Thursday, December 30, 2010

Responding to Ivan, pt. 4 (or This House is Not Made of Glass)

This post is a part of a series:

Rebellion

Responding to Ivan, pt. 1

Responding to Ivan, pt. 2

Responding to Ivan, pt. 3

**Please feel free to join the discussion. Your comments will help me as I continue the series**

But back to my original point, I say that it is inconceivable to create a world in which some greater good is accomplished at the expense of even one little baby having to suffer and be killed. My moral code dictates that there is no end result that would be worth killing a baby. For what end result would you be willing to kill an infant? I hope that you wouldn’t do it for anything. You would declare the murder of a baby to be wrong. Is this not the point that so many pro-lifers appeal to? You claim that you know that this is wrong because you have a moral code, a law within, that came to you from God. You even go as far as to say that it reflects his very nature. Yet, in the very next breath you are willing to tell me that this same God that gave you your understanding that the murder of babies is wrong, is the same God who, at the beginning of time, determined to create a world in which babies would be murdered. Not only that, but a great many other horrors occur in this world which you say that he created. If there was a time when there was nothing in existence but God, and if he is then the one that brought everything into existence, then he is, in some way, responsible for that which was brought about. I do not believe your story because it does not make sense of the world.

My friend, you are still misunderstanding God’s relationship to evil. Let us look at it from another angle. St. Augustine once explained that evil is not a thing to be created. God is not the creator or author of evil because it is not a thing that could be made. You see, evil is the absence of good. What is darkness? How can you identify it? What does it taste like or feel like? These are silly questions because darkness is the absence of light.

Well, where there is light there is no darkness?

Right.

So, does that not then mean that God has abandoned us? I see a lot of darkness and I don’t see how your explanation has addressed it unless you are saying that God has fled the scene.

Certainly God has not abandoned us. He is at work among us even now. There is still evil present in the world. And evil is the absence of good, but you must think of it as a matter of degrees. Nearly everything has aspects about it that are good and things about it that are bad. However, there are varying degrees of goodness and varying degrees of evil in this world.

Allow me this loose analogy. Think of the world as a house facing east and think of God as the sun. In the dawn, those rooms in the front will be much brighter than the rooms in back of the house. The light could be so strong that one must look away. Other rooms will be more dimly lit. In these rooms there will still be some darkness. And still, other rooms, or maybe even closets, will be completely dark because the light does not reach them.

In some places it is very evident that God is good and this world He has created is good. Delicious food, companionship, well-composed music… these are just a few of the rooms in the front. Other things, say relationships, which can bring both pleasure and pain at differing times are the rooms in which there is a mixture of light. But there, in the dark corners of this world, you can see a pain and an evil that is so clearly a darkness that the light has no part of.

I do think that this is a rather clever explanation for the world we find ourselves in, but you have not explained why this is the world which God chose to make. If this world is a house and God is the sun, I can accept that. But there is still a problem. I can follow your idea that God did not create the darkness anymore than the sun creates the dark rooms of your house. But the trouble is that you also claim that God is the builder of the house. Do you not?

Yes, He is Creator, but that does not mean that He created the darkness!

Accepted. But why didn’t he make the house of glass? Why make a world in which the possibility of darkness might exist? This is the same question that I have been asking all along, yet you have offered no answer that satisfactorily addresses this fundamental question.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Incarnation, pt. 2 (or Luke 1:78-79)

"...the sunrise shall visit us
from on high
to give light to those who sit in
darkness and in the shadow of
death,
to guide our feet into the way of
peace."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In th Flesh

I just read a good post from Russell Moore answering the question of whether or not Jesus ever got sick. It is an interesting read and I encourage you to check it out. The Incarnation was and is such a startling thing.

Here's an excerpt:

"It just doesn’t seem right to us to imagine Jesus feverish or vomiting. But that’s precisely the scandal. It didn’t seem right to many to imagine Jesus as really flesh and bone, filled with blood and intestines and urine. Somehow that seemed to detract from his deity. It surely didn’t seem right to many to imagine the only begotten of the Father twisting in pain on a crucifixion stake, screaming as he drowned in his own blood. This was humiliating, undignified. That’s just the point. Jesus joined us in our humiliation, in our indignity."

Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Responding to Ivan, pt. 3 (or the Moral Law or Though You Cannot Tell from This Post, Augustine & Anselm are Two of My Favorite Saints)


This post is a part of a series:

Rebellion

Responding to Ivan, pt. 1

Responding to Ivan, pt. 2

**Please feel free to join the discussion. Your comments will help me as I continue the series**



I think that we are back to where we started. Tell me this: what reason could possibly be sufficient to make it alright to allow a little child to be starved and killed? Perhaps you are willing to say that it is alright because you have a distorted conscience. Perhaps you are mad. What sort of moral code allows for the death of an innocent so that some greater good might be accomplished? The idea that the end justifies the means has allowed for all sorts of atrocities throughout history and any decent man sees that such a stance is morally reprehensible. Your answer has done nothing to answer my question. It has simply shown that you hold your god to a low moral standard.

