Archive for the ‘Love’ category

Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 2)

February 10, 2019


I have taken a prompt from the explore God discussion series going on simultaneously in over 800 churches in the Chicago area to write up a summary of the problem of evil. More specifically, I was spurred on by the discussion of The Problem of Evil and Suffering on Veracity Hill between Kurt Jaros, the host, and John Peckham from Andrews University.

I think this is the most difficult problem to deal with in the modern western world for the theist, and specifically the Christian who maintains, as Scripture reveals, that God is both all-powerful and all-good.

  • If God is all-powerful, why did He create a world in which evil, pain and suffering exist?
  • Does that mean He really isn’t all-powerful?
  • Or maybe God isn’t good?
  • Or maybe the God of the Bible doesn’t really exist?

Many people who can’t resolve this problem in their minds (or maybe their hearts) end up rejecting the idea of God altogether.

I began the discussion in an introductory blog, and I laid some groundwork to address the problem in Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 1). I can’t rehash it all here, other than to emphasize that we should not be lazy in our approach to the challenge. As with science, we need to work through, if indeed there is a resolution to be had.

If there is a resolution the problem, we can’t do it justice by abandoning the premises we are given. We need to work through it.

For the Christian, those premises don’t just include the omnipotence and omni-benevolence of God. We need to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. I have come to believe that, if we hold on to and expand the premises we are given, and fill out the picture, some clarity begins to emerge.

One of the additional puzzle pieces is that God isn’t just good; God is love. In fact, God is love in His very nature.

Some people have trouble with the idea of the Trinity, three in one. We can understand God’s triunal (communal) nature in the context of love. As three in Person and one in Being, God’s very character is love from before time even began. (See The Plurality of God) God has community and relationship (love) within Himself.

And, Scripture says that He made us in His image. If we are made in His image, we are made to reflect His love. This is another of the puzzle pieces.

Love requires freedom. Coercion has no place in a loving relationship. Thus, for us to know love and to love God, we need to be free, and that includes freedom to reject God and what is good.

The Christian, who accepts the premise that God is good, rejects the idea that God is evil or caused evil to exist. Evil is not in the nature of God because God is who He is. Evil, then, must be a byproduct of the freedom God gave His creation. Evil is the rejection of God and what is good.

Pain and suffering aren’t, per se, evil, though evil produces pain and suffering. God created a world in which pain and suffering exist from the beginning. (see Part 1).

Finally, we find that God’s grand plan and purpose is that His creation would enter into a loving relationship with Him, not because it must, but because His created beings want to.

These are the basic puzzle pieces. (If you want to examine these premises more closely, you will have to read the previous posts and do some research of your own.) From here, we will go back to the premise of God’s power (sovereignty) and examine more fully how it can be that an all-powerful God (who is also good) can allow evil to exist.

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Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Intro)

February 8, 2019


Over 800 churches in the Chicago area have been carrying on a discussion under the heading, Explore God. The discussion is prompted by a series of seven questions. A couple of weeks ago, the question was this: Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

This is “the” hard question. It’s a question with which most believers struggle to reconcile with the idea of a loving and all-powerful God. It is the stated reason why men such as Darwin and Einstein were not believers in the God of the Bible.  It’s a question we should take seriously, though the answers may not be easy or simple to understand.

As with the natural world, answers to very difficult questions like the problem of evil may be complex. We live in a complex world in which the theory of relatively seems to be contradicted by quantum theory. Sometimes answers aren’t readily seen and require careful study and reflection to determine. Sometimes we have to dig, and engage our minds and work through the details.

How long have we been studying the stars and galaxies and the tiniest particles of the world? And we haven’t yet begun to fathom all the mysteries. Little by little we make progress. Since the days of Job (from the oldest book in the Bible), the problem of evil has been a mystery to be fathomed. As with science, we have made a great deal of progress, but to begin with, we need a good understanding of the problem.

