From Why To What

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching…”  So says Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16.  And this has certainly proved itself to be true in my life.  I have been taught (as well as rebuked, corrected, and trained, as Paul says in the rest of the verse) by all Scripture.  I have even been taught, etc. by Scripture I didn’t think was possible of teaching anyone anything, Scripture which on the surface seems to have little to teach.

A recent case in point is Genesis 42:36-37:

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This passage came up in my daily reading a few days ago.  It is part of the Joseph narrative of Genesis, the story of how Joseph, who has become the second most powerful ruler in Egypt, is testing his brothers to see how they have changed after selling him into slavery years ago.  In this part, the brothers report to Jacob after their first trip to Egypt to get grain.  They tell Jacob that Simeon has been imprisoned and will not be released unless they return with Benjamin.  In reply to this, Jacob says, “Everything is against me!”

At first glance, it doesn’t look like there is much in this passage for the follower of Christ.  That’s what I thought at first.  I even remembered discussing it in Bible college; I remembered my Old Testament professor saying that Reuben’s response to Jacob here is “boneheaded” (I believe that is the word he used).  That gave me a little laugh.  It didn’t give me much direction.

But then something happened.  I read over those words a second (something I often do as I read the Scripture for devotion), and that phrase “Everything is against me” caught my attention.  That is how I believe hearing from God works: I believe we hear from God when something in Scripture catches our attention (or maybe when the Holy Spirit who is in us and who is operating as we read Scripture brings something to our attention).  And this phrase caught my attention as I read that day.  It caught my attention as I read because I realize I often say the same thing.  I often look at the obstacles that are in my path and conclude that everything is against me.  I often get frustrated when difficulties come my way and I ask, “Why is this happening to me?”  (That, by the way, is how I would paraphrase Jacob’s words here: “Why is this happening to me?”)

That is obvious not a mature response to difficulties.  I think we all see that in Jacob here.  I think we are supposed to see it in Jacob here.  I think we are supposed to understand that while this reaction was somewhat understandable (as indeed a lot of unfair and unhappy stuff had happened to him), it was not at all mature or noble or helpful.  It was whining, in other words.

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What is less easy to see is how often we whine in that same way.  Immaturity in others, after all, is always far more visible than immaturity in ourselves.  Immaturity in ourselves is always far more understandable in ourselves than in others (we give ourselves a pass on such whining more readily and easily than we give such a pass to others).

As I read this text that morning, though, I could see it me.  I could see that I am often so immature and unhelpful, that I often whine.  And I could also see what to do about that.  I could see that God was calling me not to simply stop whining; I suppose that was part of what God was calling me to, but it was not the totality (stop is rarely the totality of what God tells us about anything).  I could also see that God was not calling me to try to escape the situations which result in whining; that’s not possible; many of these situations are out of my control and thus inescapable.

Rather, I could see that God was calling me to change my question.  He was calling me to turn from asking why to asking what.  He was calling me to move from asking, “Why is this happening to me?” to “What is Kingdom in this situation?”

I take that phrase Kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  Kingdom was His primary message, being the subject of what I call His “inaugural message”, the sermon He preached when He began His public ministry (Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:15).  It was also in a prominent place in His “model” or “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13).

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I sometimes call this “the goal of God”.  I think that is what it is.  I think God’s ultimate goal and thus Jesus’ ultimate goal is the Kingdom coming, God’s will being done as perfectly on earth as it is in the heavenly realms.  Every other goal God has (making disciples of all nations, transforming us into the likeness of His son) is a subset or expression of that one, great, overriding goal.

And since that is His goal, it should be my goal as well.  That being the case, “Why is this happening to me?” is always the wrong question.  A much better question is, “What is Kingdom here?  What does the Kingdom want to result from this my encounter with this obstacle?  How can God’s will be done in this difficulty?”  There is a positive answer to that question/those questions.  Every obstacle and difficulty, every setback and attack and insult and hardship, is a Kingdom opportunity, a chance for God’s will to not only be done but be done through me.  And thus that is the question to ask.  That is the avenue to take.

