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Posts from the ‘The Problem of Evil’ Category

Impossible Stories

There was this radio program I was listening to today… They were interviewing some guy who was the executive director of a Christian relief organization who had spent decades in war zones and poverty and famine and disease… Some guy who had traveled around the world doing good in the name of God.

I was half paying attention when he told two stories. The first was about driving down the road in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, and seeing a four-year-old boy stagger out of the bush, malnourished, barely alive, having been without water for nearly two days. His parents and other family members had died. There was nobody with him. He was all alone.  Four years old. Read more

Hints and Glimmers (A Tale of Two Movies)

I have always been interested in the reasons people have for accepting or rejecting the existence of God. It’s even more interesting to look at how people frame their own reasons for these decisions. So often, things are framed in stark terms of darkness and light, good and evil, obvious willful stupidity and luminous intellectual clarity, callous depravity and laudable moral sensitivity. This is true on both sides, of course. There are no shortage of eager atheists and Christians who understand and explain themselves and their decisions in these terms. As if no thinking, moral person could possibly come to any other conclusions about massive existential questions of God, meaning, truth, goodness, and beauty than the ones they happen to have arrived at!

Except things are a bit more ambiguous than that in the real world. Read more

The World Remains Divided

I have spent much of this afternoon trying to write a sermon about 2 Corinthians 5:14-20 and the love of God while keeping abreast of news reports about the unspeakable atrocities currently taking place in Iraq. The absurdity of this task has, however, proven to be unbearable, and I have simply given up.

How can one speak of the love of God after reading about human beings starving and dying on a mountain, fleeing the awful choice of conversion or death? How can one write about beauty and goodness after reading about—Christ have mercy!—children being executed or thrown from mountaintops to avoid it. How can one craft a sermon about the “new creation where the old has passed away” and “everything has become new” after seeing images of such gruesome violence that words well and truly fail?

The incongruity of the task is too much. Perhaps tomorrow I will want to write about the love of God. Today I only want to weep for the brutality that our species is abundantly capable of.

Read more

When Bad Things Happen

We’re house sitting for friends in North Vancouver so the mornings have been long and lazy, full of novels and coffee and games with the kids and sunshine on the patio overlooking Indian Arm, and more coffee… It’s been wonderful.

Yesterday, my morning reverie was interrupted by a few soft knocks on the door. At first I didn’t even hear them, so faint was the sound they made, but they were persistent. Eventually I clued in that those faint sounds at the door meant that, you know, someone was there and that this someone who was there probably wanted me to come to the door to see what they wanted. Read more

2013 in Review (And a Thank You!)

So, 2013 is drawing to a close, which means it’s time to take a peek in the rearview mirror and reflect a bit on the year that has nearly passed.  In the blogging world, this means—what else?!—highlighting the most read posts on this blog over the past 365 days or so.  It’s an imperfect tool of evaluation, obviously—a cursory count of clicks and page views hardly provides an accurate assessment of meaningful or substantive engagement—but I suppose it give some sense of the themes that drew people here over the year.   Whenever I look at statistical summaries on this blog, I find myself scratching my head.  That was my most-read post?!  I don’t even like that one!  Why didn’t ____ make the list? Posts that I am convinced are the best thing the internet has seen since, well, two hours or so ago languish in obscurity while others that I dashed off in twenty minutes generate more traffic than I would ever have expected.   I suppose such is the nature of blogging. Read more

“You’re Just a Dirty Indian”

There are horrible stories set loose in our world, stories that should not be, stories that should never have been, stories that make the eyes burn and the ears bleed simply to read or to hear them. Stories that can make one embarrassed to be a human being. Read more

“If We Pray, Dad Will Come For Us”

I’ve written a fair amount here about Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the work being done to address our nation’s history of Indian Residential Schools. Most of this writing took place in or around a trip I took to Montreal last spring to attend one of the seven national events taking place across the country (see herehere, and here). Today, however, the TRC came much closer to home. For the past two days, the TRC has been holding hearings right here in Lethbridge, AB. So, this morning I trudged off to the local hotel armed with my notebook and a stiff cup of coffee, and prepared to hear more difficult stories.

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It’s (Too) Easy for Me to Say I’m a Pacifist

Like so many others, Syria has been on my mind a lot recently. I’ve read dozens of articulate and well-reasoned arguments against any kind of military intervention. I’ve read many passionate and biblically sound anti-war-pleas from people whose views I deeply respect. I spent a good chunk of the prayer time during worship last Sunday praying for peace in Syria, praying that no more lives would be sacrificed on the altars of power, ideology, economics and religion. I know that this is what I am supposed to do and say and read and pray as a Mennonite, as a pastor. But it has all felt, I don’t know, a bit hollow. Read more

Extraordinarily Ordinary

There is nothing more ordinary than suffering.

There is nothing more extraordinary than suffering.

Both of these statements are true.

For me, this has at times felt like the summer of pain, of hard stories. Perhaps it is simply because I am getting older as are the people in my orbit, and as we get older bad things start happening more regularly. Marriages begin to fall apart, mid-life crises make their obligatory appearance, kids go terrifyingly astray, words like “cancer” and “Alzheimer’s” and “Parkinson’s” start forcing their way into conversations, soul-shattering tragedy pops its head around the corner from time to time… Life takes its toll. Read more

The Sadness

The following likely reads a bit raggedy or raw. It comes from a journal entry scratched out in a notebook beside the lake after a difficult day of listening.