Ahh, you mention a moral code, but there you have a problem with your question. You appeal to a moral code – to a sense of right and wrong. You expect me to agree with you that the harming of an infant is wrong. Well, I do agree with you, but on what grounds can you say that it is wrong? To declare it to be wrong is to make a judgment that requires a standard of justice. For you, as one who does not believe in my God, you are speaking on borrowed capital when you reference the moral code or make any sort of statements about right and wrong. You want to have a law without a Lawgiver, but you cannot. Your effort to declare something as wrong works against you. It reveals that you have a concept of what is right and good.

But I object. I can have a sense of right and wrong. And I refuse to believe that it came from this God that you claim as your own. I also refuse to believe that it came from any other god. I can accept the Law because it is good for us, but I reject the notion of a Lawgiver.

But you cannot have the Law without the Lawgiver. That does not make any sense. There must be a source.

And God must be that source?

Yes.

And who gave the laws to God?

Nobody. God is the supreme being.

So, you are saying that the laws, or moral code, that we abide by must come from a source outside of us, but the laws by which God abides do not have an outside source? That is inconsistent. Why does God get to be the exception?

But you are missing the point of what it means to be God. He is the supreme being. St. Anselm described it by saying that He is that being of which no greater being can be conceived. St. Augustine baptized that grand idea of the philosophers of old and explained that God is the good, the true, and the beautiful. To be God is to be at the top. To be at the top is to be God. As such, He is source of all that is good. As Aristotle, and then St. Aquinas, explained he is the unmoved mover and the first cause. If a being gave God the moral code, then that being would be God. But let me explain another aspect that you have misunderstood. The moral code is not an arbitrary set of rules that God created or chose to enforce. Rather, they are a reflection of His nature. Everything that is good is that which is a reflection of His nature. Everything that is wrong is that which is contrary to His nature.

But God is not necessary in the picture that you just painted. You admit that if there were a being that dictated right and wrong to God, then that being would be the ultimate deity known as God. But you reject the notion of any such deity. Well, I just take it one step further. There is no need for your God. You reference the argument of the unmoved mover. That which is in motion must be put into motion. Yet, if I say that your argument then means that someone must have put God into motion, you will interject that it stops with God because it cannot continue ad infinitum. Well why not? The only reason that I can see that you would insist that it cannot continue ad infinitum is because it would make God unnecessary and that is not the conclusion that you want to reach. As quickly as you can make God the first cause I can make this world the first cause. And how can you tell me any different? Any reason that you give for why this world cannot be the first cause I can likewise flip to be a reason as to why God cannot be the first cause. This world contains order, someone must have ordered it… well, then who ordered God? If you stumbled upon a watch on the shoreline of a beach, you would understand that there had to be a watchmaker… well, who is the Watchmaker behind the watch that is God? A garden in the jungle, a jumbo-jet… there are a thousand manifestations of this argument but they all have the same problem. You say that all things must have a cause except for God, but why is God the exception? Because that is what it means to be God? Well just because you define it to be that way does not make it true. If it is fair for you to say that God is the exception, then it is fair for me to cut God out and just say that this world is the exception.

There where does you moral code come from?

I don’t know, but I don’t see that I necessarily have to know, especially if you are going to continue to affirm that it is alright for you to not know where God came from. Perhaps it is the result of evolution. Most of the moral code is good for the continuation of our species. If not that, perhaps we all have a bit of a divine spark within us that gives us our moral compass. Or perhaps I can borrow from you and say that is it simply a reflection of our nature. It is a part of who we are. If you don’t have to explain how it got to be a part of who God is, then I don’t have to explain how it got to be a part of who we are. I don’t have to know where it came from, I just need to know that it is.

But back to my original point, I say that it is inconceivable to create a world in which some greater good is accomplished at the expense of even one little baby having to suffer and be killed. My moral code dictates that there is no end result that would be worth killing a baby. For what end result would you be willing to kill an infant? I hope that you wouldn’t do it for anything. You would declare the murder of a baby to be wrong. Is this not the point that so many pro-lifers appeal to? You claim that you know that this is wrong because you have a moral code, a law within, that came to you from God. You even go as far as to say that it reflects his very nature. Yet, in the very next breath you are willing to tell me that this same God that gave you your understanding that the murder of babies is wrong, is the same God who, at the beginning of time, determined to create a world in which babies would be murdered. Not only that, but a great many other horrors occur in this world which you say that he created. If there was a time when there was nothing in existence but God, and if he is then the one that brought everything into existence, then he is, in some way, responsible for that which was brought about. I do not believe your story because it does not make sense of the world.

My friend, you are still misunderstanding God’s relationship to evil. Let us look at it from another angle. St. Augustine once explained that evil…


[To be continued…]

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Responding to Ivan, pt. 2 (or Answering? the Logical Problem of Evil or I'm Not Plato, Anselm, or Stephen Colbert)

[This post is a part of a series. Previous posts are found here and here.]

Ivan Karamazov has posed a difficult question to answer. It is a variation of the argument of the problem of evil (which is the one and only argument against theism, there are many arguments for theism).

