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Sunday, February 14, 2010

The God Who Risks

For the past week, I have been taking a class called "Perspectives on Evil and Suffering". The premise of the class was to ask the question, "If God is good and if God is powerful, then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?" The reasoning behind this question is evident. If God is truly good, then He would want to keep us from experiencing evil and suffering. And if God is powerful, He would have the ability to do what was necessary to keep us from evil and suffering.

But we all know that evil and suffering exist, and not just in a general, non-specific kind of way. We know from very personal, painful experience that our world is filled with evil and suffering. This can cause us, as it has caused many generations before us, to conclude that either God is not good, or God is not powerful.

But what if it is something more? What if God created this world with incredible potential and possibility? And in creating a world that was truly free to choose its destiny, this included the risk that people would choose paths that led not to God, but to evil and suffering. Is this a risk worth taking? When we look at the pain our world has experienced- Hitler, genocide, child prostitution rings, the list could go on- we might ask, "Is it worth it?" Is it worth the risk for God to give us this potential, this freedom? Some might even go so far as to say that it would be better if God had not created at all, rather than to allow His creation to experience such devastating pain.

God's decision to create can be likened to the decision that young parents make to have children. In deciding to have a child, we KNOW that the child will suffer in some way, shape or form in this world. We know that no matter how we guide, guard, and protect, the cruelty of the human race will scar that child. And we also know that the experience of having a child will bring suffering to us- suffering in the pain of labor, suffering in struggle to raise a child, even pain in the pocketbook. And so, in a sense, we willingly bring more suffering into the world. Why? Because we believe that life, with all of its risks, is always preferable to the alternative.

When God created this world, He took a huge risk in making it free to choose for or against Him, knowing the pain and suffering that could result. Yet God took the risk because He believed, because He knew, that life filled with risk was better than no life at all. And so, God gives you freedom to choose Him, or not. He gives you a world that is filled with the possibilities of extreme pain and loss. But in this world of possibility, there is also beauty, grace and love. And when we find these, we find our way back to God.

No matter what you are walking through in this season of life, I pray that you know God's heart for you. That God believed life, your life, was worth the risk. And now He waits and hopes that in complete freedom, you will choose Him, the author and perfecter of our faith.

May you know Him on your journey today,
Nick

Friday, February 12, 2010

Knowing Why Is Never Enough

In class this week, we have dealt extensively with some of the classic responses to evil and suffering in our world. No one can deny that we face a wide of variety of trouble and pain in this world; it is the universal experience. Because we all experience a level of suffering and because we are all affected by evil in some way, we find ourselves asking the big question: WHY? Why am I in pain? Why did this happen? Why did God not do something?

Historical Christianity has offered two basic solutions that can be broadly categorized as the Arminian response and the Calvinistic response. From the Arminian view, evil and suffering come as a result of people who have complete free-will to do evil and inflict suffering on others. The universe itself operates, in a sense, “freely” as storms, earthquakes, and tsunamis occur according to natural laws. In this case, evil and suffering are due to a lack of God’s presence. From the Calvinist perspective, God has pre-ordained the events of this life. What happens to us, whether at the hands of others or as part of the natural order, come from the hand of God. He has in mind a greater good, and all things will work together for good. In this case, evil and suffering are from God, but for our good.

So, when people suffer, one of these broad systems is typically brought in to help explain why the person is experiencing their pain or trial. What I have found, however, is that knowing why, having an answer as to why we suffer, rarely helps alleviate any of the pain. Both systems have holes that leave us unsatisfied with the answer.

What is really needed in the midst of our pain and suffering is to know where is God when I suffer? Or put another way, how does God feel about suffering? And for me, this is the real beauty of the Bible. While the Bible provides only scant evidence about the source of evil and suffering, it offers extensive and conclusive answers to the question of how God feels about our suffering. The power of the Bible is in the revelation that God himself came, not only to suffer with us, but more importantly to suffer for us. Jesus Christ came as the full expression and revelation of God. And what did He do? He suffered and He died in order to proclaim to us how God feels about our suffering. When we look to the cross, we should see not only an incredible sacrifice, but the true heart of God; a God who loves us so much that He entered into our world to become like us. And like us, he experienced pain and suffering, but to the utmost degree.

So, if you, or someone you know, is experiencing pain or suffering, I want you to know that it’s okay to ask why. But in the asking, keep in mind that something greater is waiting to be discovered than an answer. What I pray you will discover is the One who came to be The Answer. In knowing Him, and experiencing his partnership with us in pain, we can find our way forward.

May you know The Answer on your journey today.