And I’m not very good at taking it.  I’ll be honest about that.  I’d love to see myself as Joseph (who it seems had some immaturity in the early part of his story but who was fully living into the Kingdom by this point), but I know I’m far more like Jacob.  It is not easy to switch questions like this.  It isn’t for me, anyway.  I will keep that switch in mind, though, or I’ll try to.  It is what will indeed bring the Kingdom, so it is what I will try to do.  I’ll try to go from “Why?” to “What?”

But Seeing As You Asked…

As I wrote about yesterday, some guy called me in my office yesterday to argue the Trinity.  I eventually hung up on him, choosing to simply lose since I wasn’t allowed to talk.  I was fine with that.  I mean, it was an unpleasant and an unjust thing, but I was still fine with it.  I didn’t get as upset about it as I would have years ago, in large part because I see that it is just a natural consequence of doing the work of Christ (something I spoke about just this past Sunday).

The fact remains, though, that the guy made certain objective statements in both word and deed.  And I think objective statements can be (and at times should be) be answered.  As I said in the posts about The Simpsons and GQ, if someone says, “I don’t like you,” there isn’t much response I can give or need to give; that is a subjective statement that can’t be measured or countered in any logical way (I can try to show that I should be liked or am likable, maybe, but that’s about it).  If you say, again in either word or deed, that, “X is Y” or some other thing that can be measured, countered, fact-checked, etc., there is a response I can give.  I think I need to give it most of the time.  I need to give it in a calm, even-handed way (I don’t need to be red-faced and screaming), but I do need to give that response.

Such is the case here.  I don’t want to further an argument with this guy; I think that is ungodly.  And I don’t want to wail, moan, get revenge, twist the knife, or any other related thing here on the blog; that’s just lowly.  I do, though, want to counter the objective things the man said in this calm, fair way.  Actually, I want to catalog the wrong things the guy did here and encourage us all not to do them ourselves.  I think that’s a fair way to profit off this exchange.  So here we go:

  • If you want to argue, say you want to argue.  If you want to attack, assault, assail, then attack, assault, or assail.  Don’t hide what you are trying to do under the guise of “asking a question”.  That’s dishonest, and Kingdom workers should not be dishonest.Picture1       This guy was dishonest; he was resorting to deception.  If he had said, “I want to argue the Trinity,” I would have said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and went my way without investing my time.  I’m not interested in argumentation.  I don’t think Kingdom workers should be interested in argumentation.  This guy should have been open and honest about what he wanted/wanted to do.  So should we all.  I can remember countless times in Bible college when we were taught to be similar dishonest in our approach.  We were told, “Here’s how you get Jehovah’s Witnesses” or given little tricks to trip people up.  That’s not what Christ did; He set forth the truth plainly, as Paul says here.  We should do likewise and do nothing but.
  • Don’t take single statements  of Scripture as absolutes.  That’s what this guy was doing with the pronouns of Genesis 1:27.  He was taking that one pronoun he and, as I called it yesterday, pushing it beyond its legitimate boundary.  The fact of the matter is that language is problematic, and pronouns are doubly so (weren’t we taught in school to use plural pronouns when referring to single subjects so as to remove gender?).  The truth of God (and all related truths) are more than what you find in just one Scripture or statement of Scripture.  I discovered this during my Bible college years when a man questioned me about Hebrews 9:27.  He asked why that verse says “it is appointed for a man once to die” when there were a couple guys who didn’t die (Enoch and Elijah).  I told him he shouldn’t make that (nearly universal) general statement into an infallible absolute.  That was correct in that case and it is correct in all similar cases.  One single statement of Scripture should not be allowed to overrule the entire teaching of Scripture.
  • Don’t make me believe more than I need to believe or answer questions I can’t answer.  Part of my problem with this guy was he was trying to force me to make some theological statement about the nature of God.  The fact of the matter is that I’m not sure what the nature of God is.  I don’t think anybody is, whether they know it or not.Image result for a god you can understandBased on a holistic reading of Scripture (which include the many Scriptures which directly call Jesus God in some way or describe Him as having the qualities of God), I think something like the Trinity must be true.  But I can’t explain that.  I’m not sure I can defend it.  I’m not sure I fully understand it.  And it is very uncomfortable and unfair for someone to try to force me to take some side on it, particularly as they are getting increasingly irate.  Besides that, it ultimately doesn’t matter.  Salvation/the walk with God/the life of faith is not based on what you are able to understand about God (thankfully!).  It is based on whether you accept that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  I can do the one without doing the other.  I have and am doing the one without doing the other (or while doing the other to the best of my ability).  Based on what we see in Scripture, that seems to be enough for God.  It should be enough for you, too.
  • Don’t get irate.  People often ask me where “righteous indignation” is in the Bible.  The answer: it isn’t.  Indignation is rarely righteous.  If I’m wrong, show me gently where and how I’m wrong.  Understand that I’m innocently wrong, that I am far more Apollos than Alexander.  Understand that I will repent once I’m convinced of my wrong.  I will do that, you know.  I do want to genuinely walk with God and will genuinely change if I am shown I am not walking with God.  But to hit me with rapid-fire charges as you get louder and redder-faced isn’t going to do anything for me.  I doubt it does anything for anyone.

