God’s Caring and Purpose in the Midst of Pain and Suffering

God is not cold or uncaring or unaware of our pain and suffering. Yet, He has a plan, and He intends to carry it out.


“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:18 NIV)

John is talking about Jesus, of course. The progression in the beginning of John’s Gospel goes like this: In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God; the Word was God; all things were made through the Word; in Him was life; and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1-4, 9, 14) Then, John makes the statement I have recited above. No one has ever seen God but the one and only Son, who is God.

The Greek word that is translated “one and only Son” in the New International Version of the Bible is monogenés, derived from the world monos, meaning one of a class (one of a kind) and genos, meaning only of its kind. A more literal translation of the word would be “only begotten”.

The beginning of the Nicene Creed[1] captures the idea as follows:

We believe in one God,
      the Father almighty,
      maker of heaven and earth,
      of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.
      For us and for our salvation
           he came down from heaven….

These thoughts arise today in the context of a discussion between the great Anglican scholar, Tom (N.T.) Wright[2], and Justin Brierley[3], the Unbelievable? Podcast and Ask NT Wright Anything host out of the UK. They were talking about the corona virus threat that is plaguing the world.

Among other things, Tom Wright (who is an historian) observed that a pandemic like the corona virus is not unique in the history of the world. The Justinian plague is believed to have killed as many as 25 million people (6th century), the Black Death killed probably double that in the 14th century. The Italian Plague (1629-31), Great Plague of London (1665-66) and Great Plague of Marseilles (1720-22) took millions of lives in Europe, and the Third Plague Pandemic killed about 15 million people, hitting China and India the hardest.[4]

After a discussion of how Christians should respond to the threat (in the same manner as they always have – with compassion and self-sacrifice, helping those in need), Justin prompted Tom by asking him for a five minute response to the hard question: why does God let things like plagues happen?

Tom Wright’s response recalls articles I wrote on March 22, 2020 (Change of Perspective: From the God of Moses to Jesus) and on March 28, 2020 (Perspective in the Reminder of Our Own Mortality). In the first article, I addressed the seeming incongruity between the picture of God we see in the Old Testament compared to the person of Jesus we meet in the New Testament. In the second article, I sought some perspective on the bad things that are happening in light of God’s revealed purpose in creating us and the world in which we live.

Tom Wright’s brief response (focusing on the raising of Lazarus from the dead) sits right in the middle. Right where we live. Let me explain.

Continue reading “God’s Caring and Purpose in the Midst of Pain and Suffering”

COVID-19 and Spirituality in the 21st Century

We are made for interaction and for relationship. 


To paraphrase from the article linked below, spirituality in the 21st Century is is a one-person-show. You tap in, you tap out. You are the curator of the experience; you are in the pilot’s seat. Self-betterment. Self-discovery. Self-awareness…. Spirituality in the 21st Century is a singular, self-focused pursuit.  You are your own god, attempting to build your own island paradise. Sounds like a dream.

That dream is a attractive to a recluse like me. As a child, Robinson Caruso and My Side of the Mountain influenced my impressionable psyche at an early age. Thoreau captured my imagination as a still impressionable, but disillusioned, teenager. Of the major world religions, Buddhism spoke to me as an early college student.

Retreating from the messy cacophony and harried competition of modern life seemed like Nirvana to me. Back to nature, isolated on my own island paradise, beholden to no one but myself, released from external duties and melting into the oneness of all life seemed like a laudable and desirable goal.

My inspiration comes from a blog I follow by a lovely lady and Christ follower. You can read the original blog post here: Eavesdropping on a Plane. She calls to mind the siren song that beckoned me up to a point in my life.

As I sit here in self-imposed quasi-quarantine (for the sake of others, not myself this time), some 40 years after a paradigm shift in my life that changed the trajectory of my journey, I recall the allure of that dream, and I am also convinced it’s a mirage, an unattainable state of illusory bliss.

We are social creatures, created for relationship with God and each other. The ordered, but largely self-regulating, isolation we now experience as we fight the threat of the alien invader, COVID-19, proves the point: we are uneasy, restless, and missing the regular, personal contact we need and thrive on.

Continue reading “COVID-19 and Spirituality in the 21st Century”

Perspective in the Reminder of Our Own Mortality

The lack of control that we feel is real, but there is purpose behind the chaos.