This might be kind of cheesy, or it might be a throwback to the philosophers of old, or perhaps it is a cheap imitation of Colbert’s “Formidable Opponent,” but I want to explore this through the means of a made-up conversation. The first conversation, I hope, will reveal what I see as the issue with nearly all of the Christian answers I have heard in response to the problem of evil. The main issue being that they fail to get to the heart of Ivan’s question.

The second conversation will, I hope, reveal the approach that I believe to be best… so here it goes:

"Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that… one can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge you - answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature - that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance - and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

No, I wouldn’t consent. But you are distorting the story. God is bigger than we are, we simply cannot see the whole picture. The distance between my mind and His is greater than the distance between the mind of a flea and my mind. For He is infinite and I am finite. I am not sure why God would create a world in which even one baby must suffer and starve to death, but I am sure that He has a good reason. We don’t have to know the reason and we shouldn’t expect to be able to comprehend the reason.

How can you say that? Can you really believe that there is a good, all-powerful God who would cause even just one person to suffer for some sort of secret reason? What kind of “good” is that?

Well first-off I don’t think God “causes” evil.

Well is he not in control of all things?

He is, but He causes some things and allows others.

Call it what you like, but ultimately he must be responsible for everything whether you say “cause” or “allow.” He could choose to “not allow” but he does allow. If he is the only one that had a choice of whether or not to create a world in which evil would or could exist, then he is responsible. He could have made a world in which people only did good – a world in which there in no opportunity for evil.

But that would have eliminated free choice. He wants us to have free choice because He does not want a bunch of robots that do not have a choice to not love Him.

So, is the secret reason for why God allows suffering that he wants people to have free choice?

Yes, it could be. Don’t you see that the love of a robot is not as real as the love of a person? A person has the ability to love you or not love you, so that makes it all the more meaningful when a person chooses to love you. You cannot really love someone unless you have a choice. Freewill makes all the difference.

I have at least two problems with that. 1) It is inconsistent. Does God love himself? Does the Father love the Son? Does God love the world? Can He choose otherwise? Could God choose to hate Jesus and still be God? What sort of God could be both good and unloving? Can you really maintain that love is meaningful only if choice is present? If so, then human love is superior to divine love. Or else there is no God whose very nature is love. The argument that love must be freely chosen is not one that you should want to advocate. 2) Even if your position was not inconsistent with the rest of your Christian beliefs, I do not see how it is good or right for God to create a world in which a baby must suffer and die in order that he can feel more loved by people. Say I offer you a choice. You can choose to live your life in a house with robots that will have the semblance of loving you. Or, you could choose to live the rest of your life in a house with people that love you, but you must kill a little baby first. In what sense would it ever be right to choose the second option? To choose the second would be cruel, inhumane, unloving, and selfish. Yet, you tell me that God has done this on a much larger scale.

Well no, that is unfair. I am not sure that the reason God allowed evil and suffering is because of man’s freewill. Perhaps it was because He wanted to magnify His glory. Make His name great. If there was no rebellion there could be no Redeemer. If there was no suffering and pain there could be no Savior. We would never get to know God as such. And He is a beautiful Redeemer. Grace and mercy and love are the greatest of the divine attributes. We could not experience these things if there was not sin and suffering in the world.

But again, in what sense would it ever be right to choose these things at the expense of even one little baby?

Well, I don’t know. Maybe it is for none of those reasons that He created a world in which there would one day be evil. The real trouble here is that we are just so finite and cannot understand His ways. Really we don’t have to know. Consider your argument:

1) Any being who is good will prevent evil as best as possible

2) An omnipotent being can do anything

3) If God exists, he would be completely good and omnipotent

4) Evil exists

5) So, God does not exist

Sounds reasonable. But the problem disappears if you add just one phrase to the first premise so that it states that “any being who is good will prevent evil as best as possible unless there is a morally sufficient reason to do otherwise.”

We don’t have to know what the morally sufficient reason is. We just have to know that there is one. That one phrase, “morally sufficient reason,” takes care of the whole logical problem of evil. You can guess any number of things as to what the reason might be, but in the end you just have to know that there is, or at least could be, a morally sufficient reason. So there you have it.

I think that we are back to where we started. Tell me this: what reason could possibly be sufficient to make it alright to allow a little child to be starved and killed? Perhaps you are willing to say that it is alright because you have a distorted conscience. Perhaps you are mad. What sort of moral code allows for the death of an innocent so that some greater good might be accomplished? The idea that the end justifies the means has allowed for all sorts of atrocities throughout history and any decent man sees that such a stance is morally reprehensible. Your answer has done nothing to answer my question. It has simply shown that you hold your god to a low moral standard.

[To be continued…]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Marysue Crawley (or Cancer is Ugly, but Her Beauty Beat It)

The steady rain seemed appropriate.

It had taken me driving by her house three times before I could bring myself to park and go in. I knew it would not be easy to see her, but I wanted to speak to her one last time. I had to thank her and I hoped to encourage her. There have been many times in which the Lord has pointed to her faith to build me up in my own.

Kneeling by her bed I grabbed her hand and leaned in towards her. Not knowing if she could hear me, I spoke. After thanking her and sharing with her about the way He had used her in my life, I shared a few words that were meant to encourage her, but they were words that I knew I also needed to hear in that moment:

“He will not leave you alone.