In a nutshell, it is this: If God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all good, there should be no evil in the world.

I have written about and around this issue for years. There are answers. There are explanations and ways of understanding why a good, all-powerful God puts up with evil in the world. For some, the answers may be intellectually viable, but they fall short emotionally. I would not pretend that the issue is an easy one to grapple with.

As in science, though, we have to start with a premise. For this issue, we start with the premise that God exists, that God is good, and God is all-powerful. How do these things fit together in harmony (if they can be fit together in harmony)?

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God’s Love is Not Platonic

February 4, 2019


John the Apostle, a Hebrew from a remote province in the Roman Empire, lived a long life, unlike the other apostles who died premature deaths. John, a typical Hebrew, was elevated out of his provincial Jewish world by the God who created it. His writing, as much as any of the New Testament authors, has a strong philosophical theme, but that philosophical theme is no abstract intellectual construct.

John obviously became familiar with the greater Greco-Roman world by which the Palestinian province of his birth was governed and influenced. That familiarity is reflected in the Gospel that bears his name.

His gospel begins with the philosophical statement, “In the beginning was the Word”, the Logos.  (John 1:1)  The word, logos, had very strong philosophical meaning in the Greco-Roman world. John’s use of that word to open his account of the life and message of Jesus shows that John, the provincial Hebrew, familiarized himself with that world and its thought.

This is in keeping with the instruction from Jesus to his followers to go into all the world explaining the message he left with them. To go into the world, we have to become familiar with it and conversant with the thought that predominates in the world to which we go.

Though John used this loaded word, logos, he didn’t have the abstract notions of philosophy in mind. John’s use of that word pointed outside and transcended the Greco-Roman box.

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Stepping Into the Light of God’s Love

January 23, 2019


Psalm 139 is a favorite of mine. It can be very comforting knowing that God is intimately familiar with me. He knows my struggles, my good intentions, what I long for and what I need.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.

(Psalm 139:1-4) On the other hand, God knows my demons, my sinful thoughts, my envious, hateful, spiteful and selfish thoughts. He not only sees the good things I do and think (that I want others to know); He sees the bad things I do and think (that I want no one to see). The idea that God knows me so well – even better than I know myself – is both a wonderful and a fearful thing!

Amazingly, even so, God loves me. He knows me intimately – better than I know myself. And He still loves me. (more…)

The Importance of Relationship, Trust and Commonality

January 3, 2019


This morning I have listened to a podcast and read an article on the same theme: Christians who desire not to be defined by the things they are against. I didn’t go searching for themed material today, these things came together organically as I went about my daily habits of listening to a podcast first thing in the morning and reading throughout the day.

Early this morning, I listened to Justin Brierley interview Christian evangelist, Kevin Palau, and Sam Adams, the gay mayor of Portland, OR, on their unlikely friendship.  Later in the morning, as I was waiting on hold on the phone (for along time I might add), I read an article in Relevant Magazine: Don’t Be Defined By What You’re Against. I will add that the verse of the day on the Bible app is Psalm 90:12 (“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”)

While these three sources of material may not seem like thematic material, I assure you they are. Beginning with the interview, the evangelist, Palau, explained the motivation for engaging with the City of Portland in civic service. Palau recognized that Christians were known in the community primarily as people who were opposed to certain things, and not anything positive – let alone as followers of Jesus.

Palau also recognized that Christians were distrusted by the community, and so he set out to regain the community trust. The first thing Palau and his church did was to respond to the needs of a local public school that was failing. Not only did they show up; the showed up in such force that people took notice. What was supposed to be a day of work turned into an ongoing labor of love.

Palau and his church were so successful in making a positive impact that they inspired churches around the community to adopt schools, and the schools, in turn, embraced the church involvement. The involvement caught the attention of the mayor of Portland and his chief assistant, Sam Adams, who would later become mayor himself.

