J.S. Park

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

jspark3000:

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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.

What if you love Jesus and God with all you've got but you don't support the idea or practices of religion?

Hey there my friend, I answered a similar question here:

- Let’s Blame Religion For Everything

- I Love Jesus, I Hate Religion

Though I hate to use the term “straw-man” (which has become a straw-man in itself), I think religion is always seen as a dirty word because of its abuses.  But maybe this quick judgment is very unfair for all that religion has done right for us.

Religion, in its purest form, is never ever intended to harm or stifle, but only heal and grow.  While as a Christian I believe Christianity is the truth, I think other religions have their place in society as well, and there is much to learn from them. So it really depends on how we’re defining our terms. 

When a pastor says, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship,” I understand what this means, but it still makes me cringe a little.  It creates an “enemy” or a “scapegoat” where we can say, “Yeah I hate that religious stuff, just give me God!” — when this is still sort of a blurry dichotomous unthoughtful conflict that has no grounding in any kind of reasonable theology. 

Yes, there are many terrible atrocities committed in the name of religion.  Legalism has spiritually destroyed many people.  The church has been wrong on too many occasions.  We must be aware of these things, apologize profusely, and repent.  But there isn’t a clear-cut gash you can slice between God and religion: because there’s a sensible overlap here where tradition and liturgy and church history and rules have their place.  We can find what’s good in this and restore all of God’s best intentions to our faith.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

— James 1:27

— J

Ptr. Park, how are you? I wanted to ask your opinion about tithing in the New Testament. Do we still give our tithes at this day and age?

Hey my dear friend, doing pretty well.  Thank you for even asking this …!

I wrote on tithing about a year ago and my opinion has remained pretty much the same.

- So About Tithing

A few thoughts to consider:

- The Old Testament system was an ongoing narrative for a specific people in a specific time.  Whenever someone brings up the OT Law as a trump card, I have to remind them that this part of history was God’s unfolding plan for His people which had not yet culminated into the church by grace.  Yes, God is timeless and He does not change: but there is a beginning, middle, and end to our story, and we are somewhere near the end.  There is good history behind us but it’s not our current story, and there is more ahead of us to come, which is not for us today.

- If we’re to tithe like the Old Testament, then it’s actually more like 23% and not 10%.  So I’m not exactly sure why we’re saying a tenth all the time.

- In 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, Apostle Paul appeals to the Corinthians to give to the Macedonian churches.  But Paul does not appeal by the law; he actually brings up Jesus and the Gospel in verse 9.  In other words, our motivations for giving are 1) freely by God’s grace, 2) uncoerced (Paul says “I’m not commanding you,” which means he could but didn’t), and 3) without any kind of fixed amount to give. 

- Though I technically do not believe tithing is “biblical” for our current church, I still give to my church anyway.  I think 10% is probably a good starting place, but I would hope you can be compelled to support your church even more, and God would understand if you had to do less or you would rather support missions and social causes. 

- A last note: Your wallet is a good indicator of your priorities.  If you look at your bank statement or follow your budget, you can see what takes up most of your heart.  I only say that because giving to God is a way of protecting yourself from greed and promoting the muscle of generosity in your heart.  All this is motivated by Jesus, who was once rich in Heaven and became poor to clothe us in grace.  So pray this out, repent of any pride on the issue, and find a sweet spot where you can give with joy.

— J

Jul 8

In classic Greek and Roman mythology, it was always the strongest and smartest who reached God and the divine. Bellephron and Achilles and Odysseus and Perseus: they were rippling with muscles or huge brains or special powers.

But Scripture, in a complete reversal of human values and stereotypical strength, shows that God pursues maybe the weakest individual in the entire town of that day: Mary Magdalene, a mentally unstable woman. The one who others were writing off as a nobody, an outsider, an outcast.

If this story were told in another Epic Myth – The two-ton stone would still be rolled over the grave, and God would say: “Move the stone and you will have access to me. Show me your strength.” And maybe a special “Chosen One” could roll the stone from the grave.

Yet Mary Magdalene shows up and the stone is already removed. Which means, in a literal and metaphorical sense, that grace rolled the stone away. God had already done the work to reach His people, to reach the weakest person.

We don’t need to move the stone to find God, but God moved the stone to find us. This is the Essential Heart of God and the Gospel.

- J.S. from this message

Jul 2

The Error of Narrow-Gate Theology: Jesus Is Bigger Than A Single Bible Verse

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Whenever a fellow Christian brings up the “broad road of destruction” — that is, the single verse that implies most people are going to hell — I have to question this with, you know, the whole Bible.

