Tuesday, October 31, 2006

a cruel God

(disclaimer: warning, some theological BASE jumping here...)

nope, you're right

i definately have a tough time with the 'big cruel God' thing... however, as i started typing the drivel below my brain started to do some backflips which may or may not make sense... let me try to put the ideas together.

in my understanding of it (bereft of any supplemental consultation with our friends at either biblegateway.com or dictionary.com LOL) the whole notion of cruelty turns around not only one person's propensity to act in his or her own self-interest at the expense of all others, but to draw great satisfaction from the pain inflicted upon others in the process. ability, opportunity and motive are all part of the deal.

it is for this reason that i really push back against the whole 'cruel God' idea because most of the time it is embraced by those who are seeking someone to blame for the things that they hate or cannot explain. might as well project responsibility upon someone invisible- provides a bit of counterfeit comfort.

okay, here's a question: are cruelty and responsibility the same?

(i know i'm already in trouble here because H subscribes to much of emmanuel levinas' ideas on responsibility, but i'll let him tell everyone more about that)

i mean, we leap to the conclusion that one who is capable of preventing them but permits awful happenings must do so because that one draws some sick pleasure from the pain of others. you know what? in my view, no God would be better than a God like that... if that's who God is then i'll take my chances and not give him my love or my devotion...maybe there's someone else up there i can talk to.

but then we get all this stuff about bad things happening to good people going on, and the age old questions don't really go away when we default to 'who can say?'...

we need someone to blame.

blame God- it's easy... he's invisible and doesn't contest our blasphemies with miracles, signs or wonders- he just lets us choose to believe what we want- even about his very character.

the heart of God must be a ragged mess.

i know that my own skimpy picture of right and wrong bristles when i hear people attribute stupid, humanly preventable tragedies to God's 'plan.' as i've mentioned in this blog before, we saw through the loss of two of my wife's brothers in three months to automobile accidents. one sunny morning in july of 2003, my brother in law went face to face with a semi as he drove to work... no one has ever been able to explain what happened there. then, three months later to the day, another brother in law and his wife and her young daughter collided with a drunk driver in the middle of the night, claiming not only the lives of my brother-in-law and his soul mate, but that of the driver of the other vehicle as well... there was no one we could even hate over it. both of these tragedies just happened.

as angry and confused as i was about it at the time (and still am- the three-year anniversary of losing my dear friend and brother-in-law terry was october 11) i just couldn't blame 'God's plan' for the night when this one drunken bastard left a wedding in his car and was able to drive an hour and a half in the dark with his lights off before running head-on into the front of my brother-in-law's van as he and his wife of only six-months and her daughter were travelling back home after a dance competition.

what the heck would be the point of blaming God? wouldn't bring anybody back. three people died in that crash and the young dancer had to work obsessively at her physiotherapy once all the skin and bone-grafting had healed just to walk again, much less dance (which she did, by the way... she danced at the same event a year later.)

but is God cruel because he doesn't prevent these local tragedies, much less things like the holocaust? is there something that we, in our temporal subjectivity might be missing?

well what if God IS the cruel one? if you twist it around just so, you just might be able to make a case for it and still remain mildly orthodox...

here's what i'm thinking: God can prevent all bad things. however, he doesn't- he has made a deal to permit all of humankind with freedom of will and he's not backing out now. would it be fair to say that God draws satisfaction from permitting us to make up our own minds about things that we believe or don't believe, things we do or don't do etc? well, he's either satisfied or putting up with it for some reason because this appears to be our causal cage whether we like it or not.

is satisfaction pleasure?
could be.

and if it is, then can God be seen as drawing pleasure from allowing us to make the decisions we make even though he can see they are going to bring about pain and consequence for ourselves and others, as well as himself? if so then here lies the cruelty of God...

to agree to abide by our stupid decisions because he derives more pleasure from our freedom to choose life or love or pride or pain than he derives from happiness- ours and his own.

who is really to blame here?

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Getting Tough?

hey gang
i'm gonna go out on a limb here and post a note that hineini sent me recently.
it prompted some pretty cool discussion on legalism and what the role of law actually was/is/is to be for the nation of israel- the pharisees in particular- which i might post sometime...

(jump in anytime h to clarify)

The Gospel of John 8:1-11 recounts a story most of us are very familiar with. A crowd brings a woman to Jesus telling him “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery”. The story tells how the teachers of the law remind Jesus of the harsh punishment that the law given to Moses demands in the situation. I can hear the fear in the crowd that approaches Jesus, these are life and death things. Not only is the woman’s life at stake but so is the well being of the community and its members. The law given to Moses is what held the community together for centuries. The story says the people who brought the woman to Jesus were using the situation as a trap for Jesus. Probably, many of them saw Jesus as a threat to how things were, the health and safety of their communities and their faith. Maybe some of them hoped that Jesus wasn’t as radical as they had heard, that he really didn’t want to change things too much and maybe they were offering Jesus an opportunity to ease their fears, an olive branch if you will.

Well, we know how the story ends. Jesus, without denying the importance of the law, instead urges leniency, revealing to everyone there that they were all law breakers; they were all in a position deserving of punishment. In a truly wonderful gesture, Jesus, instead of demanding punishment for all, watches those who would condemn face their own faults until there is no condemnation for anyone, simply forgiveness. “Has no one condemned you?” Jesus asks her and when she replies “No one” he says “Then neither do I condemn you.”.

