Christianity 201

May 18, 2018

The “Fallen World” Explanation versus The “Mystery of God”

We’re back once again with Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty. Click the title below to read at source.

Allowing God to be Mysterious

Someone recently asked me about how to respond to a man whose family was killed by a drunk driver. The questioner wanted to know how to break through this man’s grief and explain why a loving God would allow this.

From a big-picture standpoint, Christians believe that all bad things happen as a result of the fall of man. We rebelled, wrecked the world and have to live with the results. But this explanation provides little comfort to those who are dealing with tragedy in their lives.

As I have grown older, I have become increasingly comfortable with allowing God to be mysterious. This has relieved me of some of the pressure to provide explanations for particular events.

I believe that Scripture supports me in this. God told Habakkuk:

“For I am doing something in your days that you will not believe when you hear about it” (Habakkuk 1:5)

Through Habakkuk, God announced that he was going to use Babylon to punish Israel for her rebellion. When we read this 2,500 years after the fact, we can lose touch with what went on. Really, really bad things happened to people when they were conquered by Babylon. The fact that God announced it ahead of time does not make this event less tragic for those who were wounded, killed or taken captive.

In a sense, in the quote mentioned above, God is telling Habakkuk that he won’t get his head around what God is going to do and perhaps he shouldn’t even try.

In the same way, when we are speaking with someone who is forced to endure a difficult situation, we can lose sight of the fact that the pain is real and that no explanation will alleviate that pain.

We are doing everyone a disservice when we try to explain God’s motives for allowing a particular event.

In the book Embodied Hope, Kelly Kapic draws from John Swinton to highlight three negative consequences of attempting to explain why God allows an event.

  1. The explanation often ends up justifying or rationalizing evil. By doing so they end up calling evil or suffering “good.”
  2. The explanation often silences the voice of the sufferer. The danger is that we can “smother the wounded with useless and often inaccurate explanations.”
  3. Explanations as to why the evil has occurred “can actually become evil in themselves, promoting further suffering rather than providing genuine comfort.”

So, when a friend, family member or church associate is struggling to deal with a difficult situation, understand that it is not your job to explain it. By attempting an explanation, the most likely outcome is that you will misrepresent God and hurt the person you are attempting to help.

May 16, 2014

Addressing Christian Agnosticism

This article was written a few days ago, and I discovered it had been reblogged already somewhere else. It deals with an issue that is appropriate to the types of discussions we have here. I hope you’ll click through and read it at the author’s website and then look around at other articles.  The author is Rebecca LuElla Miller; the blog is A Christian Worldview of Fiction, and you can click here to read at source.

Addressing Christian Agnosticism

Your first impression might be that I’ve made a mistake in my title because there’s a contradiction in terms. How can Christians be agnostic?

I wish the problem were nothing more than a slip of the tongue, but sadly I think agnosticism is creeping into the Church. More and more frequently I hear people who claim to love Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, turn around and say incongruous things that come from postmodern thought.

I’ve already addressed, in several posts (here, here, and here), one of the issues that lead to agnostic thought—that God is mystery (as opposed to transcendent).

Another issue is the idea that we humans, being so fallible and so restricted by our limited experience can’t begin to get God right. We can know some things, such as Christ dying on the cross for our sins, but we’re bound to get a lot wrong.

As proof for this position, those holding it often point to denominationalism and the split between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants.

I tend to think this view stems from good motives. One charge against Christians has been a prideful, know-it-all attitude. This we-don’t-know-everything position seems initially to be a more humble approach. The problem is, a well-intended position can still be completely wrong.

Mind you, I’m not saying we should revert to a prideful stance. The fact is, however, taking a we-don’t-know/we-can’t-know” position still puts Man in the forefront. It may sound humble, but it’s still all about us.

The truth is far different.

Since the Fall, knowing God has never been about what Man can or cannot know.

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear (Is. 59:1-2).

In other words, unless God intervened and removed our sin, we would have no way of knowing Him beyond what we could see in creation. Since He did intervene, however, we’ve had a game-change.

Even in the Old Testament, before Christ, God said to His chosen people

“But let him who boasts, boast of this, that understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord (Jer. 9:24 – emphasis added).

When Jesus came, He made it abundantly clear that He was here to make known the Father.

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:7-9).

Paul confirmed this numerous times, none more clearly than the simple statement in Colossians 1:15

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” [Emphasis mine.]