Because Matthew 25 tells us a story about these ten bridesmaids preparing for the wedding, and half of them are ready.  Which implies that probably half of us are going to make it.

Or in Matthew 3, we learn about the wheat getting separated from the chaff: which actually implies that the majority of us are going to make it.

So which one are we cherry-picking for our agenda?

Do we only use the narrow gate to scare the hell out of people?  What about the bridesmaids, and the wheat, and the entire list of others issues besides sexuality, and the stuff about helping the orphans and the foreigners, and how about the criminal next to Jesus who made it in the last ten seconds of his life?  What’s the theology that makes the church hate poor people?

Like my seminary professors used to say, There’s no content without context.

 

Maybe we could actually balance our faith with the same nuance that the Bible offers, because no single verse is meant to support a monopoly-theology.  Probably we use these verses for power-plays and self-interest and political platforms, when really the Bible is not a polemical grenade but a story of a God who leaps every distance and breaks every obstacle to love His people.  It’s why Jesus spoke in stories and not bullet points.  It’s why Jesus didn’t draw charts, but he drew people. 

There is plenty of hard straightforward truth in the Bible, but without the weaving silver thread of grace, then all our doctrine is a barrel of excuses to dominate each other — and this is exactly what Jesus came to kill and was killed for. 

I don’t think Jesus wanted a narrow gate.  He just knew we’re always tempted for the easiest path of least resistance, that broad road of incremental choices to nowhere.  So he calls himself the Door.  He is also a Shepherd, a Mother Hen, a Rock, the Greater Abraham, a Friend, a Fountain, and the King.  Each of these pictures give weight and clues and glimpses to who he is: but by themselves, are incomplete.  Together, they are just a blink of his glory and beauty.  And I’m okay with breathing in the mystery of such infinite truth. 

— J

What Is The Defintion of Grace?

dearaudre asked:

What would you say the christian definition of grace is?

 

Hey my friend: the technical Christian definition of grace is “unmerited favor, an undeserved gift that outweighs its own need.”

But I’ve never known grace to simply be boxed inside doctrinal boundaries. The second it becomes abstract, it tends to be enabling and pampering and a sugarcoated excuse to abuse the word “struggle.”  Grace is way too costly to be thrown around like cheap lingerie, and if it does not motivate you, then it’s not real grace.

True grace is love that costs everything.  It is sacrificial.  For God to show us grace, it cost Him the life of His very son. 

Let’s consider the implications of this.  You create a race of sentient human beings who you’ve given paradise, and they give you the middle finger and begin to kill each other for fame and glory and pieces of green paper, and you keep sending other little beings to tell them about True Life, but they kill all those beings too.  So you become one of your toy-creations by limiting your infinite power and taking on all their weaknesses and only asking for them to believe you’re real, and they torture you and string you up and stab you with jagged metal spikes in your most tender flesh-covered places (which you willingly took on), and there under a sunless sky you still offer forgiveness and love for everyone because this is the best and only way to love them.  And to validate your claims, you come back to life from the grave and show yourself to hundreds of people and remind them of their real purpose, and even after all that, two-thirds of the world abuses your name for the worst of atrocities and the one-third who believes in you still chase after mindless powerless images or lies or approximations of the real thing.  And you still love them.

You see, romantic love is easy.  It lasts as long as the feelings last.  Maybe we have a good temperament so we’re patient and laidback.  Maybe your friends are all pretty cool and stable and rich and they’re not needy, so you like being with them.  Maybe you were genetically predisposed to being generous and truthful and reliable, so everyone around you likes you too.

But marriages that last fifty years take sweat, blood, heart.  Friendships that encounter flaws take a supernaturally forgiving power that is not inherent to our self-preservation.  Raising children requires you to stay home when you’d rather be out clubbing and chugging.  Serving the homeless and ex-convicts and orphans and the emotionally unstable will demand all your life.  Endorsing justice in the world takes more than a blog post or pink ribbons or an X on your hand.  Love is not love unless it costs you something, and grace is the love that costs you everything.

 

True grace is a one-way love that persists beyond your own comfort and safety.  It will certainly require your very soul.  But the way of true grace, while costing your life, is the only way that gives you true life, and therefore, it’s the only real joy.  God did not begrudgingly give over His Son, but Jesus willingly followed His Father’s will for the joy set before him (John 10:17-18, Hebrews 12:2).

True grace is less doctrine and more of a story.  It is God loving His creation over and over again, regardless of their same mistakes, rebellion, wretchedness, and disunity.  It is welcoming the prodigal, the cheater, the liar, the thief back home — all over again.  But the one who understands this costly grace will be melted and tenderized by such love, because it is impossible to see the story of the Cross and to remain the same. 

