Archive for October, 2012

h1

Suffering and Hurricane Sandy

October 30, 2012

This post wasn’t originally written to address hurricane winds and natural disasters. There is, however, hope and encouragement to be found from this post in the midst of hardship and suffering. But when it comes to natural, or moral evil, I will always have more questions than answers. Right now, in light of Sandy, prayers are more helpful than a pastor’s blog. But I invite you to read on anyways.

__________________________________________________________________________

Sally– Do you think it’s good that God created considering the amount of evil in our world?

Chris– I’m not sure but I would probably have to say ‘yes’. God is good and only does that which is good. But I still don’t understand why so much evil takes place.

Sally– Me neither. But I still think there must be more good than evil or more people would commit suicide and less people would have kids. Sometimes I wonder If our reasons for having kids are similar to God’s reasons for creating?

Chris– I don’t know the answer to that but I do think we often fail to appreciate the many good things that God sprinkles into our lives.

Sally– Like what?

Chris– Simple things. The warmth of sun on our faces. The smell of Barbecues in the summer. The dawning of spring after a bleak winter. Runner’s high. A warm shower on a cold morning. A lager and laughter with friends. A lover’s kiss. A beautiful sunset. A listening ear. Solidarity in the face of suffering, and spontaneous laughter in solemn moments.

Sally– Yes! Laughter. Over the top, making breathing difficult, bringing tears to the eyes, type of laughter. The best of these moments aren’t relegated only to the privileged either.

Chris– Right.

Sally– I love a great book and a warm cup of coffee. The list can go on and on. Romantic love. Music. Intellectual insight; or the pleasure of comprehension. The cooling of romantic love replaced by deep affection, intimacy and oneness. A marriage with lots of miles.

Chris– Sex.

Sally– In marriage?

Chris– Yes. Fire is for the fireplace not raging unchecked throughout the house.

Sally – I get the metaphor.

Chris– Suffering aside, life is still a gift containing all of these treasures. It makes me want to pause and ask my friend the atheist, don’t you feel deep down somewhere that life is a gift? A frail, fragile, mysterious gift? Perhaps, it’s not the accidental collision of Atoms, a cosmic coincidence, a meaningless meandering through time and space. What if that intuitive hunch isn’t just a naked sentiment arising in a moment of emotional vulnerability? What if life feels like a gift because there is a Giver?

Sally– Gratitude would be appropriate.

Chris– If the sorrows of this world were transfigured into tears we wouldn’t drown in the flood. God has kindly tossed us too many life-lines to keep our heads above the water. We grab them every time we celebrate all of the above gifts as evidence of His unmerited common grace.

To come back to your first question about having kids – I believe that love creates. Always. Until we decide to no longer bring children into this world it may be unfair to impugn God for suffering and evil in this one?

Sally– Why?

Chris– Well, we all have kids knowing that they will suffer to some degree physically and emotionally, all the while wishing it weren’t so. Some suffering we impose because we know it is for their long term benefit (six month’s shots come unwittingly to mind…do you ever wonder if we’re all six-months old spiritually?). Yet, we still choose to participate in God’s creative activity. We deem it well worth our while so that our children may share in our love. My wife and I recently had our first child and the birth of our son is our emphatic ‘yes’ to life – our life-long testimony that we believe the good outweighs the bad; the beauty outweighs the brokenness; the grace outweighs the sin; and the salvation outweighs the sorrow.

We don’t have much time to talk and I don’t want to lapse into sentimentality or end with a hallmark moment. Evil exists. Suffering never feels serendipitous. This may not seem like the best possible world but, perhaps, it is the way to the best possible world. One where choice is real, where love is meaningful, where salvation is available, and worship and virtue are made possible. These great goods outweigh the banality of evil in the end and if these great goods could only be achieved by the amount of bad we witness in our world, who am I to disagree?

I’m unsure how much God’s reasons for creating all things coincide with our reasons for having children. Perhaps, they are very different, but the Bible says God created for His glory. The most loving, self-giving thing a being of pure love and goodness could do is create other persons to enjoy Him. God creates us for a loving relationship with Himself; we are welcomed into the inner love and life of the Trinity.