From the moment the Chinese government woke up to the significance of the corona virus threat, they kicked their efforts into high gear. I have a friend who described to me what it was like for his parents, who live in China. We have all heard reports of the virtual lock down of the country by the government.

That’s what totalitarian governments do. They exert the collective power of man by the force of governmental control en masse. Totalitarian governments rest on a foundation of top down, human power. The philosophies that gird them are largely humanistic, not reliant on divine power, but on the iron fist of self-governance.

Not that democracies, republics and other forms of government don’t rely equally on variations of collective human power, control and ingenuity. They all do. And we do the same on a personal level. In the face of the present corona virus threat, we have all taken personal measures to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbors. As well we should.

Ultimately, though, the corona virus reminds us of things we can’t control, though we try.  Underneath the collective and individual determination to take control of this virus Thing that threatens us, and all the things that threaten us, runs an undercurrent of uncertainty and uneasiness, sometimes even dread. It ebbs and flows from conscious to unconscious. Some of us are more aware of it than others.

Its roots are found in the same place: try as we might, we know that we don’t ultimately control the outcomes. We don’t ultimately control our own fate.

Beginning with our own birth and the circumstances, time and geography in the world into which we were born, we are not in control. We didn’t choose any of it. If we strip away the façade, we don’t control our own lives.

We don’t control our nature or nurture. We don’t control the generations of DNA we carry in our genes, and we don’t control the way our parents raised us, the classrooms in which we were educated, the circle of friends that influenced us and the myriad influences that shaped us.

Things happen in our lives that we don’t control. We could be sailing along at a good clip when a rogue wave comes “out of nowhere” and knocks us overboard. The car we didn’t see coming, the cancer growing inside us, the closing of the place we always worked, an unseen virus that shuts down the state and national economy, putting hundreds of thousands out of work for who knows how long.

When we really think about it, there are so many things that we don’t control in our everyday lives that it can be quite overwhelming to spend much time thinking about it. It’s no wonder the undercurrent of alternating uncertainty, uneasiness and dread ebbs and flows in our conscious and unconscious minds. It causes many of us to panic and worry.

What’s the solution?

Continue reading “Perspective in the Reminder of Our Own Mortality”

Pilgrimage to Another World

Pilgrims along the way of St. James – Spain

The baser instinct in me wants to write about the great frustration that is politics and the incongruity of people believing, perhaps, that they are preaching to a unified choir when they post their rants and memes on social media. Several people posted in my feed recently about how the Democrats unbelievably killed “the Coronavirus Bill” without a single vote in favor of the relief offered by the Republicans. While several people in my feed posted about how the Republicans tried to pass a Coronavirus bill that only benefited corporations to the detriment of all hardworking Americans.

Do we bother to listen to what each other is saying?

But I will resist the temptation to jump into that fray. Again.

I would rather write about the coronavirus… and death.

Not that I am being unduly morose. The reality of a deadly virus, and of death itself, is top of mind in these trying times of sheltered isolation social distance.

In more normal times, we are pretty good at keeping the thoughts of death at bay, even when they creep close to the threshold. We seem to have no end to the diversions gladly available to escape them or to drown them out.

It’s a brute fact, though, that one day we will die, and probably much sooner than we like to think. Not even taxes are as relentless as the inevitability of death.

In times like these, we are much more aware of it. We can’t escape it. It’s everywhere we turn, and we aren’t used to it.

We have it pretty good in these often not very United States. We haven’t had a war on our own soil since 1865. We are healthy and wealthy in comparison to much of the world. We have many diversions: national pastimes, myriad hobbies for every kind of enthusiast and we have as much entertainment at our fingertips as we can access beyond our front door.

But death inevitably lurks. With the current corona virus outbreak, the United States is experiencing something like the emotions we might feel in a war. Like Britain in WWII, death lurks closely to all of us in a way that most people alive in the United States have never really experienced unless they fought overseas.

As CS Lewis said to his British audience during the last World War[i], it (war then, the corona virus now) forces us to remember death. We have learned to deal with (and hold at abeyance) the cancer that steals the unfortunate life of a 60-year old, 80-year old, or even a child, accident statistics and such things.

The deaths that take the unfortunate and the vulnerable seem distant to most of us, but a war or a pandemic sneaks death into the bedroom of our thoughts where they presently haunt us.