That’s the short list of thoughts I had after my encounter with this guy.  And I don’t think my sharing them here is just sour grapes.  It can’t be, as that guy will no doubt never read this post and has already walked away with his Hananiah-like victory.  But I think my sharing them here can be of benefit to us.  As I think I said or at least implied above, I have done some of if not all of these things in my interactions with other people.  Experiencing them from the other side, I see how fruitless and wrong they are, and I am determined not to resort to such things.  I’m hoping more people will make that same resolution.  I think the world and the church would be a much better place if we all did.

Letting Yourself Lose

True story that happened just five minutes ago:

My office phone rings.  I answer it.  The guy on the other end (whom I don’t know and whose number was listed simply as “Private Caller”) asked me if I could “answer a Bible question”.

“I’ll give it a try!” I said in my normal goofy way.

This guy then proceeded to read Genesis 1:27, stressing that the pronoun used for the Creator is he (that is, singular).  The guy then quickly fell into an angry diatribe about The Trinity.  His question became an assault as he demanded to know if I believed in The Trinity  and why and how I could consider myself a Christian if I did believe in The Trinity.

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In the few instances I actually got to talk, I tried to explain that The Trinity (a word admittedly not found in the Bible) is our best attempt to convey the whole teaching of the Bible and that he was pushing pronouns far beyond the degree to which they were supposed to be pushed.  He did not agree.  In fact, he didn’t give me much chance to explain.  Instead, every statement I made brought several rapid accusations from him.  I then tried to tell him that I had been asked to answer a question, not have an argument.  Finally, I hung up.

And I hated to do that.  I tried to avoid doing that, in fact, because I knew if I did that he would claim some sort of victory.  “That guy couldn’t answer any of my questions,” I can imagine him saying (after, of course, reframing the story to remove his aggressive interruptions and unwillingness to listen).  “He just ran away from me.”

That bothers me.  I’ve got a strong sense of justice.  I hate what is wrong being called right (even if that wrong is mine).  I didn’t want to give this person the chance to do that, and couldn’t stand the fact that I had given him  the chance to do that.

Yet that’s what my faith often calls me to do.  It may sound strange (especially if, like me, you come from a church/bible college background which presents debate as a spiritual practice), but it is true.  The fact of the matter is that God doesn’t want us to argue and sometimes calls us to lose arguments.  He tells us to throw in the towel when further fighting is ineffective and counterproductive and becoming ungodly.