Maybe our reasons for having kids aren’t so different. After all we still bear His image…

Concluding Thoughts

Life is very hard and suffering makes it even harder, but God is still very gracious to us throughout the course of it. It is a category mistake to compare existence with non-existence, but I still prefer existence; without it we couldn’t even make a category mistake. God has provided us with much beauty and enjoyment whether we believe in Him or not.

When we do suffer seemingly pointless evil He has given us the promise of His heaven to chase away the shadows of our suffering. God will birth a whole new world out of the old one when He renews all of creation. He has given us His guarantee through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the deposit of His Holy Spirit in our hearts. What God did for Jesus on Easter Sunday God will do for all of creation and for all those who repent and believe. Our future state is not disembodied bliss according to the scripture. God will recreate our physical world and give us incorruptible resurrection bodies to rule and reign with Him. Suffering, sorrow, sin, and the countless tears that result will be brushed away like a bad dream. We will awake at last to the beautiful reality that we’ve always longed for but have never had the words to describe. An unattainable ecstasy that has hovered enticingly over our entire existence will be ours at last.

In the present perhaps we can’t explain the existence of evil. It’s possible that evil by its very nature can’t make sense. Sense is a part of our reason; our reason is a part of the image of God; and the image of God is a good thing. Evil is a corruption and soiling of the good, therefore, perhaps evil is irrational and beyond sense by definition? Regardless of how we answer that question the Bible seems less concerned with why evil exists, or explaining its origin, than what God has done to address and deal with the problem. In the words of N.T. Wright:

“We are not told- or not in any way that satisfies our puzzled questioning- how and why there is radical evil within God’s wonderful, beautiful and essentially good creation. One day I think we shall find out, but I believe we are incapable of understanding it at the moment, in the same way that a baby in the womb would lack the categories to think about the outside word. What we are promised, however, is that God will make a world in which all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, a world in which forgiveness is one of the foundation stones and reconciliation is the cement which holds everything together. And we are given this promise not as a matter of whistling in the dark, not as something to believe even though there is no evidence, but in and through Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, and in and through the Spirit through whom the achievement of Jesus becomes a reality in our world and in our lives.”[4]

I believe that and it helps. Let’s continue to prayer for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.


[4] Wright, N.T. Evil and the Justice of God. Intervarsity Press: DownersGrove, Illinois, 2006. Pg. 164

An End note:

There are other potential answers that one could give. The suffering that results from moral evil or natural evil is not compatible with health, wealth and prosperity. It can, however, be harmonious with us learning virtue. Our response to evil can shape our character in positive ways. It can teach us empathy, compassion, the importance of fighting injustice, and the cost of virtue.

In this manner, the existence of some moral and natural evil is compatible with this world as a soul-making enterprise instituted by a God who desires to produce character, virtue and various other goods (like responsibility for one another) in His creatures.

In order for this great good to be obtained, God would also have to create a physical environment with certain law-like regularities within which moral agents (such as ourselves) could meaningfully interact. This, of course, could explain some natural evil as the unfortunate bi-product of necessary natural processes (e.g.. the same sun that warms our face can burn our skin. The same water that can quench our thirst can destroy our property and drown us). In addition, if this world is a training ground for virtue, these natural evils can promote many opportunities to exercise compassion, sacrifice, ingenuity, bravery and responsibility for one another that would not be otherwise available to us.

Moreover, free will is a great good that makes possible virtue, love and worship. Yet human choice is sometimes directly related to the disastrous affect of natural evils like landslides resulting from the raping of the natural environment and irresponsible clear cutting; choosing to live by fault lines; building cities below water level, with insufficient protection and the knowledge that Hurricanes often occur in the area; devastating famines when there is more than enough food; and unjust governments and poor building codes – all of which can either cause natural disasters, or make them far more devastating than they need to be. Much more needs to be said here because the Christians could also invoke the doctrine of the fall (the world in its present state is not the way God originally made it – sin has had a pervasive, corrupting influence on the natural world. Moreover, natural evils are sometimes an out breaking of God’s wrath against sinful people in the scripture), and the activity of demonic creatures, thereby extending a free will defense to cover all natural evils . Regardless, of the approach the Christian takes to natural evils it is clear that many are made far more devastating by an abuse of human free will and the resources for addressing the issue are many and varied within the Christian tradition. A full discussion of Natural evils, however, is beyond the scope of this blog, but the point remains: God’s goodness and power is not tarnished by permitting the possibility of evil in our experience if removing that potentiality would also eradicate some other greater good(s) from our world like freedom and soul making.

