Category Archives: Wrestling with God

How does one understand the one who is beyond human understanding? Not without a lot of wrestling!

The Shack

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I already know that the theology police are not super happy, their citation pads are out and they are furiously scribbling down infractions. What has them so upset? The Shack is now a movie. It’s not just the theology police either, I imagine the theatrical police have their issues as well. It’s always difficult for actors to depict convincingly for the screen spiritual struggle. I will leave the varying theological and theatrical policing blogs to do their necessary work. As for me, I only want to comment on how I believe the movie managed to capture powerfully the big ideas of what it means to be a Christian person connected to God in the midst of grief.

A Christian person — To be a Christian, is to get to a point where you agree with God that he is good and to be trusted. Jesus, God in the flesh, is the vital link in getting us to that place. We are told, that when you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen God. You must walk with Jesus to avoid sinking into the black abyss of guilt, shame and bitterness. In this movie Christianity is portrayed simply as being friends with Jesus, trusting him. It’s not about religion, or keeping a list of rules, or paying for past sins. Both Mack and his older daughter blamed themselves for the death of Missy. The older daughter was fooling around in the canoe. In her mind it was her irresponsibility cost Missy’s life. For Mack he was sure that this unspeakable tragedy was the result of his own past sins. Both their lives became stuck in the quicksand of guilt and shame. Because of Jesus’ love and sacrifice they both came to believe that the time for blame and guilt was over. Bad stuff happens, our hearts break, we suffer, great sadness occurs, but we don’t get stuck, we trust that through it all God will do what is good and right and true. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Connected to God — God is depicted as a trinity so that we can see that the Christian God is fundamentally relational. Love is possible only in relationship and the Father, Son and Spirit have that in bucket loads. God’s invites us into this love. In the movie God reminds Mack regularly that he is especially fond of him and all humans. That was a tough one for Mack to accept, and it’s a tough one for all humans to accept. We all must suffer and we all must die. Reconciling human suffering with God’s goodness is not a new conundrum, and this movie offers nothing new in resolving that tension, except in this movie God gets to answer directly the charges levelled against him. I found God’s explanations in the context of this movie powerful and helpful.  All three persons of the trinity, are shown to feel our pain. That’s the reason all three have nail prints.  God changes his appearance in order to help us understand that he knows what we need when we need it. God is portrayed as all knowing, but yet keenly interested in our lives. And though God loves all his children, he is not disinterested in justice either. In the end we are told that God will make right judgements upon his wayward children, however, we are also told in compelling fashion, that this job of ultimate justice is better left with God. The perpetrator is never caught, justice never served in the movie. Even still Papa wants Mack to “remove his hand from the throat” of this terrible predator. Forgiveness is the only way forward, but by forgiving Mack is also entrusting himself to the judge of all the earth who will judge rightly.

In the midst of Grief — When we suffer, we have to realize that we don’t have the complete perspective. We can only see through the “knothole of our own grief.” The garden in the movie is an absolute mess from Mack’s perspective, but when the shot pans out and you see the garden from the air, mess turns into beauty. God is not the ultimate source of evil, human free will prevents that conclusion, however, God is actively working in and through evil to bring about a greater good, good that we can’t always see, but must learn to trust is there.

I think if every person walked away from this movie, having taken into their hearts the above conclusions about Christianity, God, and grief. The world would be an infinitely better place.

Delighting in the Trinity

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“God is Love” is always a much more interesting topic than “God is Trinity” however, Reeves contends that we can appreciate God as love only because God is Trinity. As Reeves made pains to prove his thesis, I did not feel like I was reading another theological treatise on the unassailable doctrine of the Trinity, rather it read like a friendly invitation to discover and love the triune God. Also I found salient, humorous, and fascinating little historical gems scattered throughout the book, which made the read even better.

Reeves asks the question; “What was God doing for all eternity?” His answer:  loving the son. (John 17:24-26)  The trinity gives us a completely unique vision of an eternally loving God. Love happens in the context of a relationship. The trinity makes it possible for there to be a divine relationship. Drawing this connection between trinity and true love is not a new concept, Richard of St. Victor centuries ago understood the triune love with the term “sharing”. “Its not that God becomes sharing he’s always been sharing, he is Triune. If God were just one person he could not be intrinsically loving.” 

