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“God, if You don’t want to control everything I do, and I can’t control what You do, then what is our relationship good for, anyway?”
I was pondering how my prayers don’t really tend to impact too much what God does. That after I prayed that the cold would stop. (I woke up this morning to a day that never pulled its way above freezing.) It occurred to me that a lot of my prayers seem to go unanswered. So many have come true, though.
Imagine. “Prayer coming true.” What a phrase. It’s almost like a wish. I used to know kids who would start their prayers with “I hope…” instead of “I ask…”. I tried to explain that they were using the wrong format; you don’t tell God you hope He does something; you ask Him to do it. But maybe that makes the disappointment easier to handle – you told God you hoped He’d do something, but He doesn’t.
Instead of asking God straight-up, we tell Him how we hope things will turn out. That way He’s not obligated to accept or reject our requests, and us with them. ‘Cause let’s be honest, we all have at least one thing we asked for that God answered no. Suffice it to say, our prayers don’t control God. Continue reading
Readers looking for a bullet-proof treatise on the existence of God are advised to look elsewhere. I am prejudiced in favor of God, and this tale of mine is one filled with holes and assumptions. In many cases I trust arguments made by others that I don’t bother to link, repeat, or even reference. But the rationale presented below has been sufficient to convince me of my conclusions. Ironic, in a post titled “know.” But we know very little anyway. Just ask Descartes.
Is God Real?
The central realization when I decided I wanted to give myself to God again in 2007 was the realization that “God is real, and He loves me.”
And so the central question for my doubt would have to be “Is God real, and does He love me?” The doubt had been a long time in coming. In most stories, things happen that shatter your faith, and in my story things like that sure had. For a long time, I held onto faith out of sheer desperation. At some points, I knew for sure that God was real. And at other points I wondered if He even cared… until His love overwhelmed me and I was sure He did again.
But the deep doubt finally resurfaced: Does God exist? And does He love me?
And so I asked. I wrestled. I talked. I prayed to a God I wasn’t 100% sure existed. I begged Him to exist.
Creation, I decided, could have been the product of random chance, maybe. Love could just be biological. Beauty could be a trick of biology, too. It could be familiarity assumed as beauty – mankind has seen trees for as long as we’ve been around, and we’ve all seen trees on warm sunny days which we decide socially to be “good.” Maybe Trinitarian theology – God is three and one in loving community – was created out of the realization that people are happier together. Large coincidences, to be sure, but that could be all there was to them. Coincidences and naturally occurring phenomena.
But creation was the crack in the armor, the Achilles heel of doubt. So many things are set such that if they were only a little tiny bit off, life would never have happened. Even if Biological Macro-Evolution had been the cause of all life, random chance must have had help. And philosophy insists on a first cause. God must exist.
What Manner of God?
But what manner of God is He? Does He care? Or has God adopted a sort of hands-off approach to creation: Plan really really well and thus not even need to give it nudges? Continue reading
I posted this to my Intro to DMA blog back in Fall 2009. I felt like it needed to be reposted here… 🙂
Have you ever noticed that in some films there is a message, intentional or unintentional, that value is dependent upon certain things? For instance…
But then there are other movies where you absolutely fall in love with the people and they are valuable whether they succeed or not, though they may not be beautiful, clever, famous, successful, married, or even in a relationship. Their value doesn’t come from them HAVING something. It comes from them BEING something.
And in a sense, I feel like a lot of Christian-esque films are even MORE guilty of making “you’re valuable IF” statements than “world-esque.” We just have a different list. Continue reading
You just can’t sit still, can you?
I was taking off my shoes in my apartment when this thought hit me.
There are some people who just can’t sit still. There’s this fire deep inside them, something that refuses to sit down and shut up. They can go do stuff they don’t care about for a while, but eventually the fire will burn a hole in them if they don’t do something they care about. It’ll move them to leave jobs to go do something “important,” and then leave the something important because there’s something more important. Everything is an emergency, everything is priority. These people give themselves 200% when they care, and 50% when they don’t. Feed that fire, and they will be the best workers you’ve ever seen; ignore it, and they will eventually leave. I am one of those people.
If I don’t think what I’m doing will matter for eternity, I get restless. I have to have a God-project, something that I think God wants to have done. I had a long, passionate conversation with one of my friends about that – kept him up ’till about 1:30 one night figuring it out.