True grace is our rest and resolve.  It’s to know that our desperation for validation, approval, and significance is already found in all that God has done for us.  It’s work from God’s approval and not for.  We can rest.  We can quit playing these games of achievement and status and the Olympics and American Idol and Viagra.  We can quit squeezing expectations from others which we could only receive from God.  We can quit living for ourselves under the weight of a self-absorbed egotistical tyranny.  We can quit trying to pay off the gap between who-we-want-to-be and who-we-really-are.  Yet — grace also motivates us into the true versions of ourselves.  It is the motivation of no-motivation, because we are not trying to “get better” for the sake of improvement, but rather we become better by being loved for the sake of our own essence.  We are motivated by beauty rather than practicality or function, because God loves us just-because. 

And we can be gracious, not perfectly: but with passion, because God gave us grace first.  We can because He did.

— J.S.

Jun 7

You say God loves unconditionally, but isn't salvation based on an action on our part to choose the grace that is given? Does God love even those who will one day be eternally separated from him? Sorry to ask such a pointed question :/

You know, I tend to get confused about God’s love because I’ve heard it abused in so many strange ways.  And I think the devil totally loves it when we trade simplicity for semantics.

I remember a Calvinist telling me “You can’t say God loves everyone because you’re lying to people who are going to Hell.”  Or I’ve heard that God’s love is conditional because it’s inactive for those who don’t love Him.  Or I’ve heard that God’s love includes His punishment, because He loves enough to “punish the guilty.”

I suppose I understand all those intricate little detailed arguments.  But the plain truth is: God is never contingent on a human response for anything, so His nature is irrevocably independent of our treatment of Him. 

No one could possibly imagine what this is like.  We’ve never seen a kind of love that keeps initiating from itself without exhaustion.  We’ve only seen conditional transactions in every interaction on earth, where we expect pay-offs and paybacks and paychecks.  It’s impossible to imagine a relationship where one side is perpetually constant.  

So maybe we need to reframe this conversation.  When we think of God in purely abstract doctrinal terms, then it seems like salvation is a kind of “equation” where my choice equals some positive outcome.  But that’s still a transaction, an exchange of goods.  Life is way, way messier than that — because even our choices are full of mixed motives, mistakes, and imperfection.  It would be impossible to know who is really “okay with God” based on our own actions, because really, my current grade would get me burst into flames.

 

This is why God’s love would have to be unconditional, because no one could possibly bear the burden of getting enough “valid faith” to enter Heaven.  Jesus did everything, literally everything, on a cross and in a tomb for us.  As Tim Keller says, God’s love is even counter-conditional.  To even hint there are conditions immediately means we’re talking about people or idols or false gods, and not Him.

And that’s why I believe faith is not some one-time decision you make at youth camp, but that faith is slowly awakening to the reality that God has been pursuing you and wooing you toward Him through His Son.  It’s not “believing harder” that makes you a “better Christian,” but rather, it’s waking up to His love that changes your slumbering heart.  It’s awakening to the constant unchanging chase of God’s heart for you.

This would have to mean that Heaven and Hell are secondary doctrines, which although super-important, are not as important as waking up to God Himself. Hell is not primarily a place of “bad evil people,” but people who chose to stay asleep and preferred it that way.  God does not force Himself on us.  God does not even receive our “good deeds” as payment.  God just wants us to wake up.

This also means that God is perpetually grieving over those who ultimately choose apart from Him.  Anyone who ends up in Hell will have tried very hard to get there, and even then, there’s no repentance (check out Luke 16:19-31).  I am almost certain that God is somehow weeping over them still, because He does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).  But the gates of Hell, as they say, are locked from the inside.

So if someone were to ask me, “How could God’s love be unconditional?” then I would say — “Nothing you do could ever change God’s heart for you, and it’s His unchanging heart that changes you.”

— J

I don't really understand how heaven will work (or rather, a restored earth). In revelations it says there will be no more pain and no more tears, which means (I've come to understand) that there will be no more suffering. But that's hard for me to understand because as long as we have choice, there's temptation to not choose God (aka, sin). So can you explain to me how eternity with God will work if we still have free will (if we do..)

Hey my friend, I must confess right away that I don’t have all the answers on this one and I do accept some mystery within theology here.  My three lb. brain couldn’t possibly fit these kinds of paradoxes, and I’m okay with that.

But to attempt to humbly answer your question, I would actually propose that we already want to choose God amidst our temptation, even now, without considering Heaven into the equation.  Romans 7:15-25 implies that there is “good” within us that wants to do what God wants, which is part of our imago dei.  But “sin living in me” ends up choosing against God.  Of course, that doesn’t absolve our own human responsibility, but it means that Heaven is the place where the tension between our broken will and choosing God’s best is finally resolved, so that we freely choose God as we have always wanted.