My favorite example of this is in Jeremiah 28:

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Jeremiah did not continue to trade blows with Hananiah.  Rather, when he saw that Hananiah was just diatribing rather than dialoguing, he just walked away.  He came back a little later to drop a personal word from the Lord on Hananiah, but he walked away from that first encounter.  He did not continue to debate the false prophet in front of the crowds.

Jesus famously teaches something similar:

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He did not instruct us to trade blows with those who reject us (and reject Him through rejecting us).  He instructed us instead to “shake the dust off our feet” and move on.

On top of that, Paul tells Timothy:

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Despite what I was taught in my home church and in Bible college, an argumentative spirit is not a Christ-like spirit.  Debate is not a righteous spiritual discipline.  It is the opposite, in fact.  It is clearly not what God wants.  It produces the opposite of what God wants.  Arguments lead to several ungodly behaviors: anger, insinuation, insult, etc.  It is so easy to fall into those things.  I worry, in fact, that what I wrote above about my encounter with this guy skirts the border of those things.  That’s why God doesn’t want us to argue.  That’s why when it comes to arguments, even “spiritual” or theological or doctrinal arguments:

What does a “Lord’s servant” like me do in this strange game?  Well, he has to lose.  That’s what Jeremiah did.  That’s what Jesus did on many occasions as well (such as in Luke 9 when He simply walked away from the village that rejected Him).  That’s what Paul often did, too.  And I guess that’s what I did.  I couldn’t walk away from this guy literally, but I did hang up on him.  I hung up on him as nicely as I could.  I didn’t want to hang up on him since even that can be seen as aggressive, but that was about the best I could do in the situation, and I did it the best I could do it.  I let myself lose, in other words.  And that was the right thing to do.  I might not like it, but that was the right thing to do.

 

Some Questions For GQ

A couple weeks ago, The Simpsons took a shot at my faith.  Since this shot contained logical statements and inferences, I asked the Simpsons writers a few questions about it.  I couldn’t have asked them anything if they had merely said, “I don’t like”; that’s subjective and incontestable.  But that’s not what they said.  They said, in essence, “You are wrong/contradictory/etc.”  That’s not subjective, and that’s not incontestable.  So I contested it.  I asked them some questions about it.  Since the writers of The Squidbillies had taken almost the exact same shot at my faith, I asked them those same questions as well.  Seeing that neither group answered, I guess I asked those questions rhetorically.  But I asked them.  They were legitimate questions, questions of whether or not these writers understood what they were attacking and with what they were replacing what they were attacking, and I asked them.

It seems I can now ask the editors of GQ magazine similar questions as they have taken a similar shot at my faith.  They did so in a recent article called “21 Books You Don’t Have To Read”.  I imagine they offended a lot of English teachers with this article, which suggested that people don’t have to read The Catcher in the Rye and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which have been staples in literature class for as long as I remember.  But I know for a fact they offended a lot of Christians when they suggested people don’t have to read the Bible.

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There is more going on here than mere offensiveness, though.  There are assertions, both logical and otherwise.  And while offensiveness may or may not be able to be questioned, assertions can and should be.  So I will put any indignation aside and ask just a few questions of the GQ editors (or it is Jesse Ball, who I think wrote this segment of the article, or both?), questions about the assertions they are making here.

