God were to intervene every single time, there would be nothing left.

It seems like God could step in at any time and stop evil.  But I just wonder at what point God should do this.  At the level of action?  At the level of thought?  Of atoms?  Of free will?  If God were to electrocute us every time we were about to do something bad, we would all be fried chicken.

Much of the evil in the world is a direct result of our choices.  The irony is that the very gift of Free Will that God gave us to make us human is also the same gift that could make this world a better place — but by and large, we still continue to destroy each other throughout history.  To blame God for all this is a serious lack of responsibility for our choices, and it only exposes the Western over-privileged entitlement that is killing us postmoderns today.  Even the non-religious person will blame their parents or environment or government or city, and while all these are partially responsible, it’s really just me.  We are each accountable.  I can yell, “God why do you let this happen?” — but God could just as easily ask me, “Why do you?

God allows our cycle of consequences to unroll, mostly because this is what makes us human and accountable.  And even then, God does often relieve us by His grace over and over.  That brings us to the next point.

 

4) God has probably saved us by an innumerable amount of close calls.

Whenever someone asks, “Why couldn’t God have prevented this one?” — I always want to counter that God probably has prevented a lot of stuff, and that the world is not as bad as it possibly could be or should be. 

I don’t think I can count all the times I almost got into a car accident or was steered out of an explosive situation or found random help at the exact right time: and from God’s point of view, we never thank Him for this stuff.  We just explain it away as “coincidence” or “serendipity” or “good luck.”  An earthquake happens in the ocean and it’s a “weather pattern.”  When it happens on land, we call it an atrocious oversight by God.  But maybe this says more about us than God.

In the Book of Acts, the account of the early church, we find out that Peter and James are both arrested for their faith (Acts 12).  James is immediately beheaded but Peter is kept alive.  Try to imagine this happening in your church.  “Did you hear?  Pastor Bob and Deacon Bill were arrested for being Christians.  Bob was killed and we don’t know about Bill.”  Imagine Bob’s family.  They would be going crazy, asking God why He let Bob die, and perhaps secretly wondering why God let Bill live. 

We never find out why.  It feels cruel when you read the passage.  God prevented Peter’s death, but in some sense did not intervene for James.  Yet both actually could’ve died, because evil men were killing Christians by their own free will.  And when Peter and James were arrested, their church thought they were both pretty much dead.  It’s only a miracle that Peter actually lives, and I hope we can celebrate that.  I hope we can see that God’s gracious hand is still at work.  It’s definitely awful that James died and I never want to diminish that.  But I also imagine the families of both Peter and James comforting each other throughout the whole ordeal, because really, this is what matters.

 

5) God did send an ultimate provision to upturn evil.

Here’s why I believe in Jesus.

Because at some point in human history, God became one of us and reversed the human condition.  Just one place, at one time, in the dirtiest sand-swept stain of a city, He healed our entropy: and He invites us into that better story.

Many things happened in the cross and resurrection.  Jesus absorbed the cycle of human violence.  He showed there was a better way than self-centered tyranny and retaliation.  He paid the cost of sin on our behalf.  He reversed the ultimate consequence of death from the first Garden by turning death backwards in a new Garden.  He bestowed that same death-defeating power into those who believed his story.  He identified with us by taking on all the harm of sin though he never sinned himself.  He promised us a union with Him by being united with the Spirit (or the “mind”) of God.  He inaugurated a new kind of kingdom where the weak can win, the poor can succeed, and all our survival values are flipped into sacrifice.  Jesus redefined what it meant to be human by creating an upside-down kingdom where the humble will be elevated and the prideful would be melted by love. 

Jesus essentially stepped into the glass and re-did the paint.  He went into the mess and re-created the pieces.  He doesn’t answer why bad things happen, but he gives us a love stronger than all that does happen.

Which reminds me of our brother C.S. Lewis, who said —

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”

 

All this means that a victim doesn’t have to let their circumstances define who they are.  We don’t have to let what happens here on earth to say who we are forever.  While I don’t know why God might “allow” these things to happen, I believe that God doesn’t want these things to be the final word about us.  I want to believe Genesis 50:20 is true, and that the devil has limitations, and that even the worldwide permeation of sin is no match for the healing work of Christ.

A last note.  If your friend is going through some horrible pain right now at the hands of another person, it’s not our job to explain this within the box of our theology.  That’s a cold thing to do.  Jesus never did this: he only wept when he heard of Lazarus, he wept over Jerusalem, he stayed at the homes of lepers and demoniacs, he fed the hungry multitudes.  More than our persuasion, our friends need presence.  This is what God did when He became one of us, and this is how we embody love — by mourning when others mourn, by giving space to grieve, and by allowing joy to find its place when the time is right.

— J.S.