And maybe that is just as well. We are going to die. “All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centred in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realise it. Now the stupidest of us know.”

Nothing has changed. It’s just that we are now more aware of “the sort of universe in which we have all along been living”, and we have to deal with it. Humanist hopes are shattered in times like these. “If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.”

The disillusionment inevitably, eventually will come sooner than we think, even if we escape these times with our lives, which most of us will do.

For the Christ believer, we have occasion to question: “Death, where is thy sting?” And we can answer: “This world is not the end game; it is the pilgrimage to another world.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[i] Yet war [the coronavirus] does do something to death. It forces us to remember it. The only reason why the cancer at sixty or the paralysis at seventy-five do not bother us is that we forget them. War [the pandemic] makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right.

All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centred in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realise it. Now the stupidest of us know. We see unmistakably the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still. (C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time”, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Harper San Francisco, 1980), pp. 62-63)

Change of Perspective: From the God of Moses to Jesus

Our perspective of God changes dramatically in the New Testament because God came to us in different form.


I can’t how many times I have been reminded and drawn to the words Paul penned in his letter to the Philippians about Jesus (Phil: 2-6-8):

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Scholars tell us these words were an early creed. The creed that Paul recited to the people in Philippi was probably familiar to them, as it was intended to be recited. That is the nature of creeds: they are meant to be repeated.

Thus, I suppose, the fact that I find myself drawn over and over again to the Philippian creed is apt. It carries significant and timeworn meaning to me, as it certainly must have done for Paul and and the early followers of Jesus to be considered so worth repeating.

I found myself thinking again about these words today as I wrapped up another blog post (Lessons Learned from the Edge of the Wilderness). As often is the case when meditating on Scripture, meanings deepen, grow and broaden. The Philippian creed takes on new meaning for me in light of the exercise of comparing and harmonizing the “God of the Old Testament” with Jesus (another theme I have focused on in the past).

In Lessons Learned from the Edge of the Wilderness, I was thinking about the fact that Moses and the people of Israel were distanced from God – such is the fate of all people in our natural, created and sinful state. In this piece, I want to explore what that means (and why it is the case), and I want to explore why our perception of God changes in the revelation of Jesus.

Continue reading “Change of Perspective: From the God of Moses to Jesus”

Lessons from the Edge of the Wilderness

The bodies we live in now are tents constructed for a temporary sojourn through the wilderness of this present life.

View of Promised Land from Mount Nebo in Jordan

I am reading through the Bible chronologically. By the way, the “books” of the Bible are only roughly chronological. Following the chronology closely requires jumping around a bit. I didn’t realize to what extent that is true before taking this journey that I am on.

Presently, I am right at the point where Moses stands on top of a mountain (east of Jericho, on the edge of the plains of Moab) to survey the land that God promised hundreds of years earlier to Abraham and his descendants. Moses dies right before they go in.

Before he dies, though, he reminds the people of all that has transpired. He reminds them how God delivered them out of their slavery in Egypt and went with them every step along the way. The reminder of God’s presence was with them by fire at night and cloud during the day.

God revealed Himself in dramatic ways to these people and instructed them through Moses down to very particular details for establishing a relationship with God through the Tent of Meeting, Ark of the Covenant and the offerings they were to make through the intermediaries of the Levite priests, among other things. They had 40 years of wandering in the wilderness with God’s presence continually among them in visual demonstration and ritual reminders.

Reading through this history of God’s interaction with the people He chose to lead eventually into a land He promised many, many generations before through a modern, intellectual lens can be unnerving. The skepticism of the age echoes in my mind and unsettles my heart.

Of particular note are the times we read that people are stricken dead for ignoring or refusing to follow the instruction. For instance, the Sons of Korah, the sons of Moses’ cousin Korah led a revolt against Moses. They and all the people who followed them died when God caused “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah”. (Numbers 16:1-33)

Incidences like this prompt a person of modern sensibilities to wonder, “Why would a good God do such a thing?!” It seems Draconian.

The stakes were high for these people, and even less intentional “slips” were sometimes met with the same fate. It’s hard to imagine living in those circumstances, especially in light of the grace that seems to color everything that Jesus said and did.

Continue reading “Lessons from the Edge of the Wilderness”