  1. Are you sure the people you say haven’t read this book actually haven’t read it?  This is the first assertion this segment makes.  The author says the people who supposedly live by the Bible haven’t actually read it.  This is something I’ve heard several other faith-averse or faith-antagonistic folks say.  It is intended to undermine their credibility, I suppose, as well as to insult them (which is what it seems to be doing here).  And while I admit that it is true of many people in The Faith, it is not true of all of them, and it is certainly isn’t true of the most authoritative of them (by which I mean the ones who should be listened to, the ones who know what they are talking about and thus have the right to talk).  I know some sixty pastors in my area.  All of them have read the Bible multiple times.  All of them are well-versed in the Bible.  All of them know the Bible.  Not to be an own-horn-tooter, but the same can be said of me.  I knew the Bible before I could read, having learned it from my parents and my church, both of whom quoted it to me often.  I finally read it cover to cover when I was 19.  I have read it cover to cover many times since; I actually don’t know how many times I have read the Bible in its entirety because I have lost count.  I have studied at least have the books at a collegiate, verse-by-verse level.  I have memorized the epistles and recite one every day.  I read both lengthy and short passages every day as well.  In short, I and my pastor friends have not only read the Bible, but we’ve actually walked with the Bible.  We have consumed and lived with and assimilated the Bible.  It is part of our very fabric.  This not only means that the this underhanded opening comment is measurably wrong, but it also means that we have far greater ability to speak about what the Bible is or isn’t than anyone else.  I would not presume to tell a scientist what The Origin of the Species is or is not, what it says or doesn’t say, what quality it has or doesn’t have.  To be honest, I don’t know any of these things.  I’ve never read it.  A scientist who has spent time with that book is clearly going to know it better than me.  By the same token, very few people have spent the time with the Bible that I and my pastor friends have.  Logic states that we know far better what it is and what it says than GQ.
  2. Can you give me any specifics here?  The segment goes on to say that the Bible is “repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned”.  Those are serious charges, and if they were true, the Bible ought not to just be unread but actively banned.  We have no way of knowing if they are true.  Not from this segment, anyway.  The author does not give any evidence for their truth.  He asserts them but he does not support them.  I personally wish he had, because I have no idea what he is talking about here.  Again, I’ve read the Bible quite a few more times than he has.  I have found repetition, but that repetition makes sense; the Bible only has one real message which it keeps restating in various ways in hopes that we will finally get it.  I have not found anything self-contradictory, even though that charges is again often made.  I’ve found things that people who don’t understand the Bible and the way it is intended to be used think are self-contradictory, but I’ve never found any clear contradiction.  I didn’t know what sententious meant, but when I looked it up, I didn’t see anything in it that resembled what we have in the Bible.3Rather, what we have in the Bible is far more a loving father desperately pleading with his children, begging them not to destroy themselves and their relationship with him.  Doesn’t sound sententious to me.  Foolish?  The core message of the Bible is love God and love others.  That’s foolish to you?  Ill-intentioned?  How does the author know what the intentions of God (which is who I believe actually wrote the Bible) or the human authors (whom God used to write the Bible) were?  I don’t know because he didn’t tell me.  He just made the accusation; he didn’t support it.  If anything seems ill-intentioned, it is these unsubstantiated Simpsons-esque statements about the Bible.

3. What are you offering as an alternative?  This is the same question I asked of The Simpsons and The Squidbillies, and it is the question I will ask of everyone who attempts to take away my faith.  If I let go of my faith (as you seem to think I should), what do you offer to replace it?  My faith (which is based on the Bible) is what gives me hope and purpose and meaning, what directs my thoughts and actions, and what sets my values.  My faith does just about every important thing in my life.  When you attempt to take away my faith, you are not taking away some minor diversion; you are taking away my heart and soul, taking away the one thing I want and need more than any other.  You can’t create a vacuum like that without filling it with something.  So what are the author/the GQ editors offering to do that?  I don’t know.  They do suggest some book I’ve never heard of (The Notebook, which is apparently not the one by Nicholas Sparks), but they don’t tell me what authority that book has or what it is going to contribute to my life.  Seeing as it is a book written by a man relatively recently in human history, the hope that it can replace the Bible and my faith is quite low.  Sorry, but you can’t expect me to sacrifice everything I love and value and live by because you make a couple snarky remarks.

Those are the questions I would ask GQ about this segment.  Will I get an answer?  Probably not.  I’m still asking the questions, though.  And I think you should as well.

The Foundational Question Part 3

Okay, one last run around this idea.

