Redemption and Hope

Here is an excerpt from a recent blog post on how the Bible (and specifically the Apostle Paul) helps us understand the importance of our experiences of trials and suffering:
While some religions view pain as an illusion, an obstacle to be overcome through the correction of the mind, Christianity believes that pain and suffering is very real.  As a result, followers of Christ have sought to develop a theology that provides a coherent framework for understanding this dilemma. Christians face the difficult task of embracing the reality of evil and making it compatible with the existence of God as portrayed in Scripture: all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.
     Christians have developed different responses to explain why the goodness of God is not compromised in the face of evil, even evil that is apparently unredemptive in any fashion.  Perhaps good things such as free will more than compensate for the pain experienced during life; perhaps, as in John Hick’s appeal to mystery, there are unknown goods that make up for the suffering we see; perhaps there will be a system of rewards and punishments in place after this life that will adequately provide a framework in which one will see the justice an love of God vindicated.
     Defenders of the Christian faith have developed these explanations, or theodicies, to better understand the way sof God.  A theodicy, rather than being a mere defense of the compatibility of God and evil, seeks to proactively show God’s reasons for allowing evil to occur.  And even though Scripture allows one to peer into and analyze the issue of pain, Scripture often seems less concerned with the defense of God’s character than with the development of individuals as they seek to handle the difficulties in life.
If you are looking for a theological approach to this issue, I invite you to read more here.

Thinking Theologically About God and Pain

I am writing a series for TC Apologetics about how to reconcile the reality of both God and pain.  This issue hits close to home for me.  I was glad I had studied this topic in seminary before my dad died; I believe having a strong intellectual foundation was crucial in keeping my volatile emotions in check in the aftermath of my loss.

This is not an attempt to “put God in the dock” or  pretend I have God figured out.  It is simply a way in which I was able to wrestle with God. I am not Jacob, but I was determined not to let go until God blessed me.  God has been gracious; I have found peace on the other side of the struggle.

    This topic is covered in one of the closing chapters of my book, but for this series I have modified the material a bit. Click on the links to read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.  Part Four will be in place next week.

    If you have any thoughts about this topic, feel free to leave them here or at TCApologetics. I would love to hear from you.


Devastation and Joy

From  “Death Glorious and Triumphant”:

     ”We can’t escape the fact that we live in a world full of both beauty and pain.  For whatever reasons, the God who made it seems content to let us experience the spectrum.  I have spent years wondering why; I’m sure I will spend many more seeking to understand this mysterious plan.  On the one hand, pain and loss have undone me; on the other hand, I have experiencedtranscendent moments of beauty and peace, signposts of a world to come.

In the midst of both devastation and joy, we are called to be content with whatever situation we have been given while simultaneously striving for the restoration offered by  God’s Kingdom in the midst of a broken world. ”


The Importance of Mourning

From “Death and Dragons”:

    “Mourning is a natural response when we stand at the casket or grave of a loved one. It is to be expected and, quite frankly, is a healthy response to this weapon of evil…     However, what is so wonderfully amazing is that God can take the most brutal weapon of the enemy and turn it around, rendering evil impotent.”


Pain and the Cross

From “The Pain of God and the Pain of the World”:

“The closer you get to Jesus, the closer you get to the Cross; and you may well find that the pain of the world, as well as the joys of the world, will stretch you and pull you until you feel as though you were being pulled apart.  Saint Paul says that’s precisely  the point: that’s what we should expect to happen when the Holy Spirit is at work in someone’s heart so that they are being ‘conformed to the image of God’s Son.’  That is the meaning of fully Christian prayer.  Part of the Christian calling is to be a person and a community where the pain of the world and the pain of God can come together.”



From “If My Father Had Been There”:

At a wintery party tonight, I saw my father.
I was sitting at a dining room table, recovering from ice fishing and snowmobiling.  He was sitting on a sofa in the adjacent living room, silhouetted by the crackling fire in the stone fireplace.
     It was not my father, of course. My father is dead.  But I suddenly realized I had been staring for about 5 seconds at the profile of a man who, sitting at just that angle, in just that light, took me back 10 years, before life’s final winter took my father.
     I looked away, but my eyes kept drifting back. That initial moment brought out a child in me, a boy who would have gone and sat down on the empty sofa seat reserved for me.  I knew that in five minutes the moment would pass, so I lingered, creating and absorbing a moment beautifully false and achingly close.