The Trinity and Apologetics — The concept of the Trinity is so good in Reeves mind that it makes other religions look, well, not so good. Islam in particular, is a target: Love demands a relationship or it doesn’t exist. The Quran teaches that Allah is loving which means, he must be dependent upon his creation in order for that to be true. But the Quran also teaches that Allah is dependent on no one. This creates a conundrum with no way out, but not if one believes in a non-solitary God as Trinitarians do.

The Trinity and the submission of women to men? — For many I Cor 11:3  But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. has long been a verse used to teach submission, and in particular at it most practical level the need for women to submit to men. Since Jesus submits to the Father so to should women submit to men. Reeves doesn’t take that approach. He see’s this passage as “A gracious cascade, a waterfall of love”  For Reeves the focus is not on submission rather love. he doesn’t deny headship, but he doesn’t describe it either, he sidesteps it.

“For eternity, the Father so loves the Son that he excites the Son’s eternal love in response; Christ so loves the church that he excites our love in response; the husband so loves his wife that he excites her to love him back. Such is the spreading goodness that rolls out of the very being of this God.”

To me the passage and it’s context is still confusing, but I like Reeves generous attempt to infuse the entire passage with love, even though I don’t quite see it in the text like he does.

Does everything hang on the trinity? I’m wondering if perhaps he attributes a little to much to the triune God. Good can’t exist without the Trinity. Evil has no real explanation with out the Trinity. Love appears to be void of meaning without the Trinity, God becomes an empty word without the Trinity etc. etc. I get it, he is making the case for loving the Trinity. I think Trinitarians have probably not done enough to imagine and appreciate the implications of a robust acceptance of the doctrine, so I’m inclined to give Reeves an “At a Boy” and not an “Easy Tiger” on this.

The best way to understand God. God is not an abstract quality he is a loving father. The Scripture doesn’t suggest that God becomes a father at some point, rather he always was a father. That is how he is known. God is a father by virtue of his relationship with his son. God should not be viewed primarily as creator or ruler, but instead as a loving Father. Humans are the creative result of an overflow of love. Reeves describes the human originating from “The overflowing joy of the heavenly harmony bursting out!” Who doesn’t like that? But you only get to that vision of humanity if you have a non-solitary God who is truly love.

The whole “Solitary God” thing just isn’t cool

From Reeves’ pen straight up…

For strip down God and make him lean and you must strip down his salvation and make it mean. Instead of a life bursting with love, joy and fellowship, all you will be left with is the watery gruel of religion. Instead of a loving father, a distant potentate; instead of fellowship, contract. No security in the beloved Son, no heart change, no joy in God that the Spirit brings

Reeves is not kidding around here

If he is not essentially triune then he is not essentially loving and it’s a real reason why Atheists would prefer no God over this grizzly image of the single person loner ruler God.

I was really captured by this book. It didn’t help me understand the Trinity any more but it helped me appreciate the Trinity way more. The Trinity is not an insignificant doctrine that demarcates Christianity from everyone else, its the diamond in the crown of Christianity.

The Trinity of God is the secret of his beauty — Karl Barth

If we try to think about God without thinking about the Father, Son & Spirit, then only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God — John Calvin

The Enlightenments Effect of Religion – Good or Bad?

They agreed that anyone who refused to seek the  Lord, the God of Israel, would be put to death—whether young or old male or female — 2 Chron 15:13

Then when the Sacred months have passed, kill the Mushrikun (Idol worshipers including trinitarian Christians)  wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them and prepare for them each and every ambush. — Surah At-Tauba 9:5

But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! — Matt 5:44

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With the exception of Jesus’ counter cultural words in Matthew 5, the two passages from the Bible and the Quran above are perfect examples of what religion was capable of prior to the Enlightenment.

For some in the religious community the coming of the Enlightenment will be seen as a disaster for faith. I don’t see it that way. Thanks to the enlightenment in the west, Religion was transformed from an involuntary truth to a voluntarily accepted possibility. The movement from involuntary to voluntary transformed how the vast majority of the Western world understands religion today. I believe the shift from involuntary to voluntary is a good one that the entire world should embrace.

As crashing waves slowly erode a shore line, the enlightenments steady pounding of “question everything, believe nothing, human reason above all” began to fracture the steady shorelines of Europe. Nothing could stop this tide. The mantra of “human reason first of all” created healthy (and unhealthy) scepticism which eroded irreversibly so much of what was involuntarily accepted as true in that day, no place was left untouched by this rising tide, most especially religion. The firm shorelines of religion in Europe began to crumble for some very understandable reasons:

There had been a couple hundred years of religious war between Catholics and Protestants which had ended in stailmate with all sides exhausted, and beginning to think “there has to be a better way”. In addition the development of dozens and dozens of denominations since the reformation was enough to cause even the most religious of people that niggling feeling in the back of their mind that the right path to God might be little more than a best guess.  Then it happened, science slipped passed theology in the race for supremacy. God no longer informed us about science. Science informed us about God. Eventually, sufficient amounts of doubt took the fight out of religious zealots. Was there really a need to clobber someone over the head just because they didn’t believe as you did? The answer was becoming increasingly clear: No.