I was jumping around the Internet this weekend, looking at The New Yorker’s Chick-fil-A story and its fallout.  As I did, I came across this:

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As I just now looked for this quote, I found this site claiming that Gandhi never said these words.  I don’t know if he did or not.  I do know, though, that many people, from the famous to the infamous and many points in-between, have said this or something similar to this.  Many people have (rightly or wrongly) found fault with Christians or The Church.  And some of those people have used that fault as a reason to not believe in God, as reason not to work through the God equation.

And that, again, is a mistake.  I’m not sure what kind of mistake it is.  I’m not sure if it is getting lost in the middle, as I first wrote about, or refusing to work the equation because of the anticipated answer, as I wrote about second (if I had to guess, I’d say it is the latter).  But I am sure it is a mistake.

It is a mistake because the question of the existence of God is a question of reality, a question of what is real.  And reality is not subjective.  Reality is not altered because you don’t like it.  Adam Savage famously said:

and yet, as he clearly knew, as is clearly implied behind his words and is indeed the basis of the humor of that statement, such a thing is impossible.  Reality can’t be substituted.  Reality is.

The question to ask, then, isn’t whether or not Christians are like Christ (not at this stage of the equation, anyway; I think all Christians should ask themselves that question, and I do everyday; but I don’t think those working the God equation should be asking it at this point).  The question to ask is one of reality.  The questions to ask, actually, are two of reality: “Does God exist?” and “Is God good?”

Oddly enough, “the Gandhi quote” (which is what I’ll call it whether or not Gandhi actually said it) implies that the answer to both those questions is, “Yes.”  He speaks about Christ as if Christ is real.  To be honest, he may be doing that for the sake of argument, the way I might talk about Luke Skywalker as if he is real even though I know he is not.  But he is still talking that way; he is still describing something which could be called reality.  Beyond that, though, he speaks about Christ as if Christ is good.  He says he likes Christ, which I can only imagine a guy like Gandhi would do if he perceived Christ as being good.  The very statement itself, then, implies a reality (or at least some reality) to God and a goodness to God.

And those implications require some sort of response.  They require some sort of personal response all by themselves, regardless of what may or may not be true of the behavior of other Christians.  That is what is at the heart of the issue here: personal response.  To be sure, the Christian faith is a group endeavor; Jesus Himself talked about a church and the necessity of a church (Matthew 16:18), so a church is going to be part of it.  But the Christian faith is simultaneously an individual endeavor; it is something the individual picks up regardless of whether or not anyone else picks it up and/or how well anyone else picks it up.

Jesus, again, stressed this at at critical point after His resurrection.  When He  reinstated Peter in John 21, He told Peter that what would be required of John was not Peter’s concern.  Peter’s concern was solely what was required of him.

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Not only so, but Paul, in teaching us how to handle “disputable matters”, made this insightful statement:

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Both Jesus and Paul agree, then, that what other people do or don’t do, how they respond to God or don’t respond to God, has no bearing on you.  Your response to God shouldn’t be dictated by how others respond to God, whether that be good, bad, or indifferent.  Your response to God can’t be dictated by how others respond to God.  It can only be dictated by the reality of God and His goodness.

Is Gandhi right?  I don’t know.  Seeing as how I know more Christians than he ever did and know them better than he ever did, I don’t think so.  As one who has spent his entire life among Christians, I agree that they can use some work but I also know they are better than most people give them credit for.  Whether or not he is right or wrong, though, doesn’t matter to the God equation, and allowing it into the God equation is a terrible mistake.

The Foundational Question Part 2.5

I thought I was done with this one for awhile, but it looks like I’m not.  Earlier today, Ebay reminded me that an auction I was watching was almost over.  The auction was for a collection of 80s music videos.  Music videos are about the last medium from my childhood I haven’t managed to collect (I’ve got all the music, movies, books, video games comic books, and quite a few of the toys from that era), and I was looking into doing that.  I ultimately decided I would be better served to just watch a playlist on YouTube, of which there are many.