I came into my apartment and took off my shoes, and as I did, that thought materialized in my mind.
You just can’t sit still, can you? You always have to have some project, a something burning in your soul. Something central. That fire is meant for Me, not for any of your goals.
It was true. Whether it was God talking or me imagining what He’d say, it was true. So I wrote it down in my prayer journal and hopped in the shower, where the thought continued.
You haven’t been given a mission because you can’t handle a mission. You would worship the mission and not Me.
Busted. Every time I get something that looks like a mission, I turn that fire in my soul on it. I let it take over my life. I might even destroy it, or myself, or others, for the sake of the mission. I let myself run to the point of exhaustion. The fire is meant for Me. I realized that sometimes I let my mission take priority over loving others. I know it. In letting the mission take center stage of my life, I let God slide off center stage. And that’s a dangerous place to be.
God is the only safe containment field for that fire. He is the only safe fuel. The fire was meant for passionate love for Him.
It was not meant for accomplishing His goals.
It was not meant for completing His missions.
It was meant for Him, and Him alone.
That’s my explanation.
i come still broken and a bit confused
How many times does the road we’re on
wander through the valley of the shadow of death?
Can we trust You to give us less
than trials and tribulations?
You only promised You’d be with us,
not that where you’d be with us
wouldn’t be hell.
I used to think that being with You
would always be heaven
even if it was in hell
but it seems the times we need You most
You seem so far away
and it’s only later,
when life seems better,
that we know You carried us
that You were there the whole time
almost like You
after the fact.
Why do You love us enough
to let us do things You know will hurt us?
I sometimes wish I could trust You
for a lesser love.
I find You not to be safe
though I wish I could find You safe.
But You insist on surgery
to remove our idols
when we insist upon
because You really do love us after all
and because You want us
all of us
So do the ends justify Your means?
Do You care about the ways You lead us
and abolish those things we hurt ourselves with?
or just the doing?
Lord, have mercy
let me not go
to places where i will hurt myself
and yet I thank You for the pain
that leads my broken cries
O for a way to You not covered by thorns
Come rescue me.
I learned during my very formative years that the world was largely filled with people who were going to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus. I also learned that my primary job as a Christian is to get other people to believe in Jesus so they will go to heaven and not go to hell.
I heard sermons telling me that on God’s final judgment day, I would see every person I had ever met and not told about Jesus and heaven and hell and they would ask “Why didn’t you warn me?” I even heard a story about a man who had “seen one person saved per day.” For years, he prayed with at least one person who wanted to accept Jesus every single day.
I was raised roughly Arminian, I think, which is to say that I believed that people had choices about whether they would become Christians or not. Being raised Arminian is pretty rough, because you believe two things: Everyone in the world has a choice about whether they’re going to accept Christ, or reject Him, and it’s your job to tell them. Matthew 28:19 was often called “The Great Omission” because every Christian was supposed to go make other people accept Jesus, and so few actually were. It never occurred to me that Jesus has been saving people without my help for over 4,000 years.
I always had a hard time with that because I was selling other people something I hadn’t actually experienced for myself but believed was true and couldn’t prove. Life-after-death fire insurance. Also, I was taught in church was that accepting Jesus and living for Him means accepting a boring life where one gives up anything that is remotely fun in exchange for what is spiritual. In a paraphrase of Rob Bell’s words, “Religious people don’t throw very good parties.” And so I’ve lived most of my life with a screaming in my heart that says that I have to get other people to accept Jesus. And I’ve had jobs where I’ve woken up every morning with a profound sense of emptiness because I wasn’t getting other people to accept Jesus through those jobs.
Then I heard Mark Driscoll talk about how only the “elect,” those God chooses, are going to heaven, and everyone else is going to hell, and how that’s completely fair because God *should* send everyone to hell, and the elect will become Christians when they are preached to. From that perspective, if I don’t preach to someone who is elect, then someone else will and they will become Christians anyway because they are elect, so that takes a little bit of the pressure off… but it still makes God seem kinda mean because he chooses some people to go to hell, no matter how you frame it. He’s just and fair, but kind of mean to everyone he doesn’t choose to be gracious to.