I believe the natural impulse of people is to truly pursue after God’s goodness and glory, but our sick sin-condition has corrupted every avenue. 

In Heaven, I believe we will have what we always hoped for on earth: a relationship in which we can voluntarily choose to love a perfect love with our perfected love.  It couldn’t be Heaven without it.  Our kindred brother C.S. Lewis put it this way —

"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."

And on suffering: I’m not entirely sure how God wipes away every tear.  I don’t know how God could do that without removing large chunks of my memory or even my entire personality.  I leave some of that to a mystery I can’t explain.  But I also imagine that the total immensity of God’s presence would overwhelm a lot of my questions.  Not to diminish very real suffering: but I think when we get to the other side, most of our journey would feel like a stubbed toe on the way to a vault with a trillion dollars.  The value of that treasure doesn’t decrease, but our pain certainly would.  Again, to quote Lewis:

"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?"

— J

I believe that nobody goes to Hell, that a loving God would be understanding and compassionate. I think that He would understand the circumstances that lead people to reject Him. So does that mean that I cannot be Christian?

Hey my friend, I wrote quite a long response on hell recently here.

Please hear me being as gracious as possible when I say this: but the idea that a “loving God would never send anybody to hell” is a Westernized Post-Enlightenment paradigm that has been Pavlovian-conditioned into our overly entitled, PC sensitive culture.  It feels right because you’re a product of your current time, which C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.”  But to be sure, a light view of God who is an abstract congenial grandfather is nothing new either, and it’s always been just one more branch of millions of different theologies that disagree on God’s nature.

The Easternized, collective, authority-centered, top-down paradigm would say that a “loving God” is an offensive illogical idea that diminishes God to a doting uncle.  The Eastern mind has always viewed God as unknowable, or wrathful, or “all-encompassing,” or filling all things, but never in a personal relationship with any human.  No one on this side would possibly say “He would understand the circumstances that lead people to reject Him.”  So both a Western and Eastern view of God are way too small to contain Him.

But let’s break this down further.  It just seems today that every time a part of doctrine in Scripture bothers someone, they find some way to adjust it to their own sensibilities.  So if a part of the Bible sounds offensive, we water it down by allegorizing or spiritualizing or sugarcoating, until it fits.  We like to skip the hard stuff that Jesus said.  And for a while, this works.  You can grow a huge church and fill tons of seats by cutting out chunks of the Bible.

The problem is: What happens when you cut out large chunks of your friend or your spouse?  Are you truly getting to know them?  Or do you only want to know an “easy version” of this person?  If they disagree with you, will you ever allow them to contradict you?  In that case, you don’t have a real relationship with that person or with the living God.  It means we essentially tune out the parts we dislike, and we turn them into a dolled up decoration. 

If you don’t ever allow the Bible to contradict you on your own culturally restrained beliefs, then you’ll never be challenged to think outside what you know.  I did this too, and I still do.  Parts of the Old Testament continue to bug me.  Certain doctrines, like absolute authority and the wrath of God, feel unfair.  Yet if Scripture never actually pressed into what I believe, then I would have less reason to believe it, and not more.  Certainly I would never blindly follow something until I investigate it, but I also don’t want to believe something that will blindly follow me. 

In the end, when I know what Jesus did on the cross and in the tomb for me, I can retroactively trust that everything God does is for my good.  When I see how even a senseless crucifixion was reversed into life-giving glory, I can trust that God sometimes uses what He hates to achieve what He loves.  We will struggle with this until we see Him.  Until then, even with a tiny grain of faith, I will wrestle out that truth.  I will keep asking questions.  But I will do that with the bias that He loves me, and not with the bias that He doesn’t: because of the cross.

— J

Hi! Are we able to choose God in our sinful condition, or does He make the first move? Does God have a chosen people, and a not chosen people? I don't understand. I thought God opened the promise of salvation to all. Are we able to choose Him? Or is it truly, "we love because He first loved us?" Can people escape this love? Help me understand, I'm so confused!!

Hey my friend, please allow me to point you to some posts on Free Will versus Predestination.  As always, please feel free to skip around or skip them all.

- How Could A Loving God “Elect” People?

- Does God Only Love The Elect?

- Ten Thoughts About Calvinism

- God Loves Everyone, Except Esau

Just a few thoughts to consider:

- The Bible never throws Free Will and Predestination into a boxing ring.  They’re almost always presented working together.  Just check out 2 Thessalonians 2:13 or the entire book of Ephesians — both doctrines are mentioned right after the other.  How do they fit?  I’m not sure.  My small three lb. brain can’t fathom how God would reconcile an apparent paradox.  But that’s why God is God, and I’m okay with that.