When Ebay reminded me of the auction, though, I suddenly found myself wondering, “I wonder if that video is on the DVD.”  That video was this video:

I’m not sure if I saw this video/heard this song in the 80s.  If I did, it could only have been once or twice as I have nearly no clear memory of it (I have only a vague feeling that I have encountered it before, a feeling that is far too vague to be reliable).  I actually found this one on a “classic” music video show just a few years ago.  I like the tune, to be honest; it really gets in my heard.  The lyrics, though, are a completely different matter. These lyrics give us another example of the “I don’t believe in God because I don’t like Him” paradox I mentioned in the previous post, and as such is completely illogical and self-defeating.  This one, in fact, is even more self-defeating as the lead singer seems to insinuate that he knows God exists but still refuses to believe in Him because He blames Him for the plight of the poor (“Dear God…I won’t believe in You”; how self-defeating can you get?).

When I first remembered this, I initially thought it would have been a great insert for the previous post, and I wished I had put it in.  After I thought about it some more, though, I saw that it was somewhat different.  Not completely different; not a truly different animal, perhaps.  But at least a slight variation.  Most of the times I have encountered that “I don’t believe in God because I don’t like Him” paradox, people have been referring either to past actions of God (the punishments or judgments He passed out in the Old Testament) or future actions of God (the final punishment or judgment He will pass out at the end of time).  These actions were either completed or not yet started.  In either case, they were finished or finite.  We can see the whole of them.

This example of that paradox, though, is referring to the present actions of God, to what God is or isn’t doing now.  It is the same error (an anticipation of the answer), and it expresses itself in the same way (a refusal to work the equation), but it gets to that point in a different way.

That being the case, it can be likewise be derailed in a different way, a way specific to itself.  Apologeticists often attempt to derail those critiquing the past and/or the future actions of God by justifying those actions, showing that those actions are really right even though they seem to us to be wrong (or harsh or cruel or whatever).  This one, though, can be derailed with the much simpler and straightforward fact that these situations, the “bad” situations which results in this refusal to work the equation/believe in God, are not finished situations.  They are not complete yet.  We don’t know how they will turn out.  They are works in progress.

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It is quite likely, in fact, that they are necessary steps in a work in progress, that they ultimately fit into and contribute perfectly to that work even though they are presently problematic to us.

Why would I say that?  Because I know that difficulties or hardships are always part of a work in progress.  They are always part of a movie, which is a work in progress, a two-hour development of a (fictional) person.  Every movie has a part where the success of the protagonist’s quest is severely threatened and even seems impossible, a part where the protagonist doesn’t have what he needs and seemingly won’t get it, a part where the protagonist is greatly troubled and unhappy.  I’ve heard some writers refer to this as “putting the hero up a tree and then throwing rocks at him.”  Screenwriter Blake Snyder calls it “Bad Guys Close In” or “Ordeal”, as you can see below.

Image result for blake snyder the bad guys close in

Can you imagine what mistakes we’d make if we judged a movie at that point in the story?  What if we walked out of a film at that stage of the progression?  What if we said, “George Lucas cut off Luke Skywalker’s hand; I can’t believe in a writer who would do something like that?” or anything similar.  It would be ludicrous.  I think we all know that.

We are making the same mistake when we walk out on God’s progressions, the character arcs He is putting us and everyone around us through, at such a point.  It is easier to do that in real life; real life character arcs are much longer/more prolonged than movie ones.  But they are the same thing.  It is quite possible that the things the singer of the above song faults God for are not the end of that person’s story but merely the “Bad Guys Close In” part.  He might never be aware of that; we rarely get to watch an entire life the way we watch an infinitely shorter and more accessible film.  But that could be what these things are.  The poverty these people are in could very well end and give way to provision.  The rejection they experience could turn into acceptance.  It is hard to tell what could happen to these situations and the people in them.  They aren’t done yet. What is easy to tell, though, is that the disbelief based on these situations is completely debunked if they do turn.  And that puts that disbelief on very shaky ground.  Judging God based on something that isn’t done yet, refusing to believe in God because of a situation that is in progress and far from being resolved, walking out on God’s character arcs at the “Bad Guys Close In” part, just isn’t as wise as the song makes it seem.  It is incredibly unwise.