So when Love Wins came out, and Rob Bell said that maybe people who don’t “receive [Jesus] by that name precisely” (Athol Dickson‘s words) may find their way into eternity with God, I almost cried when I got to the end because of three things (I didn’t quite realize what they were until I had had a few months to process it and read other books):
The first has been discussed already, so I’ll grab the other two.
If God is, in the words of Paul in II Corinthians 5:19, “…reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them,” then that could truly be good news! Maybe people don’t have to believe that they’re evil and God is angry with them for their sins to be reconciled to God. And maybe those who have been harmed in Jesus’ name may one day be reconciled to God in spite of their inherent distaste for the name they believe to be responsible for their wrecked lives. Maybe some people who haven’t heard about Jesus may still be counted righteous. Maybe the doors of heaven are open to more people than we thought.
I have not become a universalist. I still believe that “no man comes to the Father except through [Jesus]” (John 14:6). Like my facebook post said the other day, “Jesus is the front door to the dining hall, and there are no other doors.” But haven’t you ever been somewhere and not known where you were or quite how you got there? Tell me you’ve never had someone ask, “Did you come through the foyer?” and said “What foyer?” They pointed back where you just came from and said, “That one.” I’m beginning to suspect that people may be able to come to the Father through Jesus without necessarily realizing it.
There are some who have said that if God lets people in who haven’t accepted Jesus by that name precisely, then that makes Jesus death, burial and bodily resurrection irrelevant. I don’t understand how that logic even works (though Ree tried to explain it to me). If God accepts more people, it can only be by Jesus’ work on the cross, thus making Jesus work on the cross more effectual, rather than less!
But these are rabbit trails. The real discussion I wanted to start was this:
What would you do with your life if you stopped believing that the eternal destinies of other people lay in your hands?
Because I really don’t know what I would do.
I posted my question on facebook and got no responses from the usual suspects. Nobody touched it. But this is hugely important for me. I’ve lived my life with a screaming inside of my soul that won’t sit down or shut up, telling me that people are going to hell, and they need to accept Jesus, and I need to tell them about Him, so they can stop having “fun” to have “real fun” which is usually… not really fun.
But if Rob Bell is right, and if Jesus was right and being a Christian means living life to the max (John 10:10), then maybe I can live my life with arms, eyes, mouth, and heart wide open. Maybe I can live free like the birds who don’t have to worry. Maybe I can live righteously and feed the poor and be delighted in giving (because I have experienced that! Giving is fantastic! It’s way more fun to give money to someone who needs it than it is to use it for yourself!) Maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the good gifts that God has given to me.
And maybe I can tell this screaming voice inside of me to finally shut up… because voices that scream aren’t Jesus. He whispers.
On the other hand, maybe it’s the Holy Spirit, and it’s actually a consistent quiet whisper. Because I still need to do work that feels meaningful, work that actually translates into things that are good. Maybe that’s why I like Jumonville so much. I haven’t had to tell anyone that they need to become a Christian. I’ve told them they’re beautiful unrepeatable miracles. I’ve told them that Jesus loves them. Some have accepted Jesus during Wednesday Worship… but there isn’t this compelling to tell them.
And never once have I woken up wondering why I do what I do.
So now I’m trying to figure out what I like to do. What work it is that makes me wake up in the morning with the sense that this is what I was made for? What has God made me for? How can I be a part of God’s good and creative work in the world?
A lot of my life has had to do with affirmation – having people pat me on the back and say “Good job, kid.” I’m a pleaser. I want people to be happy with me and what i’m doing. …So largely I end up not doing what I want, but doing what I think will make other people happy. Ree asked me what I do when there’s nobody to please, nobody watching to say “Good job.”
…And I told her that I don’t know, because i’ve hardly ever had time like that except when i’m completely by myself, and then i’m usually bored and watching movies or something… because I’m alone.
What would you do?
I was in the Dining Commons the other day when I overheard one person ask another, “Did you enjoy your meal?” The phrase struck me weird, and I thought about it.
We can like something without enjoying it. Food can taste good, and we can fail to enjoy it. We can spend time with our friends, and not enjoy it. We can walk outside on a gorgeous sunny day… and not enjoy it. In this context, our good friends Merriam and Webster define “enjoy” thus:
enjoy en·joy (verb) \in-ˈjȯi\ To take pleasure or satisfaction in.