- I’m a big believer in human choice.  I don’t think God made a bunch of robots who are coerced into His Will, or else God wouldn’t be good.  When I was an atheist, this was a huge theological hurdle that bothered me because I had always assumed God wanted to twist my arm into a relationship, until I learned that hell is not a motivation for faith.  I’m also a big believer that God is sovereign and He’s in total control.  He alone is truly capable of changing the human heart; none of us are capable of self-surgery, and that means God initiates love first before we do.  Again, both of these truths are not in opposition, but their mechanism is beyond my grasp.

- An overemphasis on either side of doctrine can be dangerous.  If you fall too far into predestination, it’s easy to become a snobby Reformed Neo-Calvinist who feels superior because they’re “chosen” and have more “right belief.”  But if you fall too far into free will, it’s easy to minimize God as a mere helper in our daily actions who’s sort of a benevolent cheerleader and nothing more.  Both sides here must fully embody a robust doctrine that isn’t just a mix of either, but a transcendent (perhaps indecipherable) view of God that has to be humble.

- For the record: I believe the Gospel invites everyone, and those who are in the faith have awakened to the reality of what God has done. 

- Allow me to leave you with a startling quote by C.S. Lewis, who glimpses into how this works.

"Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata —of creatures that worked like machines— would hardly be worth creating. 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. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk."

— C.S. Lewis

— J

May 1

There seems to be a marked difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. How do we reconcile as Christians the Old Testament God with the New Testament God?

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

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

- The Down-Low on The Old Testament Commands

- God Loves Everyone, Except Esau

 

It definitely feels like the God of the OT is different than the NT, and like everyone, I’m still learning about that.  Here are a few things to consider.

 

- It seems like God struck people dead all the time in the OT, while only three times in the NT (Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, and King Herod in Acts 12).  But the NT covers a much shorter period than the OT (a hundred years versus thousands/millions).  So without even going over the whole “struck-dead” thing (which is a different topic for another day), I think it works out proportionately.

 

- The OT is full of God’s grace, but the OT is a bit harder to read between the lines because there is less “theologizing” and more narrative.  Where as the NT pauses a lot to explain the theology, especially in the gospel of John and all of Paul’s letters, the OT was an oral retelling that would express its theology in facial expressions and well-known cultural norms. 

So any time God’s grace would show up in the OT, the storyteller would rarely say, “And there was our great God of grace!”  Everyone would just nod, knowing that grace had happened.  All of God’s grace in the OT is conveyed by God’s initiative hand that worked first for His people.  Cases in point: God’s covenant with Abraham, Noah being saved with his family, God rescuing the Israelites through the Red Sea, all the coincidences in Esther, all the coincidences in Ruth, God slaying Goliath, Solomon’s temple, Elijah blowing up Mount Carmel, Hosea marrying a whore, and so on.  None of these Bible characters were particularly awesome: God worked through them first, by His grace.

 

- The easiest way to read the OT is to see it as The Coming of the King.  All the OT people were imperfect under God’s law, and every mediator — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, the prophets, etc. — all pointed to the great mediator Jesus. 

So when God punished the mediators and Israelites for their disobedience, He was displaying the perfection of His law.  Sure, it seems extreme.  But the ultimate consequences of our disobedience were laid upon Jesus.  The most extreme punishment fell upon him, for our behalf.  The OT and NT meet at the Servant King.  The OT God was still displaying His perfect law, and the NT married this with His costly grace — and so despite the often graphic nature of the OT, we see it even more so in the cross of Christ, not less.  We see it in the cost he paid to redeem us.

We reconcile the OT and NT by the work of Jesus.  There we see both the law and love of God in perfect union.

— J

May 1

Hello pastor, I don't want to be a bother but I could really use your advice. Lately I've been stressing about rapture. I could barely go a second without worrying about not making it, or other family/friends not making it. It takes away my sleep and my peace. I've been worrying about it for years and I just don't want to do this anymore. Please, if you have any advice, I could really use it. Thank you.

Hey my friend, I really appreciate your honesty and I also commend you for thinking deeply on this: not many people really give a second thought about the Rapture.

I think, like with any topic, an over-emphasis can really damage our vision, while at the same time an under-emphasis can mean no vision at all.  Our dear brother C.S. Lewis felt the same about spiritual warfare, that we either emphasize the devil too much and imagine him under every bed (therefore giving him too much power), or we don’t think of him at all (therefore giving him too much power).  I think Lewis’s logic can apply to every single spiritual issue.