Of course, this error can be solved with the same truth the other could be: an acknowledgement of the goodness of God.  I think that is the better way to solve it, in fact.  But it also can be solved in this way: an acknowledgement that the things we don’t like aren’t done yet, and could turn out far differently than we think, an acknowledgement that we are refusing belief a little prematurely.

The Foundational Question Part 2

There is another way people get tripped up on this foundational question, another way they work the God equation wrongly.  There is a worse way they work this equation wrongly, or, more accurately, a worse way they approach the equation. The guy I mentioned in the previous post simply couldn’t work the equation; he wanted to, but because he didn’t start/didn’t know to start from the foundational truth that God was good, he was unable to.  He got stuck in the middle of the equation somewhere.  He just couldn’t do the math.

Image result for impossible math problem

Some others I’ve met, though, won’t do that math.  It’s not that they can’t work the equation but that they refuse to.  It’s not that they get stuck somewhere in the middle but that they get stuck at the end.  They look at the answer (or what they think is the answer, what they think the answer will be), they don’t like it, and they walk away from it.

What I’m talking about here is any kind of statement that beings, “I can’t (won’t, refuse  to, etc.) believe in any god who_____”  Any number of things can go in that blank space.  I’m sure you know that.  I’m sure you’ve heard this before.  I’ve heard it many times before.  Probably the first was in the movie Star Trek 5 which I saw in the theater in my early teen years.

I remember being mildly disturbed by that at the time.  I guess I thought it was pretty sensible, that Dr. McCoy had a pretty strong argument against God.  In the years that followed, I would meet real life people who made similar statements and would be even more disturbed.

I am less disturbed by these statements now (I’m less disturbed by what they might/might not say about the existence of God, anyway; I remain disturbed by what they say about people’s logic and hearts).  I am less disturbed by them because I realize how terribly they are handling the God equation.  There are a few ways this approach mishandles the God equation; it treats the question of God’s existence as a subjective preference rather than an absolute reality, it assumes a morally superiority to God (which is impossible; the created cannot be more moral than the Creator), it is self-defeating (it literally says, “God can’t exist because I don’t like Him,” which is an inherent contradiction), it jumps much further into the equation than it needs to (for more on this idea, see this post).  But, perhaps most fatally, it makes the same mistake my friend from the previous post made: it does not start at the starting point; it does not account for God’s goodness.  To use math terms, it does not “carry” the goodness of God.

And that is what has to happen if we are to work the God equation correctly.  The goodness of God has to be carried into every situation in which God’s actions are being questioned.  To be sure, there are times when God does things which do not seem good to us, times when He seems similar to whatever it was Dr. McCoy and the Enterprise crew encountered in Star Trek 5.  That shouldn’t be as surprising as it is, though.  The actions of superior beings are often confusing to inferior beings.  They often seem not good or even bad to the inferior beings.  Tim Keller has mentioned this a few times on Facebook and Twitter.

I see it in my own home as well.  I do all sorts of things that seem not good or even bad to my grade-school daughter.  And, as we adults all know, the reason those things seem not good or bad to her is that she doesn’t know how to live life like I do, how to pay bills and manage diets and ensure everybody in the house gets enough sleep.  It is an inescapable truth that goodness doesn’t always look like goodness, that what looks bad may in fact not actually be bad (or as bad as it seems).

And that inescapable truth simply has to be incorporated into the God equation.  It has to be taken into account.  To fail to do so is not to be righteous (and Star Trek 5 was without a doubt asserting Dr. McCoy’s righteousness in his opposition to that “god”).  It is not even to be righteously indignant.  It is just bad math.