In Spite of Jesus (Part One)

IMG_3792Originally, this¬†post was a lot of words. With our society’s attention span measured in tweets, I’ve decided to split this post into three. ūüėČ

Yesterday, I had a 2+ hour long conversation with a friend regarding Christianity and atheism. I learned a little of his faith journey from growing up in a Christian household to going to Bible college, becoming a youth pastor, exploring many different denominations, and finally concluding that atheism made the most sense to him. I shared a little of what helped me personally to understand some of the more frustrating questions of an equally loving and holy God. In the end, though we agreed to disagree, we found common ground, walked there for a while, and were not afraid to civilly discuss contentious questions of faith and reason. I thank God for such honest conversations with people who believe differently than me!

In the spirit of not shying away from the difficult and of seeing hope in the confusing aspects of faith, I want to expound on something my friend said that really stuck out to me. At one point, the conversation turned to the topic of sanctification, and the Holy Spirit’s work in the Christian’s life. Understandably, my friend expressed the inconsistency of how Christians are called to and supposedly are able through God’s power to lead a radically changed life vs. the fact that throughout history and even today Christians are some of the most judgmental, hateful, and downright mean people on this planet. He explained that¬†he felt the unchanged life of the majority of Christians throughout history is one evidence of its falsehood. And then he said something very true and very sad:

In spite of Jesus, Christians continue to do and justify awful things.

I cannot and will not deny that fact. However, I don’t believe this fact diminishes who God is any more than an encounter with some bad doctors who misdiagnose me causes me to believe that all doctors are ignorant, or that the medical schools these doctors went to were bunk (though certainly some of them are). The bad doctors certainly enhance my skepticism and give rise to doubts. But I also realize that a person can conceivably¬†ignore or diminish what they have been taught. The student does not always do what his teacher says.

I’m not completely satisfied with my¬†answer, so I decided to see what the Scriptures say about the Holy Spirit’s work in a person’s life, the presence of sin, the Christian’s ability to choose, and the high potential for hypocrisy.

Does the Bible explain the inconsistency or does it provide further evidence that Christianity is like a medical school with no credentials that is mostly just useful in producing expert hypocrites and dogmatists?

To be continued…

Evolution, Suffering and Story Arcs

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Young earth creationist friends, this post will probably not resonate with you at all. In fact, it may make you angry. I ask that you would be gentle and not condemning if you comment, and that you would consider more than one possibility of how God created the world. Check out some BioLogos.

For hours now, I have been trying to come up with theories (assuming both evolution and a loving God are true) of why God would allow pain and death (animal at least, if not human) before the Fall. I thought that the ultimate thing that would bring doubt about God’s apparent-goodness/existence (our culture tends to assume the two are synonymous) for me was the existence of evil itself. But though mysteries continue to abound in that area, the plot thickens ever further as I try to reconcile real science with the¬†real God of Christianity. And not being a scientist makes the effort that much more frustrating.

There are many questions about God and life that come back to bite me again and again. Some of my questions have been understood with experience. Some are answered by study and the help of the Holy Spirit. And some are unsolvable conundrums.

Regarding this agonizing question, absolutely no theory on the internet or what I have tried to come up with in my head makes any sense. I¬†know I am like a sheep trying to understand the ways of its shepherd, and the analogy certainly helps. But it feels like I am watching my shepherd beat his sheep (and himself) to death just to bring about new life. Jesus’ parables and teachings are full of apparent paradox (as opposed to true paradox), and I know that He says that He who tries to save his life will lose it but he who lays down his life will find it…but–but–HUH? Is there no other way to bring life than through suffering? How is this the only way?

There are endless examples in nature of how death brings about life. Consider the food chain. Consider the fact that humans¬†have to eat food, thereby killing a plant or animal, in order to live. Let’s think about this practically. We all hate suffering. We all hate death. However, would you trade this¬†world we live in with such rich and diverse tastes of plant and animal life for nutritious and edible plastics and tin cans?

If not animals, most of us can stomach the death of plants. After all, we like to live. But the suffering and death of humans is an entirely different story. It’s personal.

What¬†kind of stories do you like? Do you like the ones where nothing bad ever happens, where there is no need for resolution because there was never any¬†problem to resolve? Or¬†are you more inspired by the traditional story arc of inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution? Generally speaking, the world a protagonist¬†lives in initially is quite stable–one might even say it is good or at least livable (if only for a sentence or two). But very quickly, something goes wrong and our hero is thrust into turmoil. The details of the journey thereafter is what makes a good story great.

I don’t believe human death¬†did¬†exist before the fall. But¬†if it did, it doesn’t diminish God’s goodness. One thing is for sure: God does not enjoy pain. He does not delight in evil. Jesus wept. Before dying on the cross to save us from eternal condemnation, Jesus asked His Father if there was any other way for Him to restore the world. But there¬†was only one option. Maybe its the same with evolution, and with death before the Fall. Perhaps the only way we could have such diversity and complexity of life–the only way we could experience life to the full and learn to trust our Creator–the only way we can¬†have the resolution we long for–is to live the story arc. And living the story will create the beauty of the resolution we never could have experienced¬†had pain never entered the picture. God only knows.

8 hours later…I read this in a Lent devotional,¬†40 Days of Decrease

Process can be a troublesome thing. It disrupts us and disorients us and we would much rather skip to the end. But to live true, we must allow process to run its course. Question it, weep through it, agonize over it . . . but, for the sake of our souls, we dare not truncate process because time alone makes its work soul-deep.

Today, fast premature resolution. Resist tidying up when you are in the muddy middle of the process of obedience-in-the-making. Befriend undone. Name the trouble. Like Jesus, talk to yourself and your Father God. Ask Him if alternative routes exist again and again and again . . . until you push through resistance, pass around resentment, press past resignation, and emerge into willful (even if tearful) partnership with God.