The above end note, of course, is a response directed towards the logical problem that evil creates and has no place in a hospital room, or at the beside of the bereaved. The emotional problem evil provokes needs prayer, care and concern – not a philosophical discourse.

The problem of evil is actually many problems under one heading that requires a number of different responses. It is worth reading, C.S. Lewis’ ‘Problem of Pain’, Randy Alcorn’s, ‘If God is Good’, or Peter Kreeft’s ‘Making Sense of Suffering’. For the philosophically minded see Alvin Plantinga’s ‘God, Freedom and Evil’.

h1

Ending Intolerance…

October 28, 2012

Exclusive religious claims are arrogant and divisive.

How dare you say your religion is the true one.

Religion leads to violence and bigotry.

These all represent common claims that are very familiar in our day and age. The truth is Christianity is exclusive. Jesus claimed, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. You notice he didn’t say ‘a way, a truth and a life’. This offends our modern (or postmodern) sentiments. As a result good news from God is turned into bad news by us through focusing on the article ‘the’. God coming to save us gets transformed into Christians trying to exclude other religious viewpoints. That is too bad – Jesus was inviting people in to the love of God not trying to keep people out.

In this blog post instead of diving into all the issues surrounding the notion of truth and exclusivity I will address the underlying cultural concern which, I think, sounds like this: If Christians (and other religious perspectives) claim to have the truth about God that will lead to divisiveness, and potentially violence, in our world. We are done with religiously driven wars over minute points of dogma!

In this post, however, I want to contend that there are tremendous resources arising from within the Christian worldview (if embraced as true) to deal with our human tendencies towards exclusion, intolerance, and violence. I will list four:

Firstly, the Bible says all people are made in the image of God. That means all people are equally worthy of dignity, value and respect. The image of God should be the deathblow to slavery, racism, and oppression etc. Whenever those things have been found under the banner of Christianity the perpetrators have departed far from the image of God (as well as a lot of others things we will get to).

Violence has been done in the name of religion. Crimes have been committed by the church to its great shame. But as St. Augustine wrote long ago, ‘Don’t judge a philosophy by its abuses’. The perpetrators of those horrific deeds were acting in a manner profoundly inconsistent with the Biblical teaching that we are all made in the image of God.

Secondly, at the center of the Christian ethic is the golden rule. Treat others, as you would have them treat you. Though this idea is not uniquely Christian it leads to dialogues filled with respect, kindness and tolerance. Would you want other people to bully you with their words, tell you what you believe before you can share, ignore what you are saying, or pour scorn on your most cherished beliefs’? Probably not! So treat people, as you would like to be treated.

Thirdly, Christianity offers an utterly unique path to God. Most people in culture, and in other faith traditions, if they believe in God, they believe that you relate to him and go to heaven by leading a good life. The emphasis is on what you do to make yourself acceptable to God. This can (though it doesn’t necessarily have too) lead to a sense of superiority that allows you to look down on others who are not performing as well as you, or believing as fervently as you.

Christianity teaches the exact opposite. Jesus doesn’t tell us how to live in order for us to merit salvation. He comes to forgive us and save us from our sins. As someone once wrote, ‘Jesus doesn’t come to make bad people good but to make dead people alive to God’. This idea of salvation is very different from all other worldviews. When firmly believed it doesn’t lead to pride, arrogance or a sense of superiority over other people. Christianity makes central the concept of grace. Grace is unmerited, unearned favor. Grace is one directional love from God, through His Son, to us. As a result our salvation is not earned, or achieved it is received as a gift.

Bono, the lead singer of U2, said,

“I’d be in big trouble if karma was going to finally be my judge. I’m holding out for grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity…”

Me too. I’m not trusting in my own works – I’m leaning into God’s grace. God loves us not because we’re lovely but in order to make us so; not because we are good but because He is good.

You see, ‘this understanding of grace removes a sense of superiority, pride or arrogance, attitudes that are all breeding grounds for violence and intolerance.

The second thing to note about Christ on the cross is Jesus (while dying) offers forgiveness to his enemies. How does Jesus respond to those who are oppressing him and killing him, how does he respond to those who were intolerant of his religious views? He offers forgiveness.