He will not abandon you.

He will come for us.

Trust Him still.

Even in this dark hour may your faith in Him not waver.

He is by your side.

He is the one that has promised to make this right one day. He is the one that, even now, is making all things new.

I love you Marysue and I will see you again before too long.”

As I gave her hand a squeeze I got up off of my knees knowing that this would be the last time I would see this beautiful saint on this side of glory.

The tears came streaming down my face as the porch door closed behind me.

“Jesus wept.”


John Mark McMillan’s song “Death in His Grave”

Death In His Grave (Performance Video) from john mark mcmillan on Vimeo.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Help the Persecuted Church (or Help Sayed Mossa)

A lot of times it can be hard, as an American, to know what practical things we can do to help the persecuted church. Well, here's an opportunity.

You can read about it more on J.D. Greear's blog. The short of it is that an Afghan Christian by the name of Sayed Mossa has been imprisoned for his faith. He has been beat, sexually abused, and is facing execution. When this happened a few years ago with another man President Karzai stepped in and declared that Christians would be tolerated in Afghanistan.

Take just a few minutes and send a letter to President Obama to apply pressure to Karzai and hold him accountable to protect freedom. You can use this link to contact him.

You can write your Congressman too. Just don't do nothing.

Here is what I wrote, short and to the point (copy and paste if you want):

President Obama,

This is to add my voice to the support for Sayed Mossa. He is the Afghan Christian that has been imprisoned on account of his faith. Please apply pressure to President Karzai to have him give Sayed Mossa a fair trial. Please provide accountability to President Karzai to uphold freedom in Afghanistan.

Respectfully,

Lucas A. Newton

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Responding to Ivan, pt. 1

In the comments of the last post I attempted to rephrase Ivan's argument to further clarify what he sees as the problem.

The idea of his argument focuses on this point: Christians say that God has a plan to work all of this out for a good that we cannot understand. But, if you had the power to create a universe and if you could make it under whatever conditions you wanted to, would you ever agree to make a world in which even one person (perhaps "that baby beating its breast") would have to suffer in order for a greater good to come about? If I would never agree to create a world in which even just one child had to be abused and killed in order to bring about a greater good, why should I believe that there is a God that would do that? Yet, Ivan charges, Christians reprehensibly proclaim a God that created a world in which many people would suffer.

I think it would be appropriate to take the time to respond to this argument. I think it is a charge against our God that carries a lot of weight with a great many people. Most people in the world have been affected by pain or suffering and nearly everyone has seen or heard about instances of gratuitous evil. Dostoevsky, through Ivan, takes the classic "problem of evil" argument and puts it in a form that accents the magnitude of suffering an evil. It appeals to man's compassion, sense of goodness, and understanding of justice.

Would you ever create a world in which even one baby would be raped and murdered? Would you ever allow for it? What sort of "greater good" could be accomplished through this world that could not be accomplished any other way? Or, in what way is this "greater good" so valuable that it is worth such atrocities against this infant? What sort of good is a good that can only be had through such a terrible evil?

If you find the idea of creating a world on these conditions so repulsive, how is it that you can accept that a God would create world in which this happens to many, many infants? And not only that, but there are countless other evils and atrocities that afflict the world of man.

Ivan asks a good question. A question that, once it is raised and heard, must be addressed in some way.

My answer, in the end, is simple. I think that to many it will seem insufficient. But over the next several posts I will attempt to show why there is no truer answer and why all other answers come up short unless they are connected to this one simple truth: we can believe this world to be what it is, and we can believe in the God of the Bible to be who He claims that He is, because Jesus was resurrected on the third day.

If the Ivans of this world accept this one statement all other things fall into place.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rebellion

While my blog has not been altogether forgotten, it has suffered from a good amount of neglect. I am working on some posts, but in the meantime have another quote for you.

This one comes from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. It is one of my all-time favorite books. It is one of those long Russian novels that few people will read. If you don't read it try to at least find the time to read the two chapters "Rebellion" and "The Grand Inquisitor." They contain the best argument against Christianity I have ever read. Dostoevsky, a Christian, uses his character, Ivan, to share what Dostoevsky considered to be the irrefutable argument against Christianity.

I don't think I have heard anyone outright refute it.

Here's a taste...

After explaining his problem with the world Ivan explains to His brother, Alyosha, that he cannot accept the world on God's terms:

"That's rebellion," murmured Alyosha, looking down.

"Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that," said Ivan earnestly. "One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge you - answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature - that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance - and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

"No, I wouldn't consent," said Alyosha softly.

"And can you admit the idea that men for whom you are building it would agree to accept their happiness on the fountain of the unexpiated blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain happy for ever?"

"No, I can't admit it Brother..."



[trans. by Constance Garnett]

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Quick quote about the theistic proofs (or Binx is a cool name)

Binx Bolling’s journal entry in Walker Percy’s The Movigoer:


REMEMBER TOMORROW

Starting point for search:

It no longer avails to start with creatures and prove God.

Yet it is impossible to rule God out.