Peace,

Nick

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Manly Super Bowl

Did anyone else notice the disproportionately large number of Super Bowl commercials having to do with men becoming "real men"? The free pants ad was creative, if not a little disturbing to see so many guys in their underwear. But that was only the beginning. Soon, we had men needing to buy cars to reclaim their throne. And then, the ultimate show of your manhood was to buy soap for men, made ironically by a very non-manly company "Dove". Clearly, our culture is wrestling with what it means for a man to be a man. I say clearly because advertisers don't spend millions on Super Bowl commercials to be cute- they want business. So, the marketers to the masses tell us that what men really want is to know how to be manly.

Now, I'm not disagreeing with these ad captains. We certainly live at a time where gender identity and gender roles have been thrown into utter confusion, leaving men, and women for that matter, asking themselves "whom am I really?" So I agree with the need to define what it is to be a man (and what it is to be a woman, though I feel less compelled or qualified to speak on that half). My concern is that we not allow Hollywood or 5th avenue to define this for us.

In Ephesians, Paul speaks to the gender issue by sounding a clear call to men and women. Granted, this passage is specifically addressed to married couples, but I think his words give insight to all men and women, married or single. Paul writes, "And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her." In other words, the very same love that Christ showed the church (us) on the cross is the love we are to express to our wives. It's the way we are to live as men.

So, being a real man won't happen because we buy a new car, put on the pants, or even use the right soap. Do you want to be a real man, from God's point of view? Then be the first to die. Do you want to be a real man of honor in your marriage and your family? Be the first to sacrifice. Do you want respect as a real man in your workplace? Be the one who leads by serving. Die to yourself, sacrifice your self-rights, serve others before yourself. None of these acts will mean much to Hollywood or 5th avenue, but they will make all the difference in the world. Because when people see men behaving like this, they are bound to ask questions!

So get the car, wear the pants, use the soap. But in the end, the way to manhood in God's eyes is to become like Jesus, and give your life away. There is no more honorable, no more manly way to live.

Be a man! (or a woman). And enjoy the journey.

Nick

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

On LAX, Sick Pilots, and Ugly People

I had an interesting experience on my way to classes in Minneapolis. My connecting flight went through Los Angeles and was scheduled to depart at 12:00 AM. As I arrived at the gate area, I was informed that our flight had been delayed. "Delayed" was actually a nice way of saying canceled, because our flight out wasn't until 8:30 AM. Yikes.

The reason I and my fellow passengers were given for this "delay" was that the pilot had called in sick. In all the times I have flown, I have never heard of a flight being canceled for this reason. In a city the size of LA, I found it hard to believe that Delta, the nations largest airline, didn't have another pilot available. Evidently, my fellow passengers felt the same way. Sure, I was upset and disappointed myself, but being in the back of the room I had the unique opportunity to observe the reactions of others.

In a word, I would describe their reaction as ugly, in all its forms. They turned ugly in attitude, but in other ways as well. The pitch of their voice became ugly, taking on that strained, agitated tone. The lines of their faces tightened and their features distorted. A group of normal, nice people suddenly became vicious and well, ugly. The airline had wronged them, their night and their flight was ruined, and so the poor gals at the airline desk received the venting of their fury.

It made me think about how often we react this way as humans. When something goes against us, or we feel wronged, we turn ugly. I'm not entirely sure why, because if we look at these situations, rarely if ever does this kind of response make the situation better. We think that by getting angry and lashing out we can change things for the better. We operate under an illusion of control whereby we can right the wrongs and vindicate ourselves. But does this ever happen? Doesn't a turn towards ugly always make for more ugliness?

On my eventual flight out the next morning, I listened while one gal, one who had been particularly irate towards the gals at the flight counter, recounted on her cell phone the horrors of her night- canceled flight, demanding that the airline bring her bag to her in the middle of night, finding a hotel, getting stuck at the hotel the next morning- evidently her ugliness had continued. Granted, I hadn't particularly enjoyed my night on the floor at LAX, but having accepted the circumstance as one beyond my control had allowed me to maintain a certain level of peace despite the long night.

All this causes me to reflect on what Paul says in the book of Colossians, "You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony." (3:13,14- NLT) When we react like this to the mistakes of others- sick pilots, irkesome co-workers, surely spouses- rather than turning to ugly, we can display the love and the acceptance of Christ.

Why in our world is it so difficult to make allowances for other's faults? We know our own, but when we see the faults of others, we lash out.

Don't do it. Please. It makes you, and me, look very ugly.

Be beautiful today. In Christ,

Nick