This is the center of the Christian faith. God hung on a cross; God in Christ is responding to evil with good, to hate with love, to intolerance and religious persecution with grace. This is the radical nature of the Christian ethic. We’re called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

We can never claim to follow Jesus and be the oppressor. We can never claim to follow Jesus and respond to the oppressor in kind.

For the reasons listed above (and others not mentioned) I think Christianity, when taken into the core of our being as God intends, goes a long way in providing the resources to interact lovingly with people who disagree with us. The Gospel, when believed and received, also uproots the weeds in our lives that grow into intolerance.

If religious intolerance is the disease, Jesus is the cure.

h1

A Biblical View on Alcohol

October 25, 2012

On Sunday I mentioned C.S. Lewis; a Christian author who was mightily used by God. Lewis also drank alcohol. Should Christians drink or not? This can be controversial in the Christian community. I sometimes receive pushback on this issue so I thought it would be helpful to thoroughly address alcohol from a Biblical perspective.

I write this out of love for the church. My desire is that we would be restricted where the scriptures bind us and free where the scriptures give freedom.

The Bible Says…

Drunkeness is a sin (Deut. 21:20, Eccl 10:17, Luke 12:45, 21:34, Rom 13:13, 1st Cor 5:11, Eph 5:18 and 1st Peter 4:3).

Drunkenness (like all sin) reverses the order of creation. Instead of God ruling over people, and people ruling over creation, drunkenness allows creation to rule over us. In addition, when drunk we are being led by the ‘spirits’, instead of the Holy Spirit. I take this to be one of the points made by Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, by filled with the Spirit.”

In addition, over consuming Alcohol causes us to do and say stupid things. Here are other Biblical problems associated with drunkenness: Incest (Gen 19:32-25), violence (Prov 4:17), adultery (Rev 17:2), mockery and brawling (Prov 20:1), poverty (Prov 21:17), madness (Jer 51:7), sloth (Joel 1:5), escapism (Hos 4:11), hallucinations (Isaiah 28:7), murder (2nd Sam 11:13-15).

We are to use God’s good creation but not abuse it. Psalm 104:15, says that ‘God made wine to gladden the hearts of men’. In 1st Timothy 5:23 the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, ” No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your frequent stomach ailments’. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine (John 2). We must face the facts – Jesus was, on at least one occasion, a miraculous brewer.

Some have said, ‘Christians should not drink because alcohol is so widely abused in our day’. How do we respond?

Firstly, it was widely abused in Jesus’ day (and in Noah’s day if you remember). In fact, some religious leaders thought it was abused by Jesus himself as evidenced by the fact that they falsely accused him of being a drunkard.

But here is a question, ‘if something is abused does that mean it should no longer be used, or in other words, gotten rid of? Would we apply that same principle to other matters? Women are abused after all – should we get rid of them? Of course not. Pornography is an abuse of sexuality – the solution isn’t to get rid of sex (thank God). Rather, the principle is faulty – the solution to abuse is learning proper use.

Here are some Biblical guidelines for proper use:

No priest was to drink alcohol while performing his duties (lev 10:6, Ezek 44:21). Don’t drink at work.

No king was to drink while judging the law (Prov 31:4,5). Don’t drink at work, or on the way to work.

An elder or a pastor cannot be a drunkard (1st Tim 3:3, Titus 1:7). The pastor shouldn’t get drunk, especially before preaching.

No drunkard will inherit the kingdom of God (1st Corinthians 6:10, Galatians 5:21). Drunkenness that is habitual and unrepentant is evidence of a heart that has not been changed by the Holy Spirit. As a result the person’s salvation is under question. Thankfully the verse goes on to add: “And that is what some of your were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God”. Amen.

There are also various principles that can be drawn from Romans 14. We shouldn’t violate our own conscience. For some of us drinking alcohol disturbs our conscience. We should, therefore, not drink, especially if our consumption is rooted in people pleasing. However, we shouldn’t force other people to bow down to our conscience; we should constantly point people to freedom in Christ not slavery to our conscience. Moreover, we should not cause our weaker brother or sister to stumble. For example, if someone comes over to my house and they have a history of alcohol abuse it is my duty, in Christian love, to not provide any opportunity for that person to stumble. Practically, that means there will be no wine at dinner. In addition, we might abstain from alcohol for missionary purposes. If we are committed to reaching out to Muslims and practicing hospitality we may choose not to have any liquor in the house because that would be a stumbling block to our Muslim friends.