The only possible starting point: the strange fact of one’s own invincible apathy – that if proofs were proved and God presented himself, nothing would be changed. Here is the strangest fact of all.

Abraham saw signs of God and believed. Now the only sign is that all the signs in the world make no difference. Is this God’s ironic revenge? But I am onto him.

Substantiation (or I Get Nervous During the Lord's Supper)

Last week I took communion at church.


I always get nervous when the dish with the little cups of grape juice comes by (Baptist church). When I was little I spilled the tray after having insisted that I was old enough to be able to handle it. It bothered me a lot, not only because of my dad’s disappointed expression and my mom’s embarrassed apologizing to the deacon, but also because I knew that the little cups of juice had something to do with the blood of Jesus.


And I sure didn’t want to spill that.


I always get nervous over the dish with the juice, but not really the plate with the crackers.

Well, this past week I picked up my tiny cracker representing the body of Christ and held it between my index finger and my thumb. I started to think through my usual communion thoughts… Lord, thank you for your sacrifice… Thank you for the death that atoned for me… I thank you that I have new life in Christ and will one day enjoy the feast that this foreshadows with Him in the new created order…


Then something unexpected happened.


The cracker broke.


Some pieces fell to the ground. I immediately looked around to see if anyone had noticed what I had done.

What to do next? Pick up the pieces? There is always something holy and mysterious about the Lord’s Supper and there were pieces lying on the floor. If I left them others might step on them unknowingly. Trampled underfoot like it was nothing. What if they were later vacuumed up? Treated as mere crumbs when they were the very symbol of Christ’s body broken for His bride. I could hardly stand the thought! I felt very ashamed.


Then something unexpected happened.


I saw that I had broken the body of Christ.


That cracker was broken on account of me. Christ was broken on account of me.


I realized that I had come to think very little of my sin. So much so that I was more ashamed at breaking a cracker than I have been by the acts of rebellion that have persisted in my life. I was more concerned about that cracker being trampled underfoot than I was about the way my actions have trampled the one I call Lord.


It was a powerful reminder to me. I have spilled the blood of Christ and I have broken the body of Christ.


Here’s an uncomfortable verse:

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. – Hebrews 10:26-31

Friday, September 17, 2010

From the dust we came (or Do Something, Even Nothing, Outdoors)



Go. be. outside.

Charles Spurgeon:

"Let a man be naturally as blithe as a bird, he will hardly be able to bear up year after year against such a suicidal process; he will make his study a prison and his books the warders of a gaol, while nature lies outside his window calling him to health and beckoning him to joy.

He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy.

A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours, ramble in the beech woods? umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive.

A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.

Heaviest the heart is in a heavy air,
Ev’ry wind that rises blows away despair.

The ferns and the rabbits, the streams and the trouts, the fir trees and the squirrels, the primroses and the violets, the farm-yard, the new-mown hay, and the fragrant hops—these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary.

For lack of opportunity, or inclination, these great remedies are neglected, and the student becomes a self-immolated victim."

(Thanks Justin Taylor)



And from Wendell Berry:

"I don't think it is enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is...It is best read and understood outdoors, and the farther outdoors the better. Or that has been my experience of it. Passages that within walls seem improbable or incredible, outdoors seem merely natural. This is because outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine - which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes."


(Thanks Chip Baggett)


Friday, September 3, 2010

Jahangir's "Paradise on Earth" (or The Kashmir Valley and why you should read Curfewed Night)

James Baldwin wrote that “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in people.”

I think we see that in a lot of ways in our own lives, but I also think there are a number of ways that we miss that truth. I would guess that my American and western roots have impacted me in ways that I cannot even recognize.

Culture, people, images, stories, words, geography have all contributed to making me who I am today. I recognize that this it true, but there are a probably a number of ways this plays itself out in my life that I am not aware of.

One of the ways that I can better see the history that is trapped in me is to be exposed to other people and cultures. Exposed to other histories.

Let me recommend to you Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night. It is a Kashmiri journalist’s account of the conflict in Kashmir. Bill Clinton once believed that Kashmir was ”the most dangerous place on earth. It is a heart-wrenching story of an oppressed people that are longing for freedom. It is, in some ways, similar to reading a true story version of The Kite Runner. Reading the book has been an eye-opening experience for me as it has given names and images and faces to the pain and suffering abroad that I often think about in purely categorical terms.

It is also a cultural experience just to read it. It is well-written, but clearly not written by an American. Check it out. It is a worthwhile read and it will get your mind turning on all sorts of things… Islam, freedom, American isolationism, conflict resolution, death and sin, man’s ability to adapt and survive, the importance of friendship, the inhumanity of many humans, the aspects of humanity that pervade all cultures, the role of literature in shaping history, terrorism, the ethics of torture, hope, the right to free speech, democracy, the power of poetry, God’s providence, poverty, and the persistence of the human will.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gospel Truths in... SAYING GOODBYE

(from the CWR Times)

We are nearing the end of the summer and we will soon be saying goodbyes. A difficult goodbye is always a reminder to me of the Gospel. We were created to experience a closeness with others. Relationships are meant to give us a certain satisfaction. But ever since man’s rebellion there has been a particular strain in our relationships. When we experience, even in part, the harmony and camaraderie that we were made for, there is a part deep within us that doesn’t want it to end. The good news is that Christ died to make all things new. In Christ we find the relationship for which we were made. When Jesus was resurrected he told Mary to go to His “brothers.” As the firstfruits of the Kingdom of the resurrected, Christ began the restoration of the humanity of humanity.