If one wished to journey towards God that trip would have to be a voluntary trip  based on all sorts of information, evidence, tradition and experience. Before the enlightenment, the idea of voluntary religion was unthinkable. Theology was at the heart of knowing. Ones understanding of God was all that mattered everything else in life was just details. People were born into certain systems of belief and these systems were true and unquestioned. To wander from the truth for any reason was dangerous to the community and damning for the soul. Thus responsible leaders both political, military and religious embraced their duty to stamp out heresy and false belief. The eternal destiny of their people mandated aggressive action. The assumption of meta-physical truth being known conclusively is what the enlightenment destroyed.

Many parts of Islam have not yet gone through any sort of enlightenment. Unlike Western religions, Islam is not a voluntary belief system yet, that means it’s adherents  are not free to determine the legitimacy or illegitimacy of their faith. For many Muslim systems, the Quran (and Hadith in some cases) is still the diffinitive truth that must be believed at all costs. Life both now and forever depend on it. Any threat to this belief must be destroyed.

  • Ancient Jews were part of an involuntary system of religion. (Hence the verse above)
  • Middle age & post reformation Christians were part of an involuntary system of religion, (Hence the religious wars in Europe during that era) — Sadly, Jesus’ call to love those in opposition was pushed aside in this era.  The most important thing in order to maintain law and order was to punish someone whose belief system was not in accord with everyone else’s.
  • Many modern day Islamists are still a part of an involuntary system of religion.  (Hence the never ending gruesome news reports coming from many Muslim countries around the world) as long as a belief system remains a compulsory non optional reality, for it’s followers, there will always be bloodshed. Protecting the absolute truth of ones belief system will always be infinitely more important than the life of ones enemy or even ones own life as the seemingly endless line of suicide bombers testify.

Granted, it’s disconcerting for a faith position to be relegated to optional. Jesus for example, claimed that he was “the truth” such definitive statements don’t leave a whole lot of options on the table.  How must a doubt soaked post enlightenment Christian come to grips with this claim? How must he share this claim with others?

Let healthy doubt create humility. What would be wrong with saying “Jesus might be the truth, and this is why I think he is”? Nothing in my estimation. We will never go back to involuntary religion, so the verbal bluster that comes from that era should be dropped. I also think we should take seriously, the words that Jesus gave us about loving those who oppose us. In the post enlightenment scientifically based world it will be impossible to know with clinical certainty existential truth based on ancient historical narrative, therefore we simply can’t have an arrogant swagger when it comes to presenting what we believe to be true. Faith is the confidence we have in what we cannot see, but our senses will more easily grasp what cannot be seen, if everything we do is wrapped in love.  This is good advice for all the religions of the world.

This less dogmatic, more unsure stance will be completely unpalatable for some strong believers who have managed to avoid the doubt that comes with the enlightenment. For me, letting go of some certainty regarding my faith is a tremendous step forward in developing a world of peaceful coexistence, and even peaceful cooperation. Easing up on personal certitude in order to embrace the free will that comes with voluntary religion is infinitely better than the shallow benefits of confidence, conformity, and security that come with involuntary religion.

 

 

 

 

Become a Muslim Like Jeff?

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Jeffrey Lang grew up in an abusive home, his nominal Catholic faith provided him no solace for the suffering he endured. By his mid teen age years he had become a convinced atheist. In his 20’s a friend handed him a Quran, he started reading, over time he left atheism and embraced the way of Islam. Why?

According to Lang, Islam is better because unlike Christianity, human suffering is not a result of God’s angry judgement. In the beginning according to Lang’s interpretation of the Quran, there is no great sin that brought condemnation to the human race. There was only a little “slip up”. God didn’t get angry or feel threatened by this inconsequential eating of unauthorized fruit.

The big idea of the ancient Adam and Eve narrative is not one of divine judgment and human brokeness, rather divine mercy and human preparation. God does not punish Adam and Eve, rather he blesses them and tells them not to be afraid or sad. The “slip up” was part of their training. Now they must use their reason to choose God in the midst of suffering.

