Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Apology

I was asked last year to contribute to a website that would answer the questions of seekers.  I was given the topic, "God, where are you?"  I wasn't sure whether I had the chops to do it.  I told the producers that they could pitch the article if it didn't work.  They took some time evaluating, then decided not to use the article.  I think I know why they rejected it (I'm too Barthian to defend the faith for unbelievers).  Yet, I wonder what others might think.  So, what do you think?  Here it is:

Have you ever played the fantasy game, “god for a day”?  I’m not referring to a computer game; it’s a mind game that I’ve played several times in my head.  I usually play it after I’ve heard another news story about the horrendous evil in our world:  destruction caused by war, famine, earthquakes, tsunamis.  “If I were a big powerful god,” I reason to myself, “I wouldn’t let things like this happen.”  Then, as I explore my solutions to the problem of evil and suffering, it begins to dawn on me:  “God has put himself in an impossible situation.”


Take war for example.  The temptation to sweep down from on high and stop the madness of war by crushing those who make war doesn’t sound very god-like.  Such a god would only be contributing to the problem, making war against those who make war.  So, when I consider the question, “God, why don’t you do something to stop this war?”—if I were god, I would say, “I didn’t start it.  Why should I be the one to stop it?”  Or, consider the human suffering caused by earthquakes.  Certainly this is where God “messed up,” creating a world where natural disasters bring devastation.  But, then again, if I were god, I would say, “earthquakes don’t kill humans.  The houses they build are what kill them.”  What about hurricanes?  “Don’t live on the coast.”  What about famine?  “You mean the kind of famine resulting from war, when humans are manipulated like pawns and the losers employ a scorched earth policy?  Or, do you mean the problem of hunger due to the fact that the haves refuse to share with the have-nots?”  Indeed, when I play the game, I began to sound like the god who makes excuses, refusing to take responsibility for the humans I created.  In my hypothetical world, whatever this “god” does to stop the madness of human suffering, at that very point he ceases to be God.  And, that’s when I come to the undeniable conclusion, “I wouldn’t be a very good god.”


“Why doesn’t God show up and do something for a change?”  That’s the question a friend blurted out one day when we were discussing the latest catastrophe in the world.  “Maybe he already has done something,” I said, not fully realizing the implications of such a claim.  If we were to ask God, “Where are you?”, perhaps he would say “Look around.”


Life:  We live in a world of green and blue.  We may be able to explain the color scheme of all living things in biological terms, describing the processes of chlorophyll and H2O.  But, what of the sheer, irrepressible reality of life?  Yes, death shows up every day.  But, life always seems to eclipse what death tries to destroy.  The sovereign power of life makes me wonder, “Could it be that God is staring me in the face every day?”  I keep looking past the mountains and trees, animals and starry nights, trying to catch a glimpse of the divine.  Maybe the fingerprints of God are right in front of me.


Beauty:  The reliable gift of life may lead some of us to presume the absence of God.  The mechanics of creation can certainly explain the daily rising and setting of the sun.  But how do we explain the simple, pure joy of taking in the beauty of sunset?  Why is there beauty?  It isn’t functional.  It doesn’t make the sun come up or go down.  It isn’t necessary.  Most of us start and end the day without noticing the swirling of colors and light that paint the sky twice a day.  But, there it is.  Beauty shows up every day, whether we see it or not.  Why all the effort, this frivolous display of something so simple, so ordinary, yet so wonderful?  Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but why should the eye behold it?  And yet, every once in a while I stand slack-jawed, bowled over by the brilliance of light turning to darkness.


Hope:  Why do we long for a better day?  Left to ourselves—selfish creatures that we are—the ugly realities of “survival of the fittest” should lead all of us to a “doom and gloom” view of the future.  After all, don’t we all, deep down in the core of our being, look out for ourselves above everyone else?  And, if that is the case—that we all possess (as some have called it) a “selfish gene”—how do we explain our hope for a better world?  Shouldn’t we all throw our hands up in resignation and say, “things will never get better because we know ourselves too well”?  C. S. Lewis referred to this as the problem of “good.”  For theists, the problem of evil and suffering is a difficult question, “God, where are you?”  But, for those who do not believe that god exists, the problem of good is equally troubling.  Maybe there’s a reason to believe hope springs eternal because God is.


This is one of the reasons why Christians place so much stock in Jesus.  If it’s true—that Jesus is the Son of God—then God took upon himself the evil and suffering of the world.  This is how God deals with the impossible dilemma of the human condition.  Rather than destroy enemies, God loves them.  Rather than let the world go to hell, God saves it.  Hope has a face.  Beauty is a person.  Life is eternal because God has drawn near to us.  A conversation between Jesus and one of his disciples reveals why Christians believe the ultimate answer to the question, “Where is God?” is Jesus Christ.

