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
Posts from the ‘The Problem of Evil’ Category
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 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
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’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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Last week, I found a message from a reader of this blog buried off in some dark corner of Facebook-land that I hadn’t noticed for at least a month. It was a message that was both encouraging on a personal level, as well as provocative in the best sense of the word. As it happens, the powers that be in Facebook have thus far prevented me from responding to this message. Every time I try to reply, I get a message telling me that I cannot do so due to some setting in one of our accounts (I don’t have an email address for the person who wrote to me, so I’m at the mercy of Facebook). Rather than wading through the labyrinth of Facebook’s privacy settings, I decided to do the only rational thing and simply write a blog post in response :). Read more
The problem of evil is frequently cited as one of the most powerful arguments against religious faith. The existence of suffering, whether on the micro or macro level is seen as evidence against the existence of a benevolent and powerful deity. And yet, the empirical data around suffering and religious faith stubbornly refuses to fit into this view of how and why human beings believe what they believe about the world. Religious faith seems to be the highest in contexts where suffering is the greatest. Read more
I watched part of the Grammy Awards last night. The decision-making process was a tortuous one. I had serious reservations about the worthiness of the Grammys to occupy my Sunday evening time due to, a) the overhyped, oversexed, undertalented spectacle it seems to have become; and b) the fact that I was far from convinced that I needed to spend over a third of the next few hours subjecting myself to mindless advertising. As it happens, the stasis produced by a fairly exhausting weekend full of church activities won out over my myriad principled objections to watching the Grammys. The best laid plans, and all that. Read more
I know a man who is watching his wife die. Slowly. Dementia. It hurts to hear him tell the story of how she once was, how she is now, hurts to hear about how on “good” days she recognizes who he is and doesn’t ignore or get angry at him. It hurts to think about how what is looms large and menacing over what was, always lurking, always threatening to steal life and joy from the past, robbing even memories of their sustaining power. “She can’t speak anymore,” he says, “so we have to communicate without words. Sometimes she squeezes my hand.” Read more
I had to take a short road trip today so, armed with coffee and an iPod well-stocked with podcasts and sermons, I ventured out on a brisk December prairie morning. Given its close proximity to the shootings in Connecticut on Friday, I knew that last Sunday many pastors and preachers would have been wrestling with issues around the problem of evil and suffering. I was curious to hear how others approached it—both from a homiletical as well as a theological perspective. Read more
The world of social media has been all abuzz today with Mike Huckabee’s weekend response to the “Where was God in Connecticut?” question. Huckabee’s “answer” is as familiar as the question to which it responds, and has been sombrely rehearsed by American evangelical types frequently over the past few decades when it comes to these kinds of tragedies. You know it well, don’t you? It goes something like this: “Well, why should we expect God to show up when we have spent the last fifty years systematically removing him from our [insert public institution—usually schools].” Simply put: “Where was God? Well, we kicked him out!” Read more
Today was a rare Sunday morning for me in that I was not responsible for the sermon. We have many gifted preachers in our small congregation (I am so glad for this!) and we try to use them as often as we can. So, today I was able to participate in worship in a way that felt different than usual. There were still a few public duties—I read the gospel text from Luke, I led the congregational prayer—but mostly it was a day for receiving rather giving. It was a very good morning. Read more