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here's your hope

i co-lead a small group of teenagers who are leaders of other small groups of their peers. i've only been doing it for a couple of months, but so far it has been a really great experience. these young people challenge me with their energy and their willingness to think that anything is possible.

anyway, we had a great discussion at our last meeting (wednesday night) and i just wanted to share some of my spiritual/mental meanderings that have resulted from that conversation. we began by talking about anger, but ended up dealing with some pretty big issues. we dealt with God's anger and Christ's anger. we wandered aloud, "did God really kill people in the old testament period? is it ever ok for God to kill? is it ever ok for God to lie? did God cause Katrina or the tsunami? of couse not. but we so easily assume that God caused horrible disasters that killed thousands of people in another time in history. why?

well, my thought on this is that we are often lazy literalists who are afraid to really read the text. i propose that we are guilty of painting God as an agry serial killer who is allowed to kill at will, but who holds us to a higher standard. "do as i say, not as i do," this God says, right before turning a woman into a pillar of salt or allowing an entire city of people to be brutally murdered because this land was promised to some other people. this God we have painted, or inherited, badly needs both anger mangagement classes and some training on laws dealing with civilians - even the most brutal armies in history have shown more mercy than this God.

we desperately need to repaint this God.

you see, this is not really our God at all. our God is a god of justice, yes. that is one of God's legs. and it is a strong and crucial leg. God's other leg is mercy. and as we read in luke 15, God uses both of these legs to not walk but run to us. God runs to us and embraces us and welcomes us and restores us and celebrates us. God does not kill us. God walks through life with us. God does not strike us down with disaster. God lifts us up with hope.

Comments

Mary said…
So God allows such disasters because He can see the bigger picture...and how such a disaster will bring so many people closer to Him in the long run?
greg. said…
many people say so or think so. but who says God 'allows' disasters at all? i mean, its as if God is at a board meeting for the trustees of the universe and the director of natural disasters is saying, "c'mon, God, please let me send another earthquake! i mean, it will really help bring people together, you know it will!"

and God 'allows' it to happen.

what we are dealing with here is the problem of evil. why do bad things happen? if you choose to believe that God is actively involved in planning the weather for each region of the world each day, then you might really have a problem when it comes to understanding natural disasters.

for me, i don't look at it that way. i don't believe God 'allows' it or 'makes' it rain or snow or sleet or whatever. God created weather and weather happens. we have impacted weather by the way we have used and abused this planet of ours, and we reap both the benefits and the consequences of those actions.

so the question isn't one of a mean God in the sky causing terrible things to happen. and it also isn't one of a helpless God who just sort of allows things to happen. instead, it is a creative God who gave us free will and is determined to let us choose to love without being forced to. and as long as we have that decision, we are, so often, going to continue to choose AGAINST love. we will choose fear and hate and self and death and darkness. and when we choose those things, there will continue to be murder and slavery and abuse and avoidable disaster.

that's a tiny bit of how it kind of works in my tiny brain. but, bottom line: its the problem of evil and we will never quite solve it with these finite minds. any other thoughts on this...?
greg. said…
by the way, can you imagine me having seven children?

that's alot.

and then i kill one of the children.

and you ask me, "Greg, why did you kill one of your beloved children? i thought you loved your children!"

and i would reply, "i do. i do love my children. that's why i killed one. i wanted to bring the others closer together."

does that make any sense at all?

what kind of a loving God would kill, or "allow the death of" God's children?
mary said…
excellent analogy. i don't think that i give the evil in this world enough thought and blame even. call me an optimist...but you are right...when it comes to tragedy who am I to push it onto God? I think i need to face my ignorance...maybe not face it...but sort of look over my shoulder at that very dark area. for it is there whether i like it or not. it makes turning to the light that much more amazing and awe inspiring....thanks bro
greg. said…
as switchfoot so beautifully sings:

the shadow proves the sunshine.
pete said…
I found Greg Boyd's God at War book particularly helpful in dealing with the issue of the problem of suffering. Boyd is an open theist, so an integral part of his argument is that God does not definitively know the future. Part of the upshot of that position is that God cannot be held responsible for every little thing that happens, because there are other actors on the stage: God's creatures, of course, including Satan, who is at war with God.
greg. said…
i have not read anything by greg boyd. i think, however, you meant deist instead of theist. theism is just believing in a god(s). deism is the belief that a God created the world and doesn't have immediate control over the day-to-day operations of that world. many of our founding fathers were diests, in various ways.

its interesting that you would bring deism up in this conversation. even as i wrote my response to mary i was thinking that i sounded a bit like a deist. but i'm not. i believe in the activity of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. I believe God is immanent and active.

but i don't believe that God regularly changes the weather. for example, when we pray, "God, please make it be sunny for my graduation party," i just don't think God changes the weather patterns. i mean, what about the farmer next door who is praying for rain for his crops so his family can eat? instead, i think the activity of God in our daily lives is more along the lines of the Holy Spirit guiding us and encouraging us and challenging us and convicting us around the idea and practice of LOVE. I don't think God is changing weather or the outcomes of yankee games. i think God is trying to change our hearts. does this make any sense, or am i trying to have it both ways?

greg.
pete said…
Nope, I meant "open theist," but primarily because that's how Boyd describes himself. Primarily at stake in his description is belief that God does not know everything exhaustively because of the significance of human freewill in determining the outcomes of the future.

I think what you're saying makes sense. The best conclusion I can come to is illustrated by Jim Carrey (as the best demonstration of so many things theological) in Bruce Almighty: So many prayers come before God, so many are in conflict with each other or would ultimately end up destroying things. Does God hear these prayers? Of course. Does God answer them all? No.

I hate that conclusion.

The God I would invent would answer every prayer from every hurting child. But the real God doesn't seem to work that way. Boyd argues that the reason for this is that the "god of this world" has temporary control of this world, and as such has his way with it for the time being. Someday, though, God will vanquish him, and then things will be different.

This is a hard topic, particularly, as I imagine you sense, for people with children.

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