Let me repeat: Some Christians should not drink either because it violates their conscience, or they have struggled with alcohol abuse in the past. Drinking in moderation is a meaningless term for the alcoholic so they should never touch liquor and they would know that better than I.

Or, perhaps like my wife, a Christian may not drink simply because they don’t like the taste of liquor.

In addition, some Christians think they can handle alcohol when they really can’t -it is permissible for them but it is not beneficial. We are not always the best evaluators of our own areas of weakness so we need trusted Christian friends who can point out whether or not we are putting ourselves in compromising situations with drink (or anything else for that matter).

No pastor can forbid his congregants from drinking alcohol in moderation on the basis of scripture. The Biblical position is one of moderation amongst those who don’t have a weakness towards alcohol (i.e. the alcoholic), or a conscience issue with alcohol consumption. As one scholar writes,

“Moderationists rightly teach that drinking is not a sin and that each person must let Christians conscience guide them without judging others. This position is both reasonable and biblical because wine itself is neutral and can be used in both good and bad ways (see above scriptures not opinions). When used in the right and redeemed way, alcohol is a gift from God (psalm 104) to be drunk with gladness, particularly when feasting. When used in this way, feasting and drinking are foretastes of the kingdom, which will include new wine. This also explains why in scripture a lack of wine reflects the absence of joy (isaiah 16:10, joel 1:5, 12).”

One More Objection:

Some have claimed that the wine was mixed with water in the 1st century making it much weaker than our liquor today. This is probably true but the comment misses the point. The issue is not the strength of the drink when discussing whether or not alcohol consumption is appropriate for Christians. If it were, ‘drinking Canadian beer could be sinful but drinking light American beer could be biblically sanctioned by Jesus’ example of drinking watered down wine. That’s weird. The issue is abuse and proper use not the percentage of alcohol in a drink.

I know alcohol has ruined people’s lives. So has sex and the love of money. But if you’ve had a troubled past with alcohol it’s hard to accept the freedom that the Bible grants on this issue. Still, we must submit to the word of God.

I know alcohol is abused. Women and men are abused too. Money is abused. Sex is abused. Even the stars are ‘abused’ through things like astrology. Do we get rid of women and men? Money? Sex? Do we get rid of those troublesome stars?

No!

Stars reflect God’s glory, women are image bearers of God to be treasured, sex is a fire meant for the fireplace of marriage, money is to be used not loved, and alcohol is a gift from God (psalm 104) to be used in moderation by those whose conscience’s permit them to drink, and by those who will not be enslaved by it (1st Cor 6:12).

That is what the Bible says about alcohol. To change my position as your pastor would be to admit that the Bible is wrong. I can’t do that…

God Bless,

Chris

h1

Five Reasons I love my Wife

October 23, 2012

I’m sharing this with you because I hope it inspires you to reflect on what you love about your spouse. If you don’t have a spouse I pray this post encourages you to ponder deeply the type of spouse you want to be in the future. Because as we always say ‘marriage is less about finding the right person, and more about being the right type of person who can love another sacrificially for a life time.’

I plan to brag about my wife publicly in this post. Public compliments mean very little, however, if they are not supported by private encouragement and support. Public flattery of your spouse falls flat if it is accompanied by private belittlement. If my public demeanor towards my wife is contradicted by my private behavior this blog post doesn’t build her up; rather, it conveys a sad attempt to build myself up in your eyes. I’m constantly having to remind myself  ‘I’m only as holy as  I am at home’.

That being said, this is honestly the easiest blog post I’ll ever write (you might even be shocked ‘only five reasons’! Well, how long do you have? There are more but these are the first five that came to mind ):

1. My wife is funny. I grew up watching predominantly male comedians. As a result I got the impression that men were far more funny then women. I know it’s dumb but that is what I thought. My wife, however, has the greatest sense of humor. She is quick to laugh, quick to smile and quick to crack a joke.  Sometimes I pretend not to get her jokes and she gets annoyed. I should probably stop doing that.

2. She is an incredible mother. They say, ‘you don’t know true love until you have to wipe your child’s dirty bum’. I would say, ‘you don’t know true love until you don’t have to wipe your child’s dirty bum because your wife is doing it for you’. Thanks sweetie.