The choice between right and wrong is always a struggle (Jihad), but by using the facility of reason & intellect the right choices can be made and the relationship with God strengthened. Salvation comes through the work of the mind. Lang confesses that the greatest problem with unbelievers (non-muslims) is their inability to think properly  “Unbelief in Islam, is an infirmity of the mind” Lang says.

The point of Islam is to have a close relationship with God. Since God is transcendent how is that even possible? The Quran describes God as compassionate, merciful, forgiving, just, protective, wise, generous, truthful, and peaceful. All of these attributes are the seeds of God that reside in every human. When we love God by living out these attributes in the everyday God loves us back. These seeds of divinity grow into full flower as we yield to the will of God and this is how we find ourselves in close relationship with him.

Suffering is good because with out it, we could never learn to use our reason and make the right choices to live out the attributes of God. When we fail to water the seeds of divinity in us, we destroy ourselves, thus sin is simply self destruction. Hell then is not so much a punishment from God, as it is the ultimate self destruction

I’m happy for Lang, in that he certainly seems to have found the solace he was looking for. I think he misunderstands the Christian story and I am not entirely sure he’s got the Muslim story right either. But lets assume for the sake of this article he has the Islamic story correct. What are the big differences?

  1. Christianity emphasizes human brokeness, Lang’s Islam does not. At first, this dismissal of sin and all of it’s attendant guilt and shame might seem to be a great idea. But for me, it does not ring true. We all swim in oceans of guilt and to shrug off our bad choices as insignificant “slip ups” doesn’t actually help us understand justice or even address what is wrong in our lives. Through the cross we understand clearly both the justice and mercy of God.
  2. I appreciate Lang’s emphasis on the need for human reason and choice, however, as a Christian I know that even the deep thoughts of my heart are often corrupted. Even my virtue in the blink of an eye can become vice. I need a Saviour to redeem me. In the Christian story it’s not the long hard climb upwards towards God through rational thought that’s beautiful, It’s God’s condescension to me. In my blindness he gives me sight, In my sickness he makes me whole, in my weakness and inability he empowers me. I love the idea of God coming to the rescue, and that’s what happens in the story of Jesus.

A curious observation: I agree with Lang about the need for the human to choose. Islam is the better story to him and he has chosen it, it makes the most sense to his mathematical mind. I respect that choice, even though I don’t agree with it.  I wish all Muslim’s would be so generous when it comes to the matter of religious choice. Let’s turn the story around a little bit. Is there any doubt as to what would have happened to Jeffrey Lang, if he had been born Mohammed Al Ghamdi in Saudi Arabia? Let’s imagine, for a moment, that someone gave him a Bible in his mid twenties and through secret study he decided that Christianity was the better story. In his enthusiasm for his new religion he begins to speak out in his home town of Medina that Jesus is his Saviour. I am certain we wouldn’t be listening to his speeches for long, we would be visiting his grave site instead. In our pluralistic world of today, something is wrong when a religion forces it’s adherence to believe on pain of death. I hope Lang’s message of free choice goes a long way in the house of Islam.

Jeffs islam vs Christianity

Don’t let disappointment destroy you

Don’t let disappointment destroy you. 3 min video

Is there away to prevent yourself from becoming bitter when others let you down? The only way that I know of I learned from Jesus.

God butcher these people!

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Drag these people away like sheep to be butchered! Set them aside to be slaughtered!(Jeremiah 12:3)

This seems so barbarous, so unlike Jesus. But I should remember that these are people of power and influence who are abusing hurting & killing innocent people. This is the guttural cry for justice. In my world injustice has been pushed to the margins. My worst injustice is encountering a pot smoker at a park, stepping on dog poop, or meeting an overzealous traffic cop. In my comfortable, safe, predictable environment of North American Western society it becomes easy for me to sit in judgment of verses like this one. But put me in a war-torn environment where I have had to endure murder, corruption and scandal, and I would probably really resonate with this verse.

Why Do I Need God?