Apostle Paul wrote the first and second letter to the Thessalonians especially because they were consumed with the Rapture.  Many of the Christians there had stopped working or evangelizing or planning for the future because they were waiting on Jesus to come back: and Paul rebukes them for this.  When you read 1 Thessalonians 5, the entire context is for those who were practically waiting in the fields just looking to the sky. 

But if you notice, Paul still emphasizes Jesus returning (verses 2,3, 20, 23).  Notice also in verses 4-15 that he’s speaking to both groups of people: those who are lazily waiting for Jesus and those who are anxiously lacking peace.  Paul is not 50/50 on the issue — he’s 100% earth-minded and Christ-minded. He’s basically saying, Work hard, wait hard.

This is tough to do.  It’ll certainly require discipline and a whole lot of preaching to yourself.  I think your focus on the Rapture is very admirable, but I think an extra dose of focusing on God’s work on the earth will help to ease you at peace.  It’s okay to wait out of hope and longing, but I believe God also calls us to finish some things here.  It doesn’t have to be either/or, but we can do both/and. 

God definitely doesn’t want you to wait nervously, but to wait with joy.  In the meantime, we can do the joyful work of witnessing to friends and family, so that we might wait and work together.

— J

Hey, I really appreciate your blog. Your honesty is convicting, and it has prompted a lot of growth in my life. I'm just wondering, and maybe you've already written about this, but how did you come to terms with the reality of hell? I've known a lot of people who have dismissed Christianity because they couldn't accept the thought of the majority of mankind enduring eternal torment, especially when God claims to be good. How do you navigate through all of that?

Hey my dear friend, thank you for your very kind words and thank you for asking. I know this is a tough question that divides many people. 

Please allow me the grace to point you to some posts.  The first one here is a little snarky because I was sort of irritated that day, but here you go —

- Do Christians Have To Believe In Hell?

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

Here are just a few thoughts on this to consider.

 

1) I believe most people already believe the concept of Hell, whether they admit it or not.

Those who don’t believe in Hell are also saying, “I don’t believe in justice for evil.”  You can’t say one without the other.

I don’t think just anyone goes to Hell.  But certainly there is justice for those who continually choose destruction, tyranny, manipulation, and oppression.  When someone says “There is no Hell,” it means they’ve never faced rape in Rawanda or a murdered child or a national genocide like the Khmer Rouge.  It means they never had to watch their relatives shot in the head right in front of them (my Cambodian friend’s mom watched all five of her brothers executed).  It means they never had to watch their parents get exterminated in an oven. Instead the naysayer’s suffering has only consisted of credit card debt or an egged car at Halloween.

Only over-privileged Westernized Post-Enlightenment thinkers who have been Pavlovian-conditioned with so-called “logic” could ever say that there’s no Hell, because they’ve never been ravaged by evil. [C.S. Lewis calls this “chronological snobbery.”]  And the only motivation for the victims of injustice to stop declaring war is to trust that there is a Hell which ultimately deals justice, so we don’t have to.  [This idea is from Miroslav Volf, a Croatian theologian who is a pacifist and well understands human indignities.]

 

2) Those in Hell will have tried very hard to get there.

A life apart from God gets us a life apart from God.  They will have ended up exactly where they wanted to go.  As Timothy Keller says, Hell is merely an eternal extension of self-absorption and inner-deterioration that came from a life of selfishness.  To live for only oneself is simply hell.

This also means that there must be some kind of grace for people who had no chance to believe, or perhaps threw a prayer on their deathbed, or who are special needs, or who are very young children.  While I can’t answer all those questions, I believe God’s grace covers them in a way that we can’t humanly comprehend.  We may be surprised in Heaven to see the many multitudes there covered by grace.

 

3) Jesus paid the price of Hell already.

Here’s what I don’t hear often enough.  God did create Hell for injustice, but He already paid the price Himself so that we wouldn’t have to.

Most people are saying, “It’s not fair that a loving God would make a place called Hell!”  But no one ever says, “It’s not fair that Jesus had to pay Hell for us!”  It’s only unfair when it comes to me.  No one sees the cross for how unfair that was to God.

Imagine the implications of this grace.  It’s like if an architect made a prison, then you commit a crime, and the architect says, “Don’t worry, I’ll carry out the sentence for you.”  No other religion or philosophy or humanism even comes close to this radical kind of grace.  Which brings us finally to —

 

4) Without justice, then grace doesn’t mean very much. 

I know that some Christians would disagree here.  But without a theology of justice, then grace is just not very electrifying. 