As a mom she is patient, sweet and unfailingly kind to our son – even when he is being difficult and refusing to sit still when she is trying to change his diaper or put his clothes on. I listen in often – she is not perfect but she is amazingly patient. She is also so fun with him. I make Kaeden watch football with me, even though he doesn’t care about the CFL (those times are less about him and more about me). She creates fun games that engage him and make him giggle hysterically.

3. She is a remarkably gifted  educator. I wish I had a teacher like her when I was in high school. I would have annoyed her to no end. But I think I also would have been secretly drawn to her because of the care and concern that she expresses for her students. I think she could have gotten through to me.

4. She reads all my sermons and encourages me without reservation. She is my helper and partner in ministry. I am a better pastor because of her. She constantly shows me what it looks like to be a warm, loving, other centered type of person.

I have a sticky note on my office wall as a constant reminder (right next to a Martin Luther quote about drinking beer and the power of God’s word). The sticky note reads: Be nicer, Be thankful. She teaches me what that actually looks like in practice.

5. She knows the worst things about me. Yet, she loves me anyways. That is grace – unmerited, unearned favor. Through her love I get a small glimpse of God’s love for me. She helps me understand the Gospel more clearly and more practically in my life.

Like a secret track on a c.d I’ll slip this last one in – my wife is godly and hot. Definitely worth the wait. I wouldn’t want to fight and make up with anyone else for a lifetime.

Look, I know marriages are really hard. But sometimes they get hard because we forget or neglect the very things that caused us to fall in love with our spouses in the first place. You might want to write out your own list as a helpful reminder.

In marriage we are called to submit to one another, husbands love and lead your wives, wives respect your husbands etc. I hope and pray that we do this at Calvary and repent when we fail so that our marriages can be strong and point people to the Gospel of Christ.

I’m blessed. I’m thankful.

Chris

h1

Controversy Surrounding Genesis 1

October 12, 2012

People often argue about Genesis 1. Christian’s debate the first chapters of the Bible like no other. The conversations are often friendly but sometimes not. I’m not going to dive into all the debated points.

I will just make a few comments:

When you listen to these ‘arguments’ you will find that they often center around two main questions: How and when? When did God create – how long did it take? And how did God create – what type of mechanism did He use? Then people go back and forth and different sides claim Genesis 1 as backing their position.

Unfortunately, we read this text through lenses given to us by a century of controversy over Darwinism and Creationism. As a result (perhaps) we ask questions of the scripture that God never gave it to answer, only then to fight about the answers we read into the text.

This on a whole seems sad to me because I think the primary purpose of Genesis 1 isn’t when and how, it is who and why. In fact, it appears obvious – at least to me. For example, if God’s primary concern was to communicate to us when He created He would have just given us a year – you know, stamp a date on the earth like we stamp a date on a can of Coca-cola.

God: ‘Chris, what I really want you to get out of this text is the age of the earth’

Chris: ‘Really? well, why didn’t you just give us a date?’

God: ‘I was being sarcastic’.

Chris: ‘Oh, sorry’.

God: ‘I forgive you’.

In addition, I think it rather obvious that on a whole Genesis 1 at least, is not concerned with how. For example, God commands the earth to bring forth its vegetation. The text doesn’t talk about photosynthesis, or pollination because it’s focused on the who and why, not the how. Christian’s believe in photosynthesis and the water cycle not as replacements for God but as the means through which God accomplished some of His creative purposes. Explaining these mechanisms is the purvey of good science but not the point of Genesis 1.

Remember God inspired this text to be written originally for the Hebrew people. Had God given them a scientific handbook that addressed questions they weren’t even aware of it would not be helpful, or meaningful for the people who originally read it (a similar caution would prevent some of the more fanciful interpretations of St. John’s Revelation as well). Moreover, once you are aware that Israel’s neighbors had other competing creation accounts it makes sense that the primary purpose of Genesis 1 would be theological and polemical in orientation (theological or polemical doesn’t mean, of course, lacking factual correspondence with reality).

In Genesis 1 we encounter the Spirit of God hovering over the unformed earth with the purpose of bringing order out of chaos. As we move through the days we begin to see this creative process ‘evolve’.

Day one corresponds to day four, day two to day five and day three to day six. For example, in day three God creates the land and in day six God fills the land with creatures. God creates a space and then fills the space. Here we see God as a gardener and in the creation of man God actually gets His proverbial hands dirty.