Even now we are beginning to feel the effects of that redemption, yet we still live in a fallen world. So it is hard to say goodbye. It is hard because of how good the community has been and it seems to be a parting. Yet, it is not a permanent parting, and for that reason there is a certain comfort to be had. While this group may not ever again serve together in one location on this side of glory, we know that we are going separate ways with the love and support of brothers and sisters in Christ. We can leave knowing that, on account of the spectacular redemption we have in Him, we will all be united once again. And at that time, bittersweet goodbyes will be a thing of the past.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gospel Truths in... the PASSAGE of TIME

(from the CWR Times)


Ever notice that those 5 minutes in Lakeside during Canteen go by really quick? Or how quickly ten minutes with a prayer partner turn into twenty? Can you remember yesterday’s flag raising? Seems like forever ago. At the same time, it is hard to believe it is already the eighth week for the staff. I feel like we were just huddled in the dark, powerless Dining Hall sharing with each other at the end of Staff Training. It’s a short summer made up of long days.

I think that our experience of the passage of time teaches us something about how things are supposed to be. When things are going well, time seems to pass quickly. It feels as though it escapes us. This points to our innate desire to experience goodness without end. Conversely, when things are going poorly, time seems to drag on. This points to our innate desire to experience only goodness. In glory, the expression “time flies” will lose its meaning. We will never have to fearfully check our watches to see if we are out of time. We will never agonizingly glance at the clock and realize that we have to endure just a little bit longer. One day, thanks to the redemption found in Christ, we will experience the good of life without the worry of when it will end.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Gospel Truths in... SILLY BANDZ

(from the CWR Times)

When I look at an arm full of Silly Bandz I’m reminded of the Gospel.

Silly Bandz, have you seen them? They are so much fun. At first you would think it is just a funny looking rubber band, but they’re not! They are something far grander. When I see Silly Bandz I see that people are creative and desire fun things. This is because God made us to be creative and to desire fun things. The large number of campers I see running around with Silly Bandz is also evidence that people like trends. People like to belong and no one wants to be left out. This is a result of being made in the image of a God who is, within Himself, perfect community.

The Gospel story is one of a good God making a good creation and people in His image. He made us to be creative. Then man rebelled against all that is good so that now not everything is right in the world. This is why Silly Bandz break. But God, in His grace, has made redemption available through His Son. He is redeeming hearts first, but even broken Silly Bandz serve as a reminder that redemption has not yet been made complete.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Gospel Truths in... a BURGER

(from the CWR Times)

When I look at a burger I see the Gospel. I am reminded that God is good. He created a world in which we can experience deliciousness and delight. He did not have to make burgers taste good, and He did not have to make us capable of tasting them, but He did because He is good. I am also reminded of sin. A cow died for me to have that burger. And too many burgers could kill me. That is not the way things were meant to be. We were meant to experience delicious things apart from death, decay, and destruction. But through our rebellion those things entered the world.

But there is redemption. Christ died and was resurrected to make all things new. One of the visions of glory is a vision of a great feast. I am not sure if there will be burgers in the consummated Kingdom of Christ, but I do know that whatever we do eat, it has to be at least as good as the best burger in this life.



Saturday, August 14, 2010

Blogging will soon resume...

It’s been a long stretch of time since my last post.

Summer at Camp Willow Run is a great thing and it consumes my time. But things are beginning to slow a bit. Posts should resume over the next week.

I think I will post a little series that I wrote for the CWR Times about Gospel truths that can be found in the world around us.

For now, I’ll leave you with two of my favorite sunset pictures from the summer taken by the CWR media specialist, Brently.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mera Dost (or My Friend)


I recently saw a buddy of mine. There was a time when he was a stranger. Then he became a friend. And then a dear brother.


Now, to me, he is a hero and an inspiration. I marvel at his walk with our God and his service to our Lord.


He is a hero because he gave up the familiarities and comforts of home for a strange and foreign land.


He is a hero because he lives as a light in a very dark place.


He is a hero because he gives of himself and pours out his energy to a people who yearn for attention and meaningful relationships.


He is a hero because he is bold and courageous with a message of peace.


He is a hero because he fights to demonstrate love and patience in an environment that would try and frustrate most Americans.


He is a hero because he will almost certainly shake his head in disregard at me calling him a hero.


You see, he believes the Gospel and sees himself through it. Thus, his view of himself is marked by humility. It is a humility that recognizes that his shortcomings are overcome by the power of Christ. Those things about his life that I see as so remarkable, he views as obedience to the calling of his Master.


Obedience to the Master no matter the cost. To see a life lived out in such a way should be inspirational. It should push me to serve Christ more faithfully.


His extraordinary obedience in extraordinary circumstances is a reminder of our call to live extraordinarily as children of God even in ordinary circumstances.