The book of James challenges us to rejoice when we become rich – and when we become poor.  Either way, we have an opportunity to appreciate either God’s blessing through resources or God’s provision in spite of circumstances.
I cannot escape the relevance to all of life.  I become so quickly distracted by the difficulty of challenging situations that I forget God is gracious enough to embed a blessing, even if it is hard to find.  There are clouds, yes.  But the silver lining reminds us there is a sun waiting to break through.
Here is Andree Seu, on how even the worst circumstance offer a reason to rejoice:

“I know a missionary in South Sudan. Larissa lives in the home of a Moru woman named Mama Viviana, whose town of Kotobi was bombed from the air and machine gunned for a straight half hour in 2002.  Every hut was burned to the ground, and the grain store with a year’s worth of food was obliterated; even the knives melted. Miraculously, not a person was killed or even injured. Every September Mama Vivina hosts a memorial prayer service to remember God’s kindness.     Larissa wrote, ‘ I have much to learn from her…In the West I think our conception of God’s love is so much tied to circumstance – when we think He is answering prayer, or things are going as we think they should.  But I am challenged to conceive of a love that is deeper than anything, which is not in any way tied to circumstance.”


Revisiting Beauty

 I am wondering why imperfections sometimes make things more beautiful.
    This seems wrong somehow.  Beauty is perfection, right?  Don’t studies show that the more a person’s is symmetrical, the more we consider him or her beautiful?  If we are so drawn to perfection, it would seem to follow that the more physically perfect something is, the more beautiful it is.
     However, as Christians, we embrace a tension about this. We talk about the perfection and beauty of Christ, and yet the Bible says of Jesus, “There is no beauty we would desire of Him” (Isaiah 53:2).
    I believe we confuse “beautiful” and “aesthetically pleasing.”  While beauty and aesthetic appeal are not at odds with each other by any means, they are far from synonymous.  There are many things some consider beautiful (such as the glorious scarlet and grey of the Buckeyes) that others (namely, everyone else in the state of Michigan) do not.  This is actually not a clash over beauty; it is a clash over aesthetic appeal.

Explaining Beauty

From a  longer post at “Jump”:

I have spent a lot of time in the past 10 years writing about the hardships in life.  My scars are hardly unique, but I have sought to embrace the experiences and the implications of  life’s broken beauty with as much honesty as I can muster.

   But there is more to “broken beauty” than the broken. 
  There is also beauty. 

As C.S Lewis pointed out, one cannot understand crooked without understanding straight.  In the same way, one cannot think with clarity about the ugliness of life without an understanding of its beauty.
    In the presence of sometimes staggering pain and ugliness, one must either explain it or explain it away.  Worldviews have dismissed it as illusory (some Eastern religions), refused to even define it (Atheism), or sought to understand the reason and the solution (Christianity).
     The presence of grandeur and goodness provides no less of a challenge.  One must either explain things like beauty, awe and wonder, or explain them away.

Grief and the Art of Motorcycle Riding

     Bikers know what it means to “lean in” to the bends in the road.  If they want to turn right at a curve, they lean right.  At the same time, they countersteer by actually pushing the handlebars the opposite direction.  Lean right, but turn left.
   I have been known to do the opposite on both counts.  I intuitively tend to lean away from the curve (why would I want to be that close to the ground?), and I steer into the curve.  I even did this once with a friend’s three-wheeler.  It ended badly, but I’m happy to report the tree was fine.
   Those who learn how to “lean in” ride safely through the curves and continue on, the bike’s dirty side down and shiny side up.  Too often riders lay it down, much to the delight of thousands of people looking for entertainment on “Ridiculousness,” and much to the chagrin of the one who walks away with scars.
    I have noticed there a many things in life in which the counterintuitive choice is the right one.  I intuitively want to lash out when I’m angry; kick the cat when it wakes me up at 2:00 in the morning last Monday; buy shiny things with credit cards; and eat whatever I want (hello, BWW!).  After all, it feels natural.  But when I do, I soon find I can’t handle the curves of life. The shiny side of my relationships, finances, and health go down in a hurry as I slide into the ditch, battered and scraped and in need of help.
    When I make the correct choice that goes against my initial response, I survive the curves.  I don’t hurt people when I’m angry; I don’t have to apologize to my wife about the whole cat incident; my credit stays good; my weight remains in the same area code.
    That’s a much better journey.  But in spite of all the positive results, counterintuitive is still hard.  It’s good, but it’s hard.

     Recently I was talking with some friends about grief.  One was grieving the death of a career and a dream: the other the death of a marriage. They approached me because they knew my father had died, and that I too was no stranger to grief.
     In the aftermath of loss, our initial, intuitive response is to lean away from the pain.  Even worse, we simultaneously steer our lives the wrong way and miss the curves.  This does not end well, as the curves in the road to grief recovery are not curves you want to miss. The ditches are deep, and very dark.
    But that’s what happens when we avoid leaning in and steering well.  In more practical terms, this involves leaning in to the depths of ourselves by thinking, talking and writing about deep emotions and poignant memories, and steering toward instead of away from God and others,
     The night may be dark, the road full of potholes, the driving conditions poor, and the turns hairpin.
Lean in anyway. 

Somewhere down the road, grieving souls are lying in a ditch, waiting for someone who can nurse them back to health, set them back on the road of life, and teach them how to ride.