If we know Christ, then, we know God.

What’s more, we not only know Christ if we are His, but Scripture says we have His mind.

For who has known or understood the mind (the counsels and purposes) of the Lord so as to guide and instruct Him and give Him knowledge? But we have the mind of Christ (the Messiah) and do hold the thoughts (feelings and purposes) of His heart. (I Cor. 2:16, Amplified Bible, emphasis mine)

Have I yet mentioned the Holy Spirit? He who lives in every believer:

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. (John 16:13)

Part of the Holy Spirit’s work was also to inspire Scripture. Consequently we know that its revelation is true. Hence, everything it says about God is true.

The problems that those advocating for agnosticism point to are a reflection of us not believing the revelation that is before us. Some dismiss portions of the Bible, while others say they believe it but twist it to their own purposes (Harold Camping comes to mind as an example). Others take a particular passage and interpret the rest of Scripture in light of that truth, rather than taking all of Scripture and interpreting particular passages in light of the totality. Still others chose one over another of truths that seem contradictory.

What we need is the faith of Abraham who believed God even when His command seemed to contradict His promise.

Seriously, agnosticism falls away if we take God at His word. What don’t we know about Him that we need to know?

And yet God, like any other person (but more so) has a depth we will never plumb fully.

So what am I saying? Can we or can’t we know God? We can, absolutely. James says, when we draw near, He in turn draws near to us. But in knowing Him, we discover there is more to know.

If we sit on the sidelines, however, saying how impossible it is to know God, if we succumb to the agnosticism of the age, we will end up like the Pharisees — staring Jesus in the face and not recognizing Him.

April 5, 2011

When You Have a Conversation With Jesus

Indiana’s Jon Swanson at 300 Words a Day, ran this on his blog over two days on March 26th and March 28th.  I’ve mashed them together here to form a single post…

I was talking with a friend about following Jesus. My friend, like many of us, like me, would find a formula helpful. It would be great to have 3 steps or 5 levels or 12 magic words.

But recipes don’t seem to work with Jesus. My friend reminded me of the opening chapter of Searching for God Knows What, where Donald Miller says,

“To be honest … I don’t know how much I like the idea of my spirituality being relational … the formulas seem much better than God because the formulas offer control; and God, well, he is like a person and people, as we all know, are complicated. The trouble with people is that they do not always do what you tell them to do.”

I thought about this idea of no formulas, and of God as a person. I realized that though I can’t offer formulas, I can offer something else. I can suggest what to expect in conversation with God.

This is what you would do, right, if a friend of yours was wanting to meet another friend of yours who is a person of some authority? You’d offer some character insights?

So, here are Eight Things to Expect in Conversations with Jesus:

1. Jesus often helps you with the conversation. “What do you want?” is what he asked a couple disciples who came to him in a referral from John. Not meanly, but invitingly.

2. Jesus loves you more than you hate yourself. Our self-loathing gets in the way of conversations at times. We assume that people won’t want to talk to us. But Jesus seems pretty willing to talk with people who didn’t have things together.

3. Jesus challenges just about every attempt to routinize religion. Or, better, to routinize a relationship with him into religion.

4. Jesus does make demands. But not the ones that we impose on ourselves. Happens all the time. People say, “I shouldn’t say that in church.” “I couldn’t say that to God.” And I say, “Why not?” We filter ourselves by demanding that we talk the way we think God would want us to talk. But let him decide what he wants us to do.

5. Jesus is more like mystery than a puzzle. (This image is from Gregory Treverton who is an intelligence analyst, not a theologian.) A puzzle just needs the right number of pieces to make sense. The focus is on finding pieces. A mystery can’t be solved, can’t be all put together. People are mysteries. Relationship is a mystery. Not a puzzle.

6. Jesus will take the washcloth out of your hand. I want to clean up my own messes. Every time, I make it worse. Rather than a washcloth, I sometimes need a powerwasher. Or a toothbrush. Or spit. When healing, Jesus once used spit. When serving, he used a towel. Once, he even used blood. So don’t be surprised when he doesn’t take your cleaning recommendation.

7. Jesus keeps promises, but only the ones he makes. Not the ones I make for him. You know how when you are with someone and the two of you decide something and you start doing it and the other person isn’t? And you realized that the two didn’t decide. You did? Like that.

8. Jesus…

Wait. You write this one. What have you learned about talking with Jesus?

~Jon Swanson