A conversation at a bookstore: “Oh, this one looks interesting… She’s that famous author of ______.”  “Yeah, but the story looks like such a sad one…. Why are all the good stories full of so much sadness?”

I don’t know… Art imitates life? We write what we know. Read more

God’s Odd Way of Loving Us

One of the best parts of spending a bit of time in British Columbia each summer is the opportunity to reconnect with the many dear people whose lives we were once embedded in—at least in a more concrete way. It is so often a delight to discover the twists and turns people’s lives have taken, how their kids have grown, the new opportunities they are exploring, etc. It is a privilege to see how the goodness of God traces its way through the many stories we have been privileged to be a part of.

But, as always, there are other stories, too. Stories of relational breakdown, job difficulties, children who have gotten themselves into a bad place. And death. Always stories of death.  Read more

“I Pray For You Every Day”

I’ve written a number of times here before about some the difficulties I have with prayer (here, for example). I am convinced that prayer is a crucial part of how God works in and through us for the salvation of the world. And yet the questions abound. How does prayer work? Does prayer work? How can we tell? Is God influence-able? Is God reactive? Does God need prayer? How can God “listen” to so many different (often wildly contradictory) prayers at once? What does it even mean to say that the God of the universe “listens?”  Read more

Seeing the Light

Based on my own entirely unscientific observations, it seems that there is a burgeoning market for “recovering pastor who saw the godless light” stories these days. The genre is familiar enough by now, right? Fundamentalist pastor grows up in the church, uncritically swallows the whole religious package, devotes x number of years to serving as pastor in [insert small Bible belt American town here], gradually begins to have doubts, finally has the courage to leave his (it’s almost always a “he” so far) faith behind, is persecuted, scorned and rejected by his townsfolk and former parishioners still imprisoned by the shackles of fantasy and indoctrination he has so recently (and heroically) shed, and eventually staggers into the warm and compassionate embrace of this or that atheist group devoted to helping recovering clergy. And then, for the triumphant finale, our hero embarks on a life of spreading the good news of atheist liberation on [insert motivational speaking tour here] amassing inspiring (de)conversion narratives of other clergy that he has “helped” along the way. It’s not a bad gig if you can get it. Read more

On Loss and Life

This morning I am grimly staring in the mirror at a large red scab that is rapidly moving toward full bloom almost directly in the middle of my forehead. An uncomfortable reminder, this, of the previous evening’s activities when, instead of making contact with the soccer ball as I had intended, I rather abruptly introduced my forehead to an opponent’s skull. This ugly scab seems somehow uglier as I reflect upon the game itself. Up 2-1 in the second half, then conceding three goals in about 10 minutes to lose 4-2—two of said goals almost entirely due to giveaways by the guy with the blotchy red forehead.

Sigh. Read more

A Fine Mess

Back in my university days I took an undergraduate philosophy course on the problem of evil. We had been through most of the well-rehearsed responses to the question of how evil can co-exist with an all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing God. Each had their problems, of course. “But what happens if we just say that God is limited?” our professor asked, with evident glee. What if God’s kinda just making it up as he goes along? What if God’s a bit of a selfish jerk who isn’t nearly as concerned with human misery as we are? Or, what if he’s a nice enough guy, but he just can’t do much about evil? What if he’s doing the best he can with what he has to work with? What if he’s learning as he goes, just like the rest of us? Read more

Friday Miscellany

It’s Friday, and I’m not preaching this Sunday. What this means, of course, is that there are a number of unrelated and not necessarily coherent ideas rattling around my skull that I need to dump somewhere. I’m (mostly) kidding. I think much more highly of preaching than that. Although I have found it quite remarkable how frequently the events and ideas and reading of a given week will find their way into a Sunday sermon. At any rate, a few miscellaneous thoughts on a grey, rainy Friday morning… Read more

“You’re Gonna Pray for Leroy, Right?”

The following comes out of an experience I had yesterday. I try to be very careful in deciding if/how to share about stuff that I encounter in my daily work. There are issues of privacy, of course, in addition to the simple fact that not every experience I find meaningful necessarily needs to be shared—especially in an online/cultural context where over-sharing is reaching almost epidemic proportions.  

Having said that, I think it is important to hear the stories of our world and our communities—perhaps especially the unsettling ones. Stories move and change us. At the very least, it’s important for me to hear/tell them. There are so many things that I cannot do in light of the many problems in our world, but one thing I can do is simply to write, to tell stories like this one. It is especially relevant, I think, in light of my recent posts on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (here, here, and here) and yesterday’s post on “Normal Unhappiness.” All the names below have, of course, been changed. Read more

Normal Unhappiness

Ever since I was a little kid, I have felt the pain of the world quite deeply (how’s that for a pretentious opening sentence?!). I don’t recall being an unhappy child—not by any means!—but I do quite distinctly remember being drawn toward more existential themes of pain and loss and identity and belonging, even as a relatively young person. Often the manifestation of these tendencies coincided with being dumped by a girlfriend (in grade 7-8!) or failing a test (mathematics and I are still sworn enemies) or some other utterly ordinary perceived injustice in the life of a kid. But I also remember wondering about and being saddened by some fairly big questions. Why do so many people suffer? Why do I have a mom and a dad who love and care for me while others do not? Why was I born in Canada and not Ethiopia? How does God expect us to live with joy and happiness when we see pain all around us and while we know that death is coming? If God is good and powerful, why does he allow so much horrific pain in his world? Read more