“Philip said, ‘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, Phillip? He who has seen me has seen the Father’” (John 14:8-9).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Losing Faith

I'm becoming more comfortable with the notion that I've lost faith in many ways.  It feels like a clearing out of the underbrush of my soul, a stripping away of the trivialities of my life.  We're typically told in evangelical circles to gain faith.  Oddly enough, I'm discovering how much I gain when my faith is downsized.  Here's a partial list of what I don't believe anymore--in no particular order:

I don't believe in America.
I no longer believe Christians should have all the answers.
I no longer believe that television is redeemable.
I no longer believe that most Christians are good people and that most unbelievers are bad people.
I no longer believe in effective evangelism.
I no longer believe that dramatic conversions are normal.
I no longer believe that our souls are immortal.
I no longer believe that music should be comforting.
I no longer believe that big is better.
I no longer believe that new is improved.
I no longer believe that, deep down, all of us are the same.
I no longer believe that fame is good and obscurity is bad.
I no longer believe that life must be exciting.
I no longer believe that any of us can pass down our faith.
I no longer believe freedom is inherently good.
I no longer believe that hell is bad.
I no longer believe that sin is manageable.
I no longer believe that faith is always rewarding.
I no longer believe that most Christians read the Bible.
I don't believe in heroes.

How about you?  In a desperate attempt to save our faith, how have you lost it?

Friday, September 07, 2012

What's love got to do with it?

I'm sticking my neck on on this one, but, it seems to this middle-age man that "the young folk" are putting way to much importance on the preliminaries to marriage--in particular the engagement and the wedding.

This past week, at the beginning of class, several students broke out in spontaneous applause when a young man and woman entered the room.  I was preparing for the lecture, somewhat oblivious to the commotion, when a few of the students noticed my nonchalance and decided to fill me in on the reason for the festivities, "They just got engaged."  I asked sarcastically, "why the applause?  Shouldn't there be some lamentation?"  Of course, they dismissed my silly question (who would blame them?) as the grumblings of an old man who no longer enjoys the enchantment of true love.

Last year, I overheard several guys discussing what their friend had told them about his recent engagement.  One of the young men was planning to ask his girlfriend for her hand in marriage.  So, his buddies were relating all the details of the recent extravaganza.  The elaborate production necessary these days requires much staging.  The right spot, the right circumstances, the proper lighting, friends hiding out of sight, recording the event with a video camera.  They went on and on, mulling over every detail, excitedly comparing notes with stories of other engagements.  I couldn't help it.  I walked over and asked, "Why all the fuss?  Why not just ask the girl to marry you?"  To which the young man said with a smirk, "It's not that easy anymore, Dr. Reeves."

I often notice my daugher and wife watching bridal shows on television (one I like to call, "Don't Mess with the Dress").  It seems these shows follow the same script:  young brides search for the perfect dress, the perfect wedding, the perfect reception.  Frustration leads to angry fits, family squabbles, hateful words, fights, meltdowns, tears, and finally some resolution.  It's the same thing, over and over again.  I can't watch more than a few minutes of the affair.  In fact, I always walk away muttering to myself, "Is it really that important?"

I know.  Little girls dream of the day.  They prepare notebooks with clippings from bridal magazines, anticipating every moment, planning every detail for their "princess for a day" celebration.  But, it looks like they're only setting themselves up for disappointment, i.e., if all these reality shows are real.  Besides, I can't help but wonder:  "Why?  Why all the effort?  Why all the extravagance?  Why all the money?  Why?  Why?  Why?"

I think I know (here comes the bomb):  sex. 

There's something to be said for the good old days, when women believed they were presenting themselves as precious gifts to their new husbands.  White dress.  Pristine soul.  Demure lady.  But, of course, these days we've outgrown such victorian niceties.  If the national stats are reliable, practically every bride and groom have enjoyed the intimacy of sexual fulfillment long before the wedding day.  I'm no psychologist, so I'm hazarding a guess:  I can't help but wonder if there's some emotional hype that must be created in order to make it feel like something special is happening.  So, there will be an elaborate engagement.  There will be a white dress.  There will be "oohs and ahhs" resounding innocent splendor.  There will be special celebration for an already familiar relationship.

It's a sad affair.  The thrill is gone, and the couple is already trying to get it back before they even get married.  Honestly, if I were a young man today, I'd say, "Let's elope."  In fact, isn't that interesting?  You never hear of couples eloping today.  That's because they already have.  The only thing left is "making it official."  How boring.

Then again, don't mind me.  I could be way off.  I'm just a middle-age man who believes marriage is far more romantic than any engagment or wedding, no matter how spectacular.