If it cost nothing for God to love us, then His love is just sentimentality.  It’s a general warm feeling that gives us fuzzies when we look to the clouds. 

This is true for relationships.  If you only love people who are lovable, then that love is cheap.  But if you can love people through the worst of their mess — that love is true, strong, real.  It came with a price.

The love of God is a costly love.  It cost Him everything.  God took on flesh and His whole life was one long crucifixion.  The life and death of Jesus was essentially his descension into Hell. He was tempted with us, suffered with us, grew hungry and tired and thirsty like us, was rejected and abandoned and betrayed and beat up and stripped naked and killed in the worst way possible.  He did this, for us, to endure the penalty of our sin on our behalf. 

So knowing this, there is no possible way that His love can be an abstract doctrine.  When people say, “God forgives me, so the Christian can do whatever they want!” — then they have no idea what it costs God to love us.  Grace is free, but it was not cheap.  Grace cost Him everything.  

 

I say all this to say: Christianity does not hinge on whether Hell exists.  That’s not the point, at all.  But rather God rescues us unconditionally out of His costly love and invites us into an eternal journey of joy, and when you can know this: then these other doctrines are the very least of our worries.

I hope we can share these things with sensitivity too.  I’ve had relatives and friends pass away without a knowledge of Christ.  It’s not okay to simply trump this around.  I hope we can navigate these things with a loving heart, full of grace and truth.  Much love to you in caring for your friends about this.

— J

The Love of God Vs. The Law of God
J.S. Park

Hello beloved wonderful friends!

This is the second part of new sermon series called “Why You Christian?”  It explores the question of why anyone would ever want to be a Christian.

This message is titled: The Love of God Vs. The Law of God.

It’s about our natural resistance to rules and laws, and why a loving God would ever make them. 

Stream above or download here!

 

Some things I talk about are: The Eastern Asian Honor Values vs. the Western American Free Spirit and how they play out during tsunamis and hurricanes, those Jackie Chan buddy-cop movies, how we treat God as either a cool grandfather or a Japanese Yakuza gangster, what to do when a child holds up a fork in a thunderstorm trying to be Benjamin Franklin, and what we want God to say about sex, money, and forgiveness.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

Why Do You Believe In Jesus?

jspark3000:

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Anonymous asked:

Why do you believe in Jesus? I get believing in a creator, but as much as I want to, I can’t always convince myself that there’s evidence for Jesus doing all that stuff, and it breaks my heart because i used to believe it without a problem. I don’t know what to do.

 

Hey dear friend. If you didn’t know, I’m mostly a skeptical Christian, so you might be asking the wrong person.

There are times when I’m really into apologetics, and other times when I just don’t care about apologetics at all. As a wise pastor once said, knowledge is essential but it is not sufficient.

So as much as I can muster with my weak faith, I believe in Jesus for historical, emotional, existential, and intellectual reasons that far outweigh any other system of belief. There is just enough evidence for Christ that each day, I must conclusively doubt my doubts. It’s tough most days, but it’s often enough.

Let’s consider a few things together, and ultimately you can decide to clamp down upon the meat.

 

- Something in the first century made the Jews just go nuts.

The Jewish-Israelite people were dead-set on never ever worshiping another god, ever. It was their first law from God: and even when Caesar claimed divinity or these other “messiahs” came around claiming to be the savior, the Jews never budged. The Romans had constrained the Jewish people by outlawing most religious places unless they were called “schools,” and the Romans threw down all their gods and cultural excess on the Jews, but still: the Jews remained slavishly devoted to Yahweh and never bowing down to any idols, to much social derision and lowered status.

But an event happened where suddenly, the Jewish people had changed their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. They were claiming the Christ had come and risen. In the eyes of many Jews, this would’ve been downright blasphemous: but whole hordes of Jews were now convinced that Jesus was God. It was such an intense explosive shift that Rome never recovered, and only decades later Christianity became the mainstream faith of the nation.

Something happened two-thousand years ego that history must account for. I know this by itself is not incontrovertible evidence that Jesus did what he did. But scholars are still confounded by this rapid series of events that essentially upturned both the Jewish people and the Roman nation. Once-devout Jews were being lit up and impaled by Nero, being mauled by lions and torn limb-from-limb, families killed and stoned, all to stand for Christ.

What the heck happened then? Did the Jews just lose their dang minds? Maybe. But every historical account that tries to explain all this away ends up piling on more doubt to their own theories. Really the simplest explanation here by way of Occam’s Razor is that Jesus is who he said he was and he did what he said he would.