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Its another beautiful day in Vancouver, the fountains at Lost Lagoon soothe me, the beauty of the mountains and trees amaze me, the sun warms me, I breathe in deeply the fresh air invigorates me. My belly is full, thanks to a wife who loves me. I sit here without fear. This is Canada, we love peace & simplicity. The turtles are sunning themselves on the log, a swan glides gracefully by, these are the reassurances of the serenity that I have found. The question rises, “Why do I need God?” An answer does not immediately come. I think for a minute, the wind picks up a bit, a swallow races by my head, effortlessly defying gravity. A crow makes it’s presence known. Could I not just be content with the natural beauties of this world and leave God out of it? There are these things in this world, be amazed, enjoy them and leave it at that. The crow has found two peanuts, he is greedy, so he works hard to fit them both into his beak, he is unsuccessful. He stands in danger of losing everything as three smaller birds hop towards him. In the end he takes one, and hides it by a lamp post, then dashes back to grab the remaining morsel and fly off. What’s wrong with greed? The crow knows that he needs food or he dies, he cares nothing for other birds, and why should he, is not life about survival? The tour guide Dan stops by, he has people from St Louis, Virginia, & Edmonton, now I am learning all about Stanley Park, evidently it took 70 years to build the sea wall, each rock laid by hand. Dan is good, he has everybody laughing, it’s clear he loves his job. Why do we love? Love seems to mess with this idea of survival as the primary thing. I know of people who for love have forfeited their own lives. My mind drifts back to my original question “why do I need God?” A beautiful woman just sat down one bench over, she’s delicate, yet appears strong, she has a beauty about her that draws me in, the breeze loosens her hair, a soft hand reaches up to address the erring lock. I want to imagine certain pleasures with her, a man comes up and asks her for the time, does he really want to know the time? She’s writing now, I imagine she’s writing wonderful things about me. Faithfulness, that’s what I start thinking about, a picture of my wife flashes through my mind. What’s so bad about unfaithfulness? Back to my question — It’s the story really, I want a meta narrative, a grand story that helps me find the proper place for greed, for love, and for unfaithfulness. A framework that helps me identify a right path and a wrong path. Ultimate meaninglessness as a grand story and the human as the central figure of that story leave me feeling bloated and hollow. I want to believe that life is so much more than the material world, so much more than me. I want to believe in things like redemption, hope, and happy endings. I want the beauty of nature that I am experiencing today to point me in a direction toward someone, someone greater than us all. Perhaps this is why I need God.

The Animal in Me

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If ever I was to believe in the way of nature over the way of grace it would be because of who I am. In my natural state I am not much different than an animal. I want to kill, I want to copulate. There really isn’t much more to it than that. I sustain my self through consumption. I am alive only because something else dies — it really is a dog eat dog world — So is it not unreasonable to think that the human created God as a means to prevent his own extinction? It is reasonable but it is also awful. I don’t want to believe this. The blunt book of time, chance and matter that culminates in ultimate meaninglessness has no room for transcendence or love, there is no chapter for longing or courage, no place for dreams or destiny, there is no page in this story for hope, eternity or any of the deeper things. Granted, these urges, these desires, these instincts, the rough deadly, & uncaring world that is our home makes way for brute nature as the only story to be believed, but could there be another, equally reasonable way of seeing life? Yes, it’s a glorious story of hope and salvation, love and longing, peace and eternity. It’s a story worth shaping ones life around. Believe the Better StoryMetacommunities.ca

The Iron Fist of Justice

You must show no pity for the guilty! Your rule should be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Deut 19:21

The God of justice:  firm, strict, unmoving, unbending. If you break the law you must be punished to the fullest extent of the law. There is no wiggle room there is no escape. Justice is an iron unforgiving fist and so must it be. Justice and fairness for all means people cannot and should not get away from the consequences of evil. But yet somehow this is not a cause for celebration. All humans deep down know they are guilty. Is there a way to escape justice and still be “right”? Only if somebody takes justices punishment for you. God himself steps forward in the person of Jesus Christ and says I’ll take their guilt have no pity on me! Justice is served, the guilty are free, and a life-changing relationship between the human and the Divine is born.

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Where is God Today?

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Psalm 145:5-6
4 Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts;
let them proclaim your power.
5 I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor
and your wonderful miracles.

God is worth worshiping, obeying and praising because God has acted in time and space in human history. When the people of God were delivered from Egypt, they actually experienced the events of God’s miraculous intervention. Do the people of God today experience such things? Not so much. Interestingly, this Psalm was written about 1000 years after the events It speaks of.  We in modern times prefer current events over history. We want the God of today not yesterday. We want the God of the now not the God of the future. This is understandable. The cry of our time is ” live in the moment” but where is God in the every day? Sometimes I don’t know, except to say “to love another person is to see the face of God” True God faith will result in sacrificial love for other people which will make the world a better place. To believe in God is to walk away from self absorption. Though I can’t see God I can see his path and I like it very much.