Palau and Adams are an unlikely pair to become friends, but that is what they are today. Adams is the first openly gay mayor of Portland. Palau is an evangelical evangelist. Adams confirms Palau’s concerns by agreeing that he previously only knew evangelicals for what they stood against, but now, he says, there are more things they agree on than disagree on.

Adams recognizes that they have some fundamental disagreements on key issues for both of them, but those areas of disagreement are no longer the defining characteristic. They now join hands on addressing areas in which they agree and have formed a long-term friendship as a result.

Palau has built a bridge without compromising his faith. As a result, Adams and the community no longer view evangelicals only for what they stand against; they also see what evangelicals stand for.  The community now knows that the Gospel means more than calling out sin. It means meeting peoples’ needs, loving people and offering hope. The Gospel isn’t primarily a what, but a Who – Jesus, who transforms people who follow him.

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Truth in Love

December 10, 2018


“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10 ESV

This little tidbit from Paul’s letter to the Romans packs so much into it. God gave Moses 10 commandments, and law followed after law until there were over 600 different laws for the people to follow. Jesus summarized everything in two statements: love God and love your neighbor.

Paul echoes those words of Jesus in Romans when he says” love is the fulfilling of the law” and equating love with doing no wrong to a neighbor. (Mark 12:30-31)

As I read Romans 13:10 this morning, I think about our Christian tendency to preach to the world about sin, a world that does not know God and has not accepted Him. I have heard Christians use the excuse that they are standing up for truth because Jesus says, “Whoever denies me before men, I will deny before My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33) Paul told the Ephesians to “speak the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15) Only Paul was writing to the believers in Ephesus, and he was talking about quipping the believers in the church in ministry and building up the body of Christ.

This is significant because, when we think of truth, judgment is not standing far off. Paul is talking to the church in his letters and instructing believers. Paul says, “What business of mine is it to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) (The context is a man in the church who was acting immorally.)

The audience of Paul’s statement about speaking the truth in love seems significant this morning as I am thinking about all the times I have seen Christians blast their neighbors with “truth” on social media with not a lot of love. Social media isn’t like a sniper rifle; it’s like a shotgun. Anyone in front of the blast feels the sting – believers and non-believers alike.

Of course, what of the unbelievers who potentially face judgment for denying God? Do we have a heart for them? Do we care enough to get to know them and establish a relationship with them? When we speak the truth to them, are we speaking in love?

It seems to me that we often emphasize truth over love, and the result is that we tend to speak only the truth. We might as well not say anything at all. I’m afraid we often do more damage than good when we do that.

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Seeking God and Finding Him

October 19, 2018


As I was praying for my children this morning, I was reminded that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus (John 10:6), and no one comes to Jesus unless he or she is drawn by the Father (John 6:44). As I prayed for my children who have not acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Savior and have not professed faith in Jesus, I am also reminded that God gives us free will.

God won’t violate the free will He has given us. How, then, should I pray?

I wish there was another way! I wish that God could just make them believe! If I only I were a Calvinist!

I am only half joking. Maybe not even half joking!

I had a conversation with my youngest about a year and half ago in which she told me that she thought she was an atheist. She said all of her friends are atheists. (I doubt that is true, but whatever.) She told me that she asked God for something (I don’t remember what), and He didn’t respond.

That conversation has stuck with me ever since. I was taken aback. She was only about 16 or 17 at the time. I was painfully aware as we spoke, as I am now, that I can’t make her believe. I was thankful that she felt comfortable enough with me to be open and honest, and I told her so. But that doesn’t make the pain of it any less.

I don’t remember exactly what she said she asked God, but she seemed convinced, at least as we talked at that point, that God must not be real if he didn’t respond to her. I didn’t want to preach. I wanted her to know that she always has an open door to talk to me so I didn’t press the issue with her.

I also know that God is faithful. God drew me out of my darkness, and I believe He can draw her too. After all, no one can come to Jesus except the Father draws her. But will He? Can He?

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