Monday, January 25, 2010

The Last Word

Last week I talked about the inappropriate comments made by Pat Robertson regarding the earthquake in Haiti. I said that there would be people who reject Christianity because of what Mr. Robertson said. Since then I've read a few articles that comment on what Mr. Robertson has said and both come to the conclusion that Mr. Robertson's remarks, while tactless, are basically an accurate reflection of Christian beliefs.

Both articles talk about the problem of evil. Simply stated, the problem of evil is this: If God is good and God is all powerful then why does evil exist?

I don't enjoy trying to answer the problem of evil. Attempts to reconcile God's goodness with human suffering tend to be insulting to both God and the people who are suffering. The only Godly response to suffering is compassion.

Still, there is more that needs to be said. We must remember that God Himself has compassion on those who suffer. We must also remember that God has made a promise to humanity. He has promised to set right everything that is wrong with the world and to comfort everyone who suffers.

This is not an answer to the problem of evil. It doesn't take away the very real pain and suffering that the people of Haiti are experiencing right now. This is only a reminder that, as bad as this earthquake is, it is not the end of the world and it is not the end of the people of Haiti.

For now, many people will need to ask, "Why has God forsaken me?" and it is all right for them to ask. This earthquake in Haiti will not be the last word on the matter. It might take a long time, but God's love and mercy will triumph over evil. That is the last word on the matter.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Irregular Webcomic

I think it's time for another mid week post, don't you?

Today I'm going to talk about one of the geekiest web comics out there (no, not xkcd). It's Irregular Webcomic. The comic consists of pictures of lego figures and sets, with real photos used as backdrops. The comic includes a variety of different themes. The humor is about equal parts affectionate parody and geeky puns.

One of the reasons I really enjoy the comic is whenever the author makes an especially obscure pun he has a note providing information about the subject in question. These educational annotations can be very fun to read (in some cases more fun than the strips themselves. This note explaining how Maxwell discovered that light is actually an electromagnetic wave is my favorite.

The strip has been updating daily since 2003, so the archive is incredibly large. I'd recommend just picking one of the themes and reading through that. The fantasy theme and the Steve and Terry theme are both good. Or you could just read all the ones with annotations. You'll have a good time and you'll learn about a lot of interesting subjects.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Understanding Evil

In today's post I'm going to be talking about the quake in Haiti. Before I begin, I'd like to encourage you to consider donating money to disaster relief efforts and to long term development in Haiti. Here's some advice for how to give money to disaster relief efforts. Here is the website of a nonprofit that does development work in Haiti and several other countries. Please check out those links and consider how much you think you should give. Thank you.

Today I would like to talk about how we try to understand and make sense of large scale tragedies like the recent earthquake in Haiti.

In one of my early posts I asked the question Is God Really Good? In that post I was looking at the book of Job, but I think similar rules apply for wide scale tragedies such as this. In that post I comment that the mistake that Job's friends make is that they try to provide a reasonable explanation to an unreasonable situation.

Evil is always unreasonable. Evil always defies comprehension. Evil is always without justification; otherwise it would not be evil.

This is a truth that Pat Robertson doesn't seem to grasp. If he did, he wouldn't have claimed that the earthquake in Haiti was the result of a pact with the devil.

Pat Robertson's claim that the earthquake is the result of a pact with Satan is troubling on a few levels. It is troubling because it reveals a gross insensitivity to the extreme pain and suffering that the people of Haiti are going through right now. What they need right now is our support and our compassion, not our condemnation.

This is made even worse because Pat Robertson is a spokesman for a large segment of the American Christian community. When he slanders a nation, he doesn't just damage his own reputation. He hurts the reputations of Christians everywhere. I suspect that more than a few people will turn away from Jesus because of what Mr. Robertson has said, and I can't say that I blame them.

Finally, the most troubling thing about Pat Robertson's words is that they provide his followers with a false sense of security. Pat Robertson has often claimed that wide scale tragedies are the result of divine judgments, but those judgments are always directed at someone else. Pat Robertson's God is often angry, but never at Pat Robertson or his followers.

Jesus warns his followers not to have such an attitude. If I may paraphrase Jesus a little bit here, "Do you think that the Haitians are the worst sinners in the Western Hemisphere because they have suffered in this way?" Pat Robertson foolishly seems to believe that the answer is yes.

If we must talk about God's anger and judgment at a time like this, we should think about how God feels about us right now. We ought to consider the fact that Haiti's poverty and poor infrastructure is what allowed this quake to be so devastating. We should consider the fact that the U.S. is at least partially responsible for Haiti's current economic state.

There is a parable of Jesus that speaks to the relationship between Haiti and the United States. It is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In the story a poor man (Haiti) sits and begs just outside the gate of a wealthy person's home. but the wealthy man(the U.S.) does nothing to ease the poor man's suffering. I won't spoil the story except to say that it doesn't end well for the rich man.

This is the truth that Pat Robertson is concealing from his followers when he tells them that the Haitian people are responsible for their own misery. He prevents them from seeing the simple truth that we are obligated to take care of people in need. He prevents them from seeing that God's true anger is directed not at the Haitians, but at those people who see their misery and do nothing to help them.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Christian Arrogance

Recently, as I was reviewing my earlier posts I realized something. I have been spending way too much time with other Christians and not enough time with my non christian family and friends. I came to this realization as I was rereading my post on the Holy Spirit and I came upon this line: without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to please God.