Live life and live it for Him. My friend has encouraged and challenged me. If there is not a friend or brother in your life who spurs you on towards a closer walk with Christ, find one. We are to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Find someone who does that for you. Be someone that does that for others.


And always look to the one who has called us “brothers” (John 20:17; Romans 8:29). No one has lived a more extraordinary life than Jesus, the Son of God. And in time, by His grace, He will make the extraordinary possess the same familiarity as the ordinary.


Brother, my friend, stay strong.



Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Churchill

I just finished a book about Winston Churchill. He was the British Prime Minister during WWII and was instrumental in casting the war as a battle between liberty and totalitarianism, freedom and oppression, good and evil.

I enjoyed reading about his life in the biography by John Keegan. The following are words delivered by Churchill in 1925 at the unveiling of a memorial for the Royal Naval Division. I think they accurately capture the man's convictions and are worth passing along...

"We are often tempted to ask ourselves what we gained by the enormous sacrifices made by those to whom this memorial is dedicated. But that was never the issue with those who marched away. No question of advantage presented itself to their minds. They only saw the light shining on the clear path to duty. They only saw their duty to resist oppression, to protect the weak, to vindicate the profound but unwritten Law of Nations. They never asked the question, 'What shall we gain?' They asked only the question, 'Where lies the right?' It was thus that they marched away for ever, and yet from their uncalculating exaltation and devotion, detached from all consideration of material gain, we may be sure that good will come to their countrymen and to this island they guarded in its reputation and safety, so faithfully and so well."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Beauty (or Bear Swamp, Unique Pines, Devilish Playgrounds, and the Glory of a God Who is Beautiful & Does Beautiful Things)

I had a most startling experience today. Not startling in the way that meeting the misfortunate Mr. Wayne last Thursday was startling. And not startling in the same way that it was startling to wake up both Friday and Saturday mornings coughing up blood. It was a different sort of startling.


I must write this post in a somewhat different manner than is typical for me. I suppose it will be somewhat conversational, or maybe stream of consciousness. I am not sure. I just think I ought to write. Usually I would prefer to first gather all my thoughts into an organized and systematic outline. But I am not doing that now. This is not my preferred method of writing, but it seems best considering my situation. I am afraid that if I were to try to organize my thoughts about my experience today I might lose some of them. I am afraid that if I wait until I have processed it all in an effort to make the most sense of it, I might whittle away at the raw materials of the experience and end up creating an image made in my own likeness. An image that would be, now doubt, an idol of sorts - something worthless and not worth any time.


So, this afternoon I was on the way to the doctor. Going to the doctor has become a rather common thing for me. Most of my life I have preferred to avoid the doctor. However, in 2004 that changed. Doctors have become a more regular part of existence. They seem to be the chosen means by which the sustainer of all things sustains me.


Since November I have come to view the doctors as an even more necessary part of my life and my visits have become more frequent.


I had an appointment that was for this past Tuesday that I rescheduled for this Thursday. Well today, Wednesday, I accidentally scheduled an interview for the very time that my doctor’s appointment was scheduled on for Thursday. So, I called the doctor’s office at 2 this afternoon to see if they would take me today. They always work me in whenever I ask them to, I suppose that is the benefit of being a familiar face to them (or at least a familiar chart).


I set out to make the drive that I so often make. But this drive is what was primarily so startling. It is a drive that I have made many times before. I used to love the drive. It really is through some beautiful countrysides.


However, the drive has recently become 45 minutes for me to vent my frustration. That is because for the past few months, I almost exclusively make the drive to go to the doctor.


As I sit there riding along my mind tends to question the goodness of the One who is good. I can question, and become bitter, at the one that knit me together in my mother’s womb. He knit me without an important part of my genes. And, as a result, I must go to the doctor, and they must take my blood, and they must read it, and they must give me medicine to keep it from killing me.


Somewhere, in a few places even, He says, “Life is in the blood.” The maddening irony is that, in my blood, there is also a good bit of death as well.


It can be hard to not think about these things as I make my way from Littleton down Bowers through Bear Swamp onto Hwy 48 through Rheasville and Beaverdam Swamp onto I-95 until 64 E takes me to the doctor.


It can also be hard to not think about the way that my blood has shattered a dream or two of mine. It is hard to not think about the way it rattled my sense of divine purpose and destiny as I lay on the CWR dock looking at the stars while feeling very small that summer of 2004.


I cannot deny that I love working where I am now. And I do realize that I would not be here were it not for the difficult things that I have had to face up to this point, but there is still this haunting fear in the back of my mind. A fear that my broken body might one day take down the sense of purpose that I have here in this ministry too. It has already disabled me from service to His Kingdom abroad, perhaps it will still yet disable me for service here in Littleton.


I know that such thoughts do not come from the Lord. But it would seem that my broken body does. The thoughts do not come from the Lord, but they do come right about the time that I pass that church with the red bricks and the two towers nestled between the even more towering oaks.


I suppose I have spent a lot of time thinking about some rather terrible and ugly things on my drive to the doctor.


But that didn’t quite happen today.