So Christianity is uniquely alone in that it does NOT claim to be built primarily on teachings, but on a historical event that ripped through a nation. No one wanted Christianity to be true, most in particular the disciples, who all fled. But they turned back because they simply couldn’t deny Jesus had risen. They had seen him. It was the key event that validated all of Jesus’s ministry: not his miracles or teachings or death, but walking out of that grave. Ultimately, over and over, despite my incredulity, I find this to be the most rational explanation for the Jews going nuts. You’d have to make a very convoluted difficult case to explain it any other way.

 

- Jesus’s death and resurrection built an iconoclastic world-upheaving truth that is upheld by the counterintuitive element of grace.

Jesus is existentially satisfying because he accurately describes the human condition and provides the solution. Every other system of belief is built on performance, maintenance, reward/punishment, dichotomous banner-waving division, moralism, superiority, self-improvement, and self-isolated relativism. Jesus destroys all these categories and provides a way above all ways that I have absolutely NOT found in any other system of thinking.

He speaks to my desperate need for self-justification. All day long, I’m justifying myself to prove I’m worthy. I am making myself better than others and comparing my weakness to someone who is weaker than me. I am in a moral race that causes me to laugh at a celebrity’s downfall or to help the poor to look righteous. Jesus destroyed this in the cross by calling us all equally guilty and all equally loved. It was never in us to justify ourselves, but only Jesus can do this.

He speaks equally to my lack of humility and my lack of confidence. Jesus had to die for my sin so I can’t be prideful: but he was glad to die for my sin so I can’t be in despair. Both are somehow true at the same time, and it’s this paradoxical union of tensions that keeps me oriented to a self-forgetting love for others and a right estimation of myself.

He speaks to my need for approval, validation, and significance. Because Jesus loved me enough to die for me: he is the foundation for all the love I need. He knows me and still loves me, and this is the relational intimacy I’ve always been looking for.

He speaks to my need to serve myself and make life about me. I’m set free because my life is not about me. Life is about the story of God and we’re all bit players. Imagine this sort of freedom: when you can quit living selfishly for yourself. You’re no longer enslaved under the tyrannical dictatorship of self. Imagine this sort of Gospel-shaped person who loved you but didn’t need you, because they’re not using you as a vehicle to serve themselves. They’re not killing you as an obstacle who is in the way of their desires. They’re instead seeking to love you simply because they love you and not because of what you can or won’t do for them, and this is because they are loved the same way.

You see: Every other kind of motivation is inherently selfish. It is all seeking a means to an end, one method using another for self-gain. We’re motivated by fear, by conformity, by trophies, by pleasure, by social standing: and while they might benefit a few, they really just benefit me. The love of God is entirely intrinsic unto itself, in a single direction initiated by its own essence, with nothing to gain and no reason to exist except that it does. When we understand such a love: we’re motivated by a purely one-way love to love in the same way, motivated by the reason of no-reason, because it has inherently punctured through our souls. There is no stronger force than this in the entire universe.

I could keep going. The Gospel of Grace is scary as hell, because it means we can no longer work for our own salvation. It means we’re no longer in control of validating our own lives. But when applied rightly, the Gospel of Grace destroys the gap between who we are and who we want to be. It fills in my existential itch to be both loved and known. It usurps my selfish need to justify and hold myself superior. It ruins everything so perfectly.

 

- Even if you don’t believe Jesus is God, we would still be studying the things he said.

Jesus was intellectually subversive and superlative in every single area of thought. The stuff he said was crazy, revolutionary, mindblowing.

To be truthful, most of his teaching is common sense. But the way in which he broke xenophobia and did away with dichotomous dogmatic thinking was nothing short of astonishing.

You can’t pin him down. He was both merciful and full of justice. He was at times liberal and at times conservative. He loved Roman officials as much as he loved prostitutes, swindlers, and murderers. If he were alive today, he would piss off both Fox News and The New Yorker.

There are not many people like this. Almost everyone in history fell to one side of the spectrum or the other. Their thoughts would fall into one pigeonhole or another. We are not a balanced people who can consistently hold two tensions at once: but Jesus did.

I can almost guarantee that G.K. Chesterton was right: if you repackaged Jesus as a Chinese mythology and re-told it to a non-Christian, they would absolutely love it. But because it’s Jesus and Christianity, people hate it.

The more you read about Jesus, the more you get a sense you’re dealing with the divine. You’re not dealing with human words here. He’s not some comfortable therapeutic guru nor a rebel for rebellion’s sake. He’s something altogether in his own category that transcends our comprehensible reality.

I pray you find him, my friend.

 

“My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and there are some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.”

— Donald Miller

 

"To fall in love with God is the greatest romance;
to seek Him, the greatest adventure;
to find Him, the greatest achievement.”
— St. Augustine

 

— J.S.