It was this story that passed through my mind when I received the last mailing from my local Member of Parliament (MP). The mailing entitled “Cracking Down On Crime” described the parties eagerness to “get tough” on “criminals“. I’m not sure why but the image of that woman, cowering at Jesus’ feet, probably pretty certain she was going to die, stayed with me as I read through the mailing. I could hear the crowd demanded Jesus “get tough” with the “criminal” as I read how new laws were being readied that seek to punish people even further. In the end though, as I finished reading the party’s ideas it’s Jesus, and his soft, kind and forgiving words to that very vulnerable woman that gets me thinking that “getting tough” on “criminals” might not be what I’m called to support.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006


So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.
(philippians 1.9-11- The Message)

i was thinking a lot about the whole phil1 thing the other night before our church board meeting. however, i didn’t want to preach a whole ‘sermon’ on it (a sermon and a board meeting? too much, even for these amazing saints that sit on our board…) so there were some things that i wanted to say but didn’t. it's tough when you know that you only have room for a devotional and yet the message burning within you is bigger than that.

you see, my mentor had asked me a really good question a week earlier and it was still alive in me when i read this passage. the question was a simple one: who are we attracting to this church?

later on that week, with such a question richocheting around in the cavernous hallways of my brain, i was able to separately meet with members of four different households that have just recently begun to call this place and the people who worship here 'home.' what was really neat was how, although completely unsolicited by me, they all volunteered some pieces of the answer to the big question of the day...

in each case these relative newcomers reflected upon how this little church was (my words now) both receiving and accepting; in each case there was a person who had been hurt by the religious establishment and had been prompted by God through another believer to give this whole fellowship road another go...

apparently my answer was right in front of me...
my answer even had faces.
those who are hurting and in need of healing within a loving and accepting environment.

so reading phil1 with all of this life going on was affirming:
love is both our message and our method
love is both our raison d'etre and our modus operendi.
love is the point.

but here's the thing that i didn't have time to share: the love that we share, which originates from the Spirit of the Living God, seems to be best detected by newcomers. they feel, as i mentioned that night, received and accepted. where it can break down in this community, as in any one i imagine, is that once someone is assimilated they are presumed to be connected. this presumption can be dangerous, as people seem to fall through the cracks all the time. i spent a fair bit of energy building into a group of young adults last spring, but over the summer they all drifted elsewhere… we lost their fellowship. God didn’t, but we did.

sometimes in a relational vacuum, people just leave. other times, connectional counterfeits can grow to meet the basic need for connection illegitimately. you know the kind- religious circles are infamous for them: negativity groups, specializing in the establishment and maintenance of malcontent. driving wedges between church people and then continuing to hammer them down over self oriented (as opposed to others oriented) shallow-water issues, these perspective collectives often preach a gospel of criticism and social dissonance... but do so out of basic hurt and disappointment. see, they really sensed that people cared for them once, but hadn't felt it for quite awhile.

back then, everyone had them over for lunch. everyone learned the names and ages of their children. everyone offered them the fellowship that they so desperately longed for. it hooked them because they hadn't expected this- they had heard that churches were clique-y and judgemental. this experience was none of that. but that was for a relatively short time a very long time ago- back when they were 'newcomers.'

i think that there is something important to note here: as we continue to grow and impact the lives of those new to to our fellowships, there is a very real need to be attended to in the basic loving of our regular attenders, lest they become ensnared in the type of negative mindset that becomes ballast for greater and greater works that are trying to get off the ground.

everyone needs to continue to experience the love that initially attracted them. otherwise, embitterment sets in.

embitterment has a distinctive spiritual smell. it is the smell of rotting fruit. it is the smell of good things going to waste simply because no one is doing anything with them. to fail to disciple those who no longer qualify as 'newcomers' is to leave carefully gathered baskets of fruit in the orchard to spoil while racing around to fill more.

paul continues later on in phil3.12-16 with some humble words that i am trying to live. if the mission and the method is love, then i think i need to make every effort to keep it at the front and centre of everything i personally do and say... and, well, some days are better than others:

I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.

So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it.

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Monday, October 02, 2006


a friend was telling me recently of his journey through the book of Job. in this guy's view, Job was self-righteous- not in the 'naughty naughty you spiritual snob' way, but in that he was applying the method and effectively doing so to the point where he and anyone paying attention could draw the conclusion that there was some pretty sweet causality engaged here. until the time of testing, his view was no different than the views of his three friends or his wife.

this shines a light of plausibility upon the words of satan in the beginning of the book...

"look, this guy's sussed it- he's figured out the system, that's all. if you change all the rules and his sure-things become obviously much less sure, he will abandon this righteousness of which you, his creator, are so proud... you don't believe me? prove me wrong..."

here was, after all, the whole problem- he hadn't dropped the ball at all. things were just not the way they were supposed to be. the apple was not falling to the ground, it was just hanging in the air 'precisely the way bricks don't' (douglas adams)... somebody had reordered everything and the dramatic irony of it all was that the most righteous man alive was the only one who knew it (agonizingly so because of all of the pontification he had to endure from this wife and these friends that were supposedly there to bring encouragement and strength).

centuries later, Jesus would turn everything upside down in the same way- breaking the implicit order of things just when people were starting to get the hang of how to play the system. the old methods of establishing credibility and worth were no longer valid- the old causalities no longer held true... like a law in science that is suddenly overturned by some rogue coincidence leaving everyone wondering what else is out of sync that they just haven't discovered yet.

perhaps this is the spiritual bankruptcy of which paul speaks.

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