It is possible to be in a thoroughly enjoyable situation and not enjoy it. I do this all the time! I’ll be with some of the most awesome people in the world, in a nice warm heated room at a college where I’m learning to do something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid… and be completely apathetic.
A guy named Clive Staples Lewis wrote a handy book called The Screwtape Letters, fictitious letters of advice to a “junior tempter” named Wormwood from his uncle Screwtape, a more skilled tempter. It’s basically the Christian equivalent of the CIA intercepting a bunch of letters from the KGB giving advice on how to best trick Americans into losing the Cold War. Anyway, about halfway through letter 15, Screwtape gives Wormwood this advice:
We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every gift which is offered them in the present.
Screwtape ends the letter, “And anyway, why should the creature be happy?” Continue reading
“…I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed… Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?”
“No. …The saints and poets, maybe they do some.”
-Our Town, Thornton Wilder, 1937
Right now, I’m sitting in the A/V office at Jumonville, surrounded by computer screens and enough video tapes to make a public library jealous. They’re all videos of camps, or most of them, but that’s beside the point. Alex’s iPod is plugged into the speakers and playing on low volume. It’d be louder, but it’s being drowned out by the two air conditioning units. My arch-nemesis, the Lacie 5Big network storage device, is turned off. And that’s how it will stay until I get around to calling tech support. Yeah, I’ve given up. Their stupid web site instructions for resetting the **** thing are useless. But let’s drop that.
Alex is sitting across from me staring in a very bored way at a screen. It’s Friday, at the end of a week with a lot of maintenance for adventure staff like me. My little sister came to camp, but she got sick Thursday morning and had to go home Thursday night.
I open the door to go downstairs. It’s 8:30 at night, but outside the A/V room, it’s still gotta be 90 degrees. Then I head into the main office. Ashley is sitting at the desk watching the office listening to “Lead Me To The Cross,” the new version that annoys the crap out of me, on K-Love over the internet. It keeps buffering. The song annoys me because of the line “rid me of myself, I belong to You.” I’m pretty sure God wants to HAVE us, not have us be rid of us. The song is spiritual-sounding, but theologically (not to mention logically) incorrect. I change that line when I sing it. …Strike K-Love. It She was playing it from myspace. But I digress. The reason I mentioned that was because, well, our internet here is pretty slow. But what do you expect on a mountaintop in the middle of the woods? We’re blessed to have T1 at all!
The longer I live, the more proofs I find of this fact: there is little inspiration to be found indoors. I go outside. It’s not as hot out here as just outside the A/V room.
It’s that awkward time between day and night. Peaceful. Probably my favorite time of day. You can see fine without the street lights still, but they’ve come on just the same. I sit down on the porch steps outside of Captain Webb and listen to the cicadas. They’re singing like there’s no tomorrow. Continue reading
Not for the weak of stomach. Exit while you can. Written on a sheet of notebook paper and transcribed.
I’m sitting outside of chapel, They’re doing praise and worship inside, and I can’t go in. Not yet.
We just watched a holocaust video. For the first time, I cried over it. The inhumanity. This must have been what YHVH saw when He sent the flood. I can’t go into chapel. I need to process this.
God, You let the human race go on? After such inhumane, abominable atrocities? There are no words, no adjectives, to adequately describe the horror, the revolting… the camera pointed at a corpse on a man’s shoulders… and stayed on him, and so many others. To run the camera, and not point it away because the world needs to see it. Why? I don’t really even know. Because it’s true. Because it’s terrible. You want to cry out “NEVER AGAIN,” but it has ALREADY happened again. And somewhere in the world, it is probably happening now.
Thousands of dead
starved beyond recognition as humanity
tossed – unceremonious – into mass graves
calloused guards, uncaring citizens
bulldozers, and a sign:
“Grave No. 3, No: 5000” on the grave.
Typhus, lice, starvation
Blood crying out from the ground
Am I my brother’s keeper?
Human skin, cut off, and used
This is what Elie Wiesel saw.
Beware of lies that poison the soul
calling any less than human.
Auschwitz’ sign, a stark bleak warning:
“Do not repeat this desolation.”