In Genesis God’s creation is meant to be His temple that He intends to flood with his glory. We are His representatives in this temple, his priests, who are to rule and reign over creation mediating the loving care and concern of God. This is our dignity; this is our privilege as image bearers of God. We are under God and over all of creation, side by side as equals, redeemed through the cross of Christ, representing the King of Kings to our watching world.

We should really get on with that.

h1

Suffering and the Cross

October 2, 2012

I’ve been laboring for some time trying to write on the topic of moral evil and the existence of God. It is a book length work. Below are excerpts from the chapter on ‘The incarnation and Crucifixion of the Son of God’. It is unedited and there are huge gaps separating the thoughts shared below.

“If Jesus is the Son of God, sharing the divine nature of His Father, it means God does not remain aloof and unconcerned about our suffering. Instead, God plunges into the heart of it at the cross. When we suffer moral evil we realize it is not something we would choose. Yet, God willingly let His Son be crucified by evil men. The Son of God endured agony on such a scale that it outstrips most of our suffering. This is not divine child abuse either; Jesus didn’t have to die – He chose to.

Why?

The answer to that question is at the center of the Christian worldview. Love. God loves His Glory and He loves us, and his wounds alone can speak to our pain. Moral evil may make us question the goodness and love of God. A proper understanding of the cross restores it. The crucifixion might make us question the power of God. A proper understanding of the resurrection revives it….

…I once spent several days living on the downtown Eastside of Vancouver. The amount of human suffering, abuse, hardship and brokenness was overwhelming. It weighed heavily on me as we walked the garbage strewn streets and explored the neglected neighborhood. How do I, a believer in a perfectly loving and powerful God, cling to that belief in light of the wretchedness that is so pervasive on the downtown eastside?

I didn’t have an answer. I struggled to find one until I remembered the cross. In that moment I realized that only a crucified God makes sense in the slum…

…My friend works on the Downtown Eastside in one of the buildings that houses many of the addicts. One man my friend knew struggled mightily with chronic pain combined with an addiction to heroin. The addict was also an artist. One day he drew the building’s chaplain a poignant picture; a sketch of Jesus Christ on the cross with a heroin needle sticking out of his arm. Jesus offended the religious – that picture birthed out of one addict’s pain still does. But Jesus bore our burdens. Jesus became sin for us and suffered with us on the cross. Only a crucified God makes sense on the Down town Eastside of Vancouver, in the slums of Calcutta, or on the killing fields of Cambodia.

The incarnation doesn’t explain suffering but it gives us a profound reason to believe in a good God in spite of it. The incarnation of God in Christ and his willingness to suffer crucifixion goes a long way to addressing the emotional problem of evil and suffering. The emotional resources provided by solidarity in the face of suffering cannot be under estimated. Facing tragedy with another at your side is a gift of grace that can get us through the most grievous of circumstances. God gives us that gift in the Gospel…

The author Dorothy Day once wrote,

“For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is – limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death – God had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money, to the worst horrors of pain and humiliations, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.”

Suffering and evil may make us want to spit in the face of God. The crucifixion reminds us that we already did. ‘God had the courage to take his own medicine’ – to swallow the bitter pill of sorrow, to traverse the trials of life. As a result God knows our pain, he knows our sorrows and there is nothing I will endure that he hasn’t undergone first.

Someone once said, in reference to Christ on the cross, ‘It is hard to stay mad at a God who is in worse shape than you’. Clearly there is therapeutic benefit to taking your anger out on God – I assume God can handle it. The scripture gives you permission and if the options are between repressing anger leading to depression, expressing anger causing relational breakdown, or releasing anger to God; the third option is the best. There is still, however, some truth to the above quote. It is difficult to stay angry with a God who endured more suffering on our behalf than most of us will ever undergo.

I may not be able to understand why some evil occurs but I can trust a crucified God in the midst of it. In fact, this is the only God I can trust.

In addition, God has also modeled for us the way forward in our own response to evil. It has often been said that things ‘either get better or bitter’. This is especially true when it comes to addressing evil deeds committed against us. Forgiveness is the antidote to bitter and the path to better. Forgiveness may seem like a neglected trail choked with weeds, thorns and thickets making it difficult for any forward progress to occur. God, however, has been our great trailblazer. In Christ, God has opened up the path to forgiveness and reconciliation…..