I wrote that without thinking about how it might sound to anyone who is not a believer. I don't know if anyone else noticed it or was bothered by it, but the phrase contains a kind of arrogance that used to bother me before I became a Christian myself. Today I'm going to take some time to correct my earlier post.

I don't think that what I said was entirely true. I think that it is possible do good deeds that are pleasing to God without the presence of the Holy Spirit. It would be more accurate to say that it is impossible to fully satisfy God without the Holy Spirit. What do I mean by that?

First of all, I'm definitely not saying that God does not love you unless you have the Holy Spirit. It is natural for people to make the leap from, "It is impossible for you to satisfy God," to "God does not love you." The truth is that God loves everyone. God even loves people who do terribly evil things. He certainly loves people don't know God but are kind to those around them.

What I am saying is that unless we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will never be free from the evil desires of our hearts.

A corollary to that statement is that we all have evil desires. I think anyone who observes human nature will find that evil desires are, at the very least, incredibly common. I believe that even the best of us have some thoughts and desires that we're not particularly proud of.

This is the reason why Jesus gave up His life for us. He died so that we would not be punished for our evil deeds. He also died so that we could receive the Holy Spirit, which sets us free from our evil thoughts and desires as well.

Before I finish I'd like to add one last clarification. I'm not saying that Christians are morally superior to everyone else. I believe that the Holy Spirit frees us from our evil desires, but unfortunately it doesn't happen overnight. Most of the time, being set free in this way is a long and difficult process, and there are often setbacks. But we know that God is faithful and we know that He will get us through it.

I hope this post clarifies what I said earlier. In closing, I'd like to invite you to comment if you noticed anything else on my blog that bothered you or that you'd like me to clarify. I would love to answer any questions you might have about what I've said.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Essence of Christian Unity

Awhile back there was a guest blogger on internet monk who talked about Christian unity. The guest poster was a Catholic and he summarizes the Catholic position on the nature of Christian unity quite nicely. This post is one of the ones that got me thinking about Christian unity. Today I'm going to be supplying my own thoughts on what it means for Christians to be united.

In my last post on Christian unity I talked about how important it was to Jesus that His followers should be united. I also talked about the deep divisions that Christians today face, especially in America. Now I'm going to start talking about solutions.

First of all, we need to decide what it means to say that Christians are united. In the article I linked above, the author describes how the Roman Catholic Church answers that question. The author writes that Christian unity consists of three things, unity of faith, unity of sacraments and unity of government. In other words, we are united when we all share the same faith, participate in the same sacraments and are under the same church government.

It's not a bad definition. In fact, I think it represents a compelling vision for what a unified church should look like, but I don't believe that this definition captures what Christian unity is all about. I believe that Christians are united by their shared connection to God through the Holy Spirit. That is the essence of Christian unity.

We can see that this was true in the early church by looking at the book of Acts. Starting in chapter ten, the church encounters its first major division. In the beginning Christianity was exclusively a Jewish sect, but in chapter ten of Acts God calls Peter to preach to a Roman soldier named Cornelius. Cornelius becomes the first gentile to convert to Christianity, but many more soon follow.

This creates the first major conflict in church history. The first Christians are reluctant to welcome gentiles into the movement. They see it as a betrayal of their Jewish heritage to share fellowship with people who don't follow Jewish practices and customs. This debate nearly tears the church apart. In Acts chapter 15 they have a meeting in Jerusalem to discuss the issue and settle the matter.

In the end the church decides to allow gentiles to join the church. Despite the vast cultural differences that separated Jews and gentiles and despite the strong traditional beliefs that the Jews held that required them to avoid mingling with gentiles, those early Christians chose unity. The question we must ask ourselves is, why did they make that difficult choice?

The only answer is that they made that choice because of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit that called Peter, Paul and other Christians to witness to gentiles in the first place. When they preached to the gentiles, the gentiles were filled with the Holy Spirit, just as the first Christians had been. The early Christians were persuaded to accept gentile believers despite the difficulty, because they recognized that the Holy Spirit was at work among them.

So we can see that the Holy Spirit serves as the motivation for Christian unity. We seek fellowship with others because we see that God is working in their lives just as He is working in our lives.

Additionally, the Holy Spirit is the thing which makes Christian unity possible. The Holy Spirit demolishes the barriers that divide us and gives us the ability to be patient and humble and show love to one another. In this way the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to be unified with people in even the most trying circumstances.

For a moment I want to go back to the three part definition of unity we saw at the beginning; unity of faith, unity of sacraments and unity of government. I think that the definition still holds, but only if we see that God and the Holy Spirit are at the center of it. We share the same faith because the Holy Spirit has revealed Jesus to each of us. We share the same sacraments because, through the Spirit, Jesus' forgiveness is given to each of us. We share the same government because we all submit ourselves to God with the help of the Holy Spirit.

That is what I think it means for Christians to be united.

The question remains, however, how do we live that out?