The drive today was more like a dream. Like a dream so pleasant that I quite nearly feared it. At times it almost had a nightmarish quality to it. That was what was so startling. Or perhaps it is the other way around. Maybe it had such a startling quality that it almost seemed like a nightmare.


I kept having the sensation that I was lost. Repeatedly. Though I was not conscious of having made any unusual turns, I felt as though I kept ending up in places that I had never been.


I kept seeing things that I had never seen before. Things that were so strikingly remarkable that it seemed impossible that I could have ever passed them by without having noticed them.


And then there was also the eerie sensation that I was seeing the old things again in a way that I never had before.


Everything was so surprising.


Everything was so beautiful.


I noted with a sense of hilarity how the crooked shadow of the straight telephone pole looked on the earthen rows of a recently plowed field.


I marveled at the uniformity of the pine fields as they strained upward in tight rows. But maybe they were not all that uniform after all. As I looked closer, and I feel that I did because the whole drive was experienced in slow motion, I saw that all of the trees were unique. And I was sorry that I thought they were so uniform and simple. And I was saddened by the lack of time to stop and note the many ways in which each tree was different from the others.


As I approached Bear Swamp I thought it looked like a place that you would never want to let people go to. It seemed too beautiful to be touched. As I looked at it out my window as I passed through it, I thought again that it is not a place that you would want people to go to. But this time I thought that to be more the case because it looked like one of the scary places that you hear about in good children’s stories. It looked like a playground for devils.


I thought I had made a wrong turn for certain when I saw that chimney standing by itself. The house had long collapsed into a heap of rubble but the chimney alone remained. It seemed to me to be an excellent picture of both man’s strength and his frailty.


I saw the tall, dead grass that was bent over by the wind. And I thought it marvelous that the grass would make such a graceful bow. But then I wondered if the top of the grass was really bent over or if the middle of it was simply reaching upwards.


I saw a field whose sole purpose seemed to be to direct one’s attention to the Bradford Pear in the middle of it.


I stopped at an intersection that would have seemed more familiar to me had I been able to take my attention off of the vine-covered pole. Those vines were all over that pole. How could I have not seen it before? I wonder why vines would want to climb so high.


Beaverdam Swamp – that’s a swamp where some kids could play. It looks like it was made for boys and adventures. I’m not sure what it was about it, but it looked like a place for boys to be heroes and fight dragons and save princesses and beat bad guys.


Everything seemed more alive and more beautiful. I suppose all these things have been there all along, but I had not yet seen them.


So much beauty and delight and magic in that drive. So much to be startled by. And all the more startling was how often I have let it go unnoticed.


I have so often missed it for the darkness and pain of my own mind as it questions its Maker.

The philosophers of old wrote of three transcendentals: the good, the true, and the beautiful. They said that if anything was good that it must then also be true and beautiful. If anything was true, then it must also be good and beautiful. And finally, if anything was beautiful, then it had to be also good and true.


I believe that all three things, the good and the true and the beautiful are found in, and flow from, our God.


I believe He is good and the good.


I believe He is true and the true.


I believe He is beautiful and the beautiful.


But, there are moments when I doubt. I find that I often echo the prayer of an ancient brother who cried: “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!”


Today, when I wanted to question that He is good and that He is true, I found that His Spirit would not let me question that He is beautiful. His beauty is evident even in the fallen and broken world that He created.


It makes me sad that we cannot enjoy every piece of the beauty that is in this world at this time. I could live my same life up to this point a hundred times over and never fully take in all the beauty that I have seen.


Yet I have hope. Maybe that is part of the glory of an eternity in the New Creation. A New Creation would be a most terrible tease if we did not have an eternity to enjoy it. I think in glory I will forever be able to pass by that particular oak once more. I will be able to look on with hilarity at the crooked shadow cast across the rows of dirt for as long as I like. There will be no reason to not take the time to marvel at every particular curve of the vine as it climbs upward. I can listen again and again to the chirping of the birds and their sweet serenade that, in a world without beauty, is senseless, but in a world with beauty, is perfect.


I got to the doctor refreshed but also overwhelmed. That may not make sense, but it is how I felt. I checked in and took a seat. In an effort to take my mind off of what had happened, not because it was bad but because I do not fully understand it, I opened my book to the page where I had left off. For whatever reason, I had left that particular chapter of my book, The Man Who Was Thursday, unfinished. So I located the last paragraph I had read and resumed the story.


This is what I read:

“He felt a strange and vivid value in all the earth around him, in the grass under his feet; he felt the love of life in all living things. He could almost fancy that he heard the grass growing; he could almost fancy that even as he stood fresh flowers were springing up and breaking into blossom in the meadow – flowers blood-red and burning gold and blue, fulfilling the whole pageant of spring.”


Life is good because He is good. Life is true because He is true.


Life is beautiful because He is beautiful.


Among other things, I was reminded of that today.


On a side note: I realize that this post may not make sense to anyone but me. If that is the case, it is most certainly due to my inability to communicate clearly or even think clearly about the experience. I also anticipate that someone might read it and say “Ahh, Luke has too much time on his hands.” While it is possible that one might think that, I hope it is evident that I write because I actually